John F. Kennedy: From Sickly Kid to War Hero

John F. Kennedy’s childhood was far from ideal, even farther from easy.

When he was three years old he contracted scarlett fever, which hospitalized him for nearly three months.  Later in his childhood and teenage years he suffered from diphtheria, appendicitis, whooping cough, jaundice, asthma, and pneumonia.  By the time he turned 17, he had spent over year of his life in hospitals and clinics.  However, none of this deterred him from wanting to serve his country when it needed him.  Like millions of other young Americans, he answered the call in 1941.

On this date in 1943, John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. What happened after this made him a national hero, and would help him later become President.

PT stands for “Patrol Torpedo.” Kennedy was aboard his when it was struck by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri.  The PT 109 was cut in two.  Two men died immediately, 11 more fought through the dark night to hang on to the wreckage and survive.

They had to swim to get to the nearest island despite sharks and the threat of more Japanese attacks. Some of the men were very badly injured.

Kennedy towed an injured comrade by clinching his life vest strap between his teeth.

The nearest island was 3.5 miles away. They swam through the ocean waves for four hours. When they got there, they still had to go and find help. Kennedy volunteered.

He swam to find help at another island 2.5 miles away. When he realized it was safe and had coconuts and drinking water, he swam back to get the rest of the men.

They lived for 6 days on the island on those coconuts and water. Kennedy talked two natives into going to a neighboring island with a message carved into a coconut that was a cry for help. He told the natives to scratch out the message if they were approached by the Japanese.

Finally, help came and all the men were rescued. When Kennedy was asked about becoming a war hero, he was humble. He said, “I didn’t set out to be a hero. They sunk my boat.”

John F. Kennedy did not use his health or wealth as an excuse not to help his country.  Like so many others of his time, he ran towards the danger.  That is why they are called “The Greatest Generation.”

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