John F. Kennedy's Military Life
Many young Americans of all backgrounds volunteered for military service in 1941, including young John F.
Kennedy. Many enlisted men, women, and junior officers who, like Kennedy, went in harm’s way to serve their nation. Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy in 1941, and two years later was sent to the South Pacific, where he was given command of a Patrol – Torpedo (PT) boat.
Kennedy helped some of his marooned crew back to safety, and was awarded with the Navy and Marines corporation Medal for heroism. His older brother, Joe Jr., was not so fortunate: he was killed in August 1944, when his Navy airplane exploded on a secret mission against a German rocket-launching site. A grieving Joe Sr. told John it was his duty to fulfill the destiny once intended for Joe Jr.
; to become the first Catholic president of the United States. Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy, with the influence of the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, former naval attache to Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy was an ensign serving in the office of the Secretary of the Navy when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. He attended the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and then voluntarily entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island.
During the transit South, he was briefly hospitalized after diving in the cold water to unfoul a propeller. Thereafter, he was assigned duty in Panama and later in the Pacific theater, where Kennedy earned the rank of lieutenant, eventually commanding two more patrol torpedo (PT) boats. On August 2, 1943, Kennedy’s boat, the PT-109, along with the PT-162 and the PT-169, was performing nighttime patrols near New Georgia in the Solomon Islands,when PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. Kennedy gathered his surviving crew members together in the water around the wreckage, to vote on whether to “fight or surrender”. Kennedy, despite re-injury to his back in the collision, towed a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth. He towed the wounded man to the island, and later to a second island, from where his crew was subsequently rescued.
Beginning in January 1945, Kennedy spent three more months recovering from his back injury at Castle Hot Springs, a resort and temporary military hospital in Arizona. Kennedy was honorably discharged just prior to Japan’s surrender in 1945. Kennedy’s other decorations in World War II included the Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.