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Wreck of patrol boat commanded by JFK during WWII discovered in NY

View of motor torpedo boat PT 59 during its World War II service in the Solomon Islands, early to mid 1940s. The boat was famously commanded by the-future US President John F. Kennedy as his second command after PT 109. (Photo by Photoquest/Getty Images)

PortandTerminal.com, June 12, 2020

For years there have been rumors that the wreck of a patrol boat commanded by JFK lay in New York’s Harlem River. It turns out that the rumors were right all along.

NEW YORK – The wreck of a high-speed patrol boat commanded by John F. Kennedy during World War II has been discovered in New York’s Harlem River.

Pieces of PT-59 have been dredged up from the Harlem River as part of a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) project to build a sea wall to prevent flooding in a Manhattan train yard, according to the New York Times.

Kennedy was skipper on PT-59 in late 1943 and 1944 following his famous command of PT-109.

A hatch door frame and broken wooden pieces were recovered from the Harlem River on June 3. They are from a gunboat commanded heroically by John F Kennedy in World War Two
A hatch door frame and broken wooden pieces were recovered from the Harlem River on June 3.
Three workers handle an axle shaft that is connected to a propeller after the excavation
Three workers handle an axle shaft that is connected to a propeller after the excavation

JFK’s Two Boats: PT-109 & PT-59

John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109 in the South Pacific during World War II in 1943.

Kennedy served as a junior grade lieutenant in the Navy during World War Two, commanding the torpedo boat PT-109.

PT-109 famously sank in the Solomon Islands following a collision with a Japanese destroyer in the early hours of Aug. 2, 1943. The future president was awarded The Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his role in saving the surviving PT-109 crewmembers from shark-infested waters.

After the sinking of PT-109 Kennedy was assigned to PT-59 which he skippered from October 1943 until November 1944.

During that time, he helped evacuate Marines who were surrounded by Japanese forces on Choiseul Island. “Some of these Marines were wounded and one of them died in the skipper’s bunk aboard PT-59 that night,” explains the Naval History and Heritage Command on its website.

“Loaded with two twin .50 cal. M2 Browning machine guns, two 40 mm guns (fore and aft) and four single .30 and .50 cal. machine guns, the watercraft had the power to destroy any obstacle that got in its way,” explains the Navy’s History and Heritage Command.

Sold off as surplus after the war, PT-59 was used as a charter boat for anglers.

Its final owner was Redmond Burke. In 1970, Mr. Burke, an English teacher at Bronx Community College, bought it for $1,000 to use as a houseboat without knowing at the time that the boat had once been skippered by JFK.

Finally, in the mid-1970s, Mr. Burke abandoned the boat and let it sink to the river’s bottom. “I had hoped it might have a more dignified end,” he said, “but it was not to be.”

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