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PT 109 : John F. Kennedy in World War II [Paperback]

Robert J. Donovan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 2002 0071408681 978-0071408684 1


A timeless tale of heroism now available to a new generation of readers

"To me, PT 109 has always been one of the great war stories of all time.­­Senator Edward M. Kennedy

"In PT 109 we see a man assailed by hunger, heat, cold, discouragement, and danger rising, without dramatics or posturing, to greatness."­­New York Times Book Review

"This salutary book brings back the days when men heard an undeniable call to service in something bigger than themselves, and answered in kind."­­Daniel Schorr

Editorial Reviews


"To me, PT109 has always been one of the great war stories of all time." - Senator Edward M. Kennedy; "In PT 109 we see a man assailed by hunger, heat, cold, discouragement and danger rising, without dramatics or posturing, to greatness." - New York Times Book Review; "This salutary book brings back the days when men heard an undeniable call to service in something bigger than themselves, and answered in kind." - Daniel Schorr

From the Back Cover

"To me, it has always been one of the great war stories of all time."--Senator Edward M. Kennedy

In the early morning darkness of August 2, 1943, in the waters of Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri sliced an American PT boat in two, leaving its crew for dead in a flaming sea. Over the next three days, the boat's skipper, a boyish lieutenant from Boston named John Fitzgerald Kennedy, repeatedly risked his life in an effort to summon help until he finally secured his crew's rescue.

First published to wide critical acclaim in 1961, Robert Donovan's timeless classic tells the complete, harrowing story of PT 109 and her crew. This 40th anniversary edition includes a foreword from Daniel Schorr, a preface by the author recounting the circumstances of the book's creation, and an afterword by World War II naval historian Duane Hove portraying the broader context for PT boat operations in the South Pacific. Here for a new generation of readers is a compelling glimpse of the values of service and duty that characterized America during the war years, as fresh and timely now as when it was published forty years ago.

"In PT 109 we see a man assailed by hunger, heat, cold, discouragement and danger rising, without dramatics or posturing, to greatness."--New York Times Book Review

"A tense, tough and intelligent story of wartime adventure and heroism."--San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071408681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071408684
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Profile in Courage of JFK and Others... August 23, 2009
The book is very detailed and descriptive. Some today might say the book's pace could be a little faster. However, it is still a good read. The book shows how the men of that generation volunteered to go into the service and then into harm's way; regardless of their background, education, or families money. Truly, as fellow author Stephen Ambrose stated they were "Citizen Soldiers". This book is not a combat, action-packed wartime epic but instead about Jack Kennedy and other Navy men and how they got into the PT Boat service and their experiences in the Pacific war.

It is ironic that JFK could have been killed on several occasions, such as when Japanese dive-bombers and fighters hit Rendova Harbor right before the fateful intercept patrol with Japanese destroyers. Further, Jack Kennedy just missed being killed when the incident with the Amagiri occurred. Further, the author does a very good job laying out the facts of that incident.

It is telling of Jack's leadership and character when later he asks the surviving crew members if they want to "fight or surrender". When it was about to be put to a vote, Kennedy stated, "There's nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose" (page 119). Here is a man who went to Harvard, his father was Ambassador to England with a family both well known & wealthy, and JFK states he has "nothing to lose". Whether a reader likes the Kennedy family or not, this book tells the true story of a young JFK who rose to the challeges put in front of him.

The only criticism I would have is that JFK's time as commander of the PT-59 is only very briefly mentioned in the main book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John F. Kennedy and PT-109 January 21, 2002
A Kid's Review
Format:Audio Cassette
This was an exciting book on John F. Kennedy. It had lots of action, and suspence. John F. Kennedy had a lot of willpower, that was surprising. The bravery was outstanding in this story. If you like action and adventure I could not recommend a better book. I gave this book a five star rating, because it was truely a good book. Even though this was an old book, it was exciting. This would be a very good book for kids, because there was not a lot of hard words.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, easy to read and inspirational October 18, 2010
I had seen the movie, but had never read the book, so when I found "PT 109..." for sale at a flea market, (© 1961, first printing, 220 pages, hardback) I decided the time had come to do so. I was 15 and too young to vote in 1960 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran for President of The United States, but I was aware of some of the campaign rhetoric for and against his election. In the years that followed, I was neither pro- or con- on the issue of his presidency, until November 22, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated him. All I was aware of was he had a fitness program that annoyed me greatly because it impinged on my teenage laziness. That is until November 22 when I, like the rest of America and the world cried at the thought that someone could do this evil thing. Since then I had considered him heroic as a martyr is considered heroic. Reading Robert J. Donovan's "PT 109..." has opened my eyes to the true measure of JFK's heroism in the 46 years he had in this life.

"PT109" is not so much about a boat, or a crew, or WW II, but about what happens when you put them together, and call forth the best they can produce. NOW I am impressed with the man. He was not the kind of hero that produced awesome stories of great events in great numbers. He was an ordinary man who was capable of heroic acts who called forth the best he had in him, who did what he had to do, and who did it impressively well. NOW I understand why he was so loved, respected and appreciated by those who knew him personally.

Donovan has produced what I consider an excellent description of courage, leadership, determination, and loyalty. Kennedy embodied all these traits in abundance, and, as a result, earned his way to the White House. "PT 109...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic True War Story April 26, 2012
He was an ambassador's son anxious to get into the war and a yachting fan which made him attractive to recuirters for the Patrol Torpedo service of the US Navy. After a couple desk jobs, Jack Kennedy finally got his assignment, skipper at the fairly low rank of lieutenant, junior grade, of his own craft....PT 109.

PT boats were as good a way as any to commit suicide. A mere 80-foot long, made of plywood, with ten crewmembers, a couple guns, four torpedoes. In the early days of the war during the Solomon Islands campaign (best known island: Guadalcanal), the PT boats were thrown in to provide muscle for the fleet against the Japanese. It was not coincidental that PT boats were made of plywood, which did not put them in conflict with the needs for steel for the larger ships shipyards were turning out. Only later in the war as the fleet was built up did the mission of the PT boat broaden out to include a wider variety of missions.

Early in the war, though, their job was to station themselves along sea approaches to likely resupply and landing sites, and attack the ships trying to run their guantlet, often using torpedoes that didn't want to fire.

One of the most noteworthy failures was when PT boats attacked a four destroyer convoy taking troops to Kolombangara. Word was not passed to PT 109 about the action although they were on the alert in the dark overcast. Suddenly, the destroyer Amagiri ran right through the ship, killing two men, leaving the others to founder. After sunrise, Kennedy, despite a back injury, towed one badly burned crewman while the rest clung to a wooden slat and kicked, heading toward an island where they could hole up.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Ordered wrong book!
No it was not the book I needed. I need to find a book called John F. Kennedy and PT 109
Published 2 months ago by Mike Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Historical Account
I enjoyed reading about President Kennedy's life before he became president, and how his military service shaped his views as president.
Published 3 months ago by Lisa Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars A true story, well told
Having recently read 'Glory of the Solomons' by Edwin P. Hoyt and 'Lonely Vigil - Coastwatchers of the Solomons' by Walter Lord, I had a clear impression of the setting for... Read more
Published 12 months ago by David M Harland
1.0 out of 5 stars Wasn't described
The book is falling apart as I turn pages. It was described as very goo in the description. Not what I expected.
Published 16 months ago by kenneth a azzari
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written... great detail
Wonderful...take you there.... detail in this story of JFK in the Pacific. Very interesting. Easy read. Characters are real. Situation is, I'm sure, as it actually was.
Published 16 months ago by Roger E. Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book.
I remember reading this back in 6th grade. It was one of the books that peaked and launched my appreciation and interest for WWII. Read more
Published on March 2, 2012 by Jeff Dawson
5.0 out of 5 stars PT 109
I am up to 7 books about Kennedy. I will simply say the best so far and the biggest surprise out of them all. Read more
Published on December 28, 2011 by james r. nash
5.0 out of 5 stars PT109
The book was a real story of heroism. The pictures brought it to life. JFK was a terrific writer as well as a great person. This book is a must read for any student of history.
Published on November 9, 2011 by Mr. Cobb
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent WW2 Pacific account JFK,PT109 and PT 59
I read PT 109 40 years ago and knew it was a great book. After reading the Ambassador's Son by Homer Hickam Jr. 5 stars...see my review) I got interested in PT109 and JFK again. Read more
Published on September 22, 2011 by Thomas Erickson
3.0 out of 5 stars Decsent account of what happened to PT-109
THis book did a pretty good job retracing the steps of what lead up to the sinking of PT-109 and what followed for the battered crew considering the person who wrote this bok was... Read more
Published on December 5, 2010 by A. Ballard
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