Saving Lieutenant Kennedy: The heroic story of the Australian who helped rescue JFK
NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 254 pp
In August 1943, John F. Kennedy, then aged twenty-six, was rescued from the threat of Japanese captivity – or worse – by a few brave Solomon Islanders, in an operation coordinated by the Australian naval officer Reg Evans. Evans was one of the Royal Australian Navy’s ‘Coastwatchers’, intelligence collectors based perilously behind Japanese lines.
Kennedy had command of PT-109, a small wooden patrol torpedo boat that had been rammed and cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. For some days he inspired and led the survivors of his crew, swimming between three small islands in what is now the Western Province of Solomon Islands. There were thousands of Japanese troops in the offing, and back at the Americans’ base on the island of Rendova, JFK and his men had been given up for dead. Then Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, two of Evans’s network of Islander scouts, came across them and paddled sixty kilometres through enemy lines to carry a message to Rendova. Evans made radio contact with the PT base and fine-tuned the subsequent rescue.