Past Auction

The Nameplate From PT 109

Mon, Nov 05, 2012 at 10am EST |
New York
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Rare Artifact from the Legendary WWII Boat Commanded by John F. Kennedy

  • Rare Artifact from the Legendary WWII Boat Commanded by John F. Kennedy
  • Descended in the Family of PT 109's Original Quartermaster Guy Manning
  • Will Highlight Doyle New York's Auction of Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs

On Monday, November 5, 2012 at 10am, Doyle New York will auction the manufacturer’s nameplate from the legendary World War II boat, PT 109, which was under the command of John F. Kennedy when it sank in 1943. This rare original artifact from PT 109 was removed during the ship's active duty in the Guadacanal Campaign. It will be a highlight of Doyle New York’s November 5 auction of Rare Books, Autographs and Photographs.

PT 109 (Patrol Torpedo boat), a very fast eighty-foot torpedo-armed craft propelled by three Packard engines, typically patrolled the islands at night, engaging larger war ships at close range or disrupting Japanese supply ships. These supply ships, usually highly armed destroyers ill-fitted to carry cargo, were each known as Tokyo Express. Included in the lot with the nameplate is a December 1942 congratulations wire to the crew of the 109 for having "crimped the Tokyo Express and relieved the pressure on our forces". It is no coincidence that the 109, like many PT boats, would sink on a night it had engaged the Tokyo Express.

The order to remove all identifying elements from the PT 109 came after Toyko Rose, the English speaking radio announcer who worked for the Japanese, began listing the boat numbers and crew members from sunk or captured vessels on air in order to intimidate listening American officers. Quartermaster Guy Manning (1918-1984) was a member of the original squadron to man PT 109, and he accompanied the ship from the United States to the Solomon Islands in 1942. Manning removed the nameplate and it has remained in his family for 70 years.

PT 109 is the most famous boat of the "Mosquito Fleet" for the actions of its final commander, Lieutenant, Junior Grade John F. Kennedy. In April 1943 Manning's Squadron Five had been transferred off PT 109 and replaced by Squadron Two under Kennedy's command. At about 2:30am on August 2nd 1943, PT 109 was severely damaged and eventually sunk after a collision with the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. Spotting an small island in the dark, the surviving crew and Kennedy, who towed a badly burned engineer by placing the strap of a life-jacket in his teeth, swam the three mile distance over a five hour period. After several days, Kennedy was able to instruct local inhabitants encountered on a nearby island to deliver a message carved on a coconut shell to the PT base, and the entirety of the marooned crew was rescued on August 8.

For his courage and actions, Kennedy received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and, for his injuries sustained on the night of the event, a Purple Heart. The legacy of Kennedy's actions during the PT 109 incident provided a strong foundation for him as a political leader, and the 1959 release of classified PT 109 documents aided his presidential campaign. A film version was released in 1963 and the story of PT 109 remains one of World War II's most notable events.

Physical remnants of PT 109 are extremely scarce and ephemeral, with most being held in institutions. These include the ship's colors and fragments of a life-jacket. Kennedy's Mosquito Fleet shoulder patch that sold in 2011 is identical to Guy Manning's patch, which is included the current lot.

Most PT boats were sunk by the Navy in the Pacific at War's end and very few survive today. A similar nameplate hangs in PT 617, an Elco PT boat which never saw active service and resides now at Battleship Cove Museum.

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