Who’s to Blame for the PT-109 Disaster?

I HAVE BEEN WAITING almost 50 years for this article [“War of Revenge,” Spring 2011]. I was 13 when I first read an account of the sinking of the PT-109 and wrote a book report that said I thought John F. Kennedy was incompetent. This was at the height of Camelot; I couldn’t prove it, but that’s what it seemed like to me. Thanks for the proof.

Sam Laufer

Toronto, Ontario

IF YOU DON’T THINK much of what Kennedy did, go to the island where the crew was marooned. Feel the sharp coral and the strong currents, and contemplate swimming four miles with a painful back dragging a wounded man, the webbing of his life jacket in your teeth.

Leaving aside his life before or after the disaster, Kennedy’s actions on that one night made him a hero.

Peter Pearsall

Sydney, Australia

THE AUTHOR FAILS to appreciate the “fog of war,” and he fails to appreciate the fact that World War II PT-boat crews were led by relatively inexperienced skippers who were not “regular navy.” In the finest tradition of the U.S. Navy, once Kennedy understood the peril facing his craft, he did not attempt to escape, but rather turned his ship into the path of the oncoming Japanese destroyer in an attempt to engage it—no coward him! Following the collision, he distinguished himself by his actions to help as many of his crew members survive as possible.

Could things have gone better? Sure. But combat actions seldom go as planned.

Mark H. Shapiro

Fullerton, Calif.

I HAVE READ a fair amount about PT boats and come to the following conclusion: Effective or not, well trained or hooligans, the officers and sailors who served on PT boats did their part and more in keeping our country free. I will be eternally thankful for their service.

John Somers

Crisfield, Md.

Not-So-Little Submarines

IT SEEMS THAT as World War II passes into history, mistakes and misconceptions creep into accounts about it. “Getting the Truth Out” [Spring 2011], about the American POWs who escaped from a Japanese prison and served with Filipino guerrillas on Mindanao, stated that some of the men were evacuated by mini-subs. We had no such vessels in World War II. Evacuations typically were conducted by full-size submarines, most often the USS Narwhal and Nautilus, which were the biggest (and oldest) in service after the Argonaut was lost.

Also, the article “War of Revenge” states that John F. Kennedy went to Northwestern University’s Midshipmen’s School. Since JFK was already an ensign as an intelligence officer, I don’t see how he could have gone there except perhaps as an instructor.

John D. Alden, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Delmar, N.Y.


Commander Alden—author of U.S. Submarine Attacks During World War II— is correct. The Narwhal evacuated the men on Mindanao. We regret the error. Regarding Kennedy, he attended an accelerated program at Northwestern’s Midshipmen’s School that was run separately from the school and designed for commissioned officers.

Which Battles Shaped Europe?

THE BATTLE OF the Metaurus River is every bit as significant as the other battles in The War List [“Five Battles That Shaped Modern Europe,” Spring 2011]. It was essentially the Gettysburg of the Second Punic War.

Similarly, I have to argue that the Battle of Lepanto is even more significant than Trafalgar. If the Romans had been defeated at Metaurus and if the Christian League had been defeated at Lepanto, the chances are quite good that the course of Western Civilization would have been dramatically altered.

In the case of the former, the Greco-Roman concepts of representative government and jurisprudence might have died on the vine. With the latter, we could have a largely Muslim Europe now, as the Ottoman Sultan had made it quite clear that he was the true inheritor of Rome.

Mario T. Majors

Virginia Beach, Va.

Battle of the Piscatiqua

THE SPRING 2011 MHQ carries a great story by Stephen Budiansky (“America’s Coming Out Party”). Budiansky says Isaac Hull, captain of the Constitution, ended the War of 1812 in charge of the naval yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The navy yard, however, is not in Portsmouth. It is across the Piscatiqua River in Kittery, Maine. It has been there ever since its establishment in 1800.

The issue is not mere pedantry to New Hampshire residents who work at “the yard,” since Maine has an income tax and New Hampshire does not. The issue recently went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the yard is—and has been—in Maine.

Herbert N. Clark

Eliot (formerly a part of Kittery), Maine


“War of Revenge” [Spring 2011] incorrectly locates Rabaul on New Guinea, not New Britain.

In “Getting the Truth Out” in the Spring 2011 issue, the photo at the top of page 48 is incorrectly captioned. It shows unidentified American servicemen working at a Filipino guerrilla base on the island of Mindanao sometime in 1943.


Originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here