A project along the Harlem River in Manhattan has discovered pieces of what might be a patrol torpedo boat commanded by former President John F. Kennedy in World War II. Those pieces are now en route to a museum where they will be preserved and displayed.
Kennedy became famous in World War II for his service on the PT-109, which was sunk by the Japanese in 1943. He continued his military career aboard the PT-59, ultimately going from war hero to politician to president.
After the war, the PT-59 was part of the vast array of military might that was sold off as surplus. During the 1950s, it was a charter boat for fishermen, according to The New York Times.
Redmond Burke, 80, bought the boat in 1970 to use as a houseboat. At that time, he had the boat towed to a spot on the Harlem River where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is now building a sea wall and lived in it for a few years.
“It was an adventure for me,” Burke said. “It was me, the rats and the few corpses that came floating by.”
He said the Coast Guard told him his boat was the PT-59, but the former teacher was unaware of the significance until he learned about its Kennedy connection from a student.
Burke tried to parlay the Kennedy connection into a sale, but no one bought the boat.
In the mid-1970s, he let the boat sink.
“I had hoped it might have a more dignified end, but it was not to be,” Burke said.
MTA spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said divers clearing the area for the sea wall found the wreck last month.
Daniels said the MTA believes the wreck is the PT-59, and the pieces they recover will be treated with respect.
“[G]iven the presence of a former PT boat once commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy in the river at this site,” she said the MTA would “continue to work with the experts to ensure appropriate preservation where possible.”
In its reporting, the Times noted that there is no official Coast Guard or Navy confirmation that the pieces being pulled from the Harlem River are from the PT-59.
Remains of JFK’s PT-59 find new home at Fall River’s Battleship Cove https://t.co/WL1mtLQr5Q
— Providence Journal (@projo) June 18, 2020
— New Bedford Guide (@NewBedfordGuide) June 21, 2020
Remains of President Kennedy’s last boat, PT-59, are finding new home at Fall River’s Battleship Cove.https://t.co/Kw1cv0u9Nk
— Fall River Rising (@FallRiverRising) June 18, 2020
However, Battleship Cove, a major museum of naval relics in Fall River, Massachusetts, has accepted the claim and is receiving pieces of the boat from New York.
“The first pieces of historic ELCO PT-59 arrive in MA this evening,” a post on the Battleship Cove Facebook page said. “This load consisted of all propeller shafts and hull penetrations, struts, one propeller, rudders, and the port and stbd shaft wooden hull from the boat. Also is the port side aft rear corner of PT-59. Stay tuned for more information of the recovery of items from President JFK’s PT-59.”
William Doyle, author of the Kennedy biography “PT 109,” said he took a sample of wood from the sunken boat in 2017, and it matched what was used to build the boat Kennedy commanded. Doyle believes “very strongly” that the wreck is the PT-59.
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