Feature no image

Published on November 29th, 2012 | by RLn Staff

0

Remembering JFK and the PT-109

World War II vet Ray Starkey after learning President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He served under the command of the future U.S. president in Pacific theater of the war.

By Arthur R. Vinsel, Contributing Writer

With a future U.S. president at the helm, the PT-109 was patched-up wreck in hair trigger battle readiness. The 80-foot mahogany plywood crates were laden with four torpedoes, four 50 caliber machine guns, a 20 mm cannon, 3,000 gallons of high octane aviation fuel, and a handful of sailors hanging on for dear life.

Lt.  j.g. John F. Kennedy’s boat epitomized the spirit of World War II. The PT-109 and its men became the later focal point of some of my most memorable newspaper stories, including the story of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.

A rookie reporter of 23, I felt an eerie sense of being a part of history. This was no drill like Journalism 101, where the teacher gives a few bits of data and you try to organize them objectively.

This was life and death drama, and I was to cover it.

Because I was there, the events of Nov. 22, 1963–the story of the century– were numbing.

Reporters traditionally should only report, never taking part in the news.
I put myself in the story the day JFK died, for as it turned out, that seemed the only way to tell it.

I interviewed a Garden Grove resident, an oilfield worker in Huntington Beach that served with the president.

“They all called him The Skipper, even after he became U.S. president,” recalled Torpedoman 2/C Ray Starkey, 47.”

Based at Rendova in the Solomon Islands, squads of PT boats prowled Blackett Strait by night, targeting enemy supply barges and occasionally a “The Tokyo Express” –swift Japanese warship that would shell U.S. positions.

Starky and I met because someone in Washington, D.C. proposed a goodwill reunion in August 1963 between surviving PT-109 crew and men of the Japanese destroyer Amagiri that rammed and sunk the boat.

President Kennedy would not attend but the government thought a reunion of old foes after 20 years would be grand, though feelings were mixed among the old soldiers.

“Hell, it was war and (we would have) done the same to them,” cracked Starky, a plain spoken guy with a trace of actor John Wayne in his bearing.

Starkey enjoyed telling how tropic heat and humidity were so unbearable the crew often went nude, but Kennedy ordered them to wear shorts in the galley where Vienna sausages were a luncheon staple.

The night of Aug. 2 was moonless in Blackett Strait as the PT-109 idled on one of its three 1,500-horsepower Packard engines, barely audible over the lapping wavelets. Two men were on watch and others on the topside for fresh air.

“Ship at 2 o’clock!” bellowed one sailor.

“Engines ahead full!” Kennedy yelled.”

But within six seconds the Amagiri knifed into the small boat, instantly killing seamen Andrew Kirksey and Harold Marney in a machine gun turret. Machinist’s Mate Gerard McMahon was sprayed with burning fuel in the engine room.

Kirksey had been tormented for weeks by premonitions of death to the point of upsetting crewmates, Starky recalled.

The destroyer, which had just delivered 900 fresh enemy troops and 70 tons of supplies to Kolombangara Island, steamed on and Kennedy began counting the noses of his survivors. Kolombangara was already occupied by 10,000 Japanese soldiers and one Australian coast watcher in a hideout atop Mount Veve, the island’s volcano.

Fortunately for the PT-109 crew, he spotted the fiery 2:20 a.m. crash and took a compass reading.

Kennedy got his crew assembled with a floating timber and they paddled four miles to a tiny island with no food or water source. Kennedy towed the badly burned McMahon by a web belt clenched in his teeth. Starkey’s hands and arms were burned but he could kick with his feet.

Kennedy swam on a few miles to Naru Island, where he found fresh water and coconuts to sustain them. They were finally rescued six days later.

Coast watcher sub-Lt. Arthur R. Evans sent two Solomon Islanders in a dugout canoe to seek survivors and they made contact. The Navy presumed the crew was lost and never searched for them. The Navy had a memorial service, while Evans’ two native aides were engaged in the crew’s rescue at an extreme risk. Native collaborators were invariably tortured to death by the Japanese invaders.

Naturally, the Navy and Hollywood wrote a fictitious but frantic search scene into the 1963 PT-109, movie script to cover the asses of their tailored suits and uniforms.

The happy ending involved the natives paddling 35 miles to another PT boat base with a coconut shell carved with rescue instructions and signed; “11 alive, Need small boat, Kennedy.”

Rescuers approaching could hear the castaways singing “Jesus Loves Me,” to keep their spirits up.

News Editor Ralph Young was enthusiastic, mostly, but took the Lord’s name in vain over the Vienna sausage anecdote and Kennedy’s prowess as an expert thief of needed boat parts.

“We can’t print stories like this about the sitting president of the United States!” Young snapped gruffly while stifling giggles.

There were grand moments as Starkey, the oilfield roustabout, waltzed in rented tuxedo with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy around the ballroom at President Kennedy’s Inauguration.

Then came Nov. 22, 1963.

I was walking down the back hallway of the Orange Coast Daily Pilot newspaper when I heard my editor, Tom Murphine, slam his phone down.

“My God,” he cried out. “Kennedy’s been shot! They think it’s fatal!”
“I’m going to try to get to Ray Starkey,” I said, grabbing my phone.

I felt a strange chill of dread, unlike any other sensation I could recall.

A subdued young telephone operator at the Signal Oil & Gas field in Huntington Beach said Starkey was on his lunch break and under the circumstances he would be kept available at the locker room. Other reporters were there.

I sped up Highway 101 and swung my Austin Healey Sprite roadster into the rocky, muddy oilfield. Just as I reached for the ignition key the radio’s dirge-like music ceased.

“Ladies and gentlemen…,” the announcer began solemnly. “The president is dead.”

I entered the crowded room, noisy but with a hushed quality. No radio was turned on. Starkey sat on a worn bench with grief plain on his face, dots of crude oil in his white hair. He was dazed.

I recognized other reporters who badgered him with questions about serving under JFK but they were getting little response. I was the only one who’d interviewed him in person earlier.

His stories spilled from my memory and I craved a typewriter.

Starkey saw me and smiled wanly, a friend in a sea of strangers, yahoots pestering him for a good quote when he was still in a state of shock.
Some of the newsmen had turned away as though to interview one another.
“Hi, Ray,” I said. “Rough day for sure. How’re you doing?”

“I just hope he doesn’t die,” he murmured miserably. “Do you know if it was a communist done it? God, I just hope The Skipper doesn’t die.”

Damn. How do you tell a guy news like this? Maybe you just do, when the time comes.

I may have seemed to be a kid reporter, but I had manhood on my mind.
“Ray, I’m afraid it is too late for us to keep hoping that now. They just announced it on the radio as I drove in. I’m so sorry.”

He raised his head once to see if he’d heard me right and I just put my hand on his shoulder.

Starkey died a few years later due to cardiovascular disease.

Tags: , , , , , , ,


About the Author



Leave a Reply

Back to Top ↑
  • Like Us On Facebook!

  • The Guide to Fine Dining

    The Guide to Fine Dining
  • Calendar

    May 2015
    S M T W T F S
    26

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: CommunityWalk Cabrillo

    Category: ArtOpen Studios at Angels Gate

    Category: ArtQuilt Show

    Category: CommunityQuilt Show

    Category: ArtLos Angeles Artists Propose Solutions to Human Trafficking Through Art

    Category: TheaterBye Bye Birdie

    Category: EntertainmentSuburban Showgirl

    Category: ArtLA Philharmonic

    Category: EntertainmentLos Angeles Philharmonic

    Category: CommunityAbilities Night

    Category: EntertainmentOil Boom, Sir Madam, the South Hollows

    27

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    28

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: ArtLuminous, Transparent, Realistic Watercolor Workshop

    29

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    30

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: ArtPlacas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo

    Category: TheaterPlacas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    1

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: ArtPlacas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo

    Category: ArtBach’s Lunchtime Recital

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterHP Lovecraft Film Festival San Pedro

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterBye Bye Birdie

    Category: EntertainmentTadic, Manring, Garcia

    Category: EntertainmentClive Farrington

    2

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: ArtPlacas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo

    Category: CommunityFeria de Dominguez Adobe Brunch and Tea

    Category: CommunityFriend Fest

    Category: Community5th Annual Fashion Extravaganza

    Category: TheaterHP Lovecraft Film Festival San Pedro

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterBye Bye Birdie

    Category: EntertainmentScott Henderson Trio

    3

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityTarget Free Sundays Cinco de Mayo Festival

    Category: CommunityBully Prevention Extravaganza

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: EntertainmentElizabeth Pitcairn & Louise Thomas

    Category: TheaterBye Bye Birdie

    Category: TheaterHP Lovecraft Film Festival San Pedro

    4

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    5

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: ArtLuminous, Transparent, Realistic Watercolor Workshop

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    6

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: ArtMeet the Grunion

    7

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: ArtFirst Thursday Artwalk

    Category: ArtGabriel Figueroa: The Collection

    Category: ArtVisualizations: ​Art and Science​

    Category: ArtVisualizations: ​Art and Science​

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: EntertainmentKlezmer Juice

    8

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: ArtFirst Thursday Artwalk

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterReel Rock Films: Don’t Look Back (1967)

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    9

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityGuided Nature Walk at White Point Nature Preserve

    Category: EntertainmentMusic Under the Guns

    Category: EntertainmentJosh Nelson

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: EntertainmentAdal Ramones Tour Monologues

    Category: EntertainmentFrank Unzueta’s Jazz Trio

    10

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: EntertainmentFred Schreuders Talk Story Trio

    11

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    12

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    13

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    14

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: TheaterThe Iron Giant

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    15

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityBarley Forge Tap Attack

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    16

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityThe Amazing Race: Long Beach in Lincoln Park

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    17

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    18

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityToastmaster’s Open House

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    19

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    20

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    21

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    22

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    23

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    24

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    25

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    26

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    27

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    28

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    29

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtJohn Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    30

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    31

    Category: ArtVarnette Honeywood

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    1

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    2

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    3

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: CommunitySan Pedro Kiwanis Club

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    4

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: CommunityFarmer’s Market

    Category: ArtFirst Thursday Artwalk

    Category: CommunityOpen Mic Nite

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    5

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

    Category: ArtFirst Thursday Artwalk

    Category: EntertainmentPiano Nights with Rob Klopfenstein

    Category: TheaterAbigail/1702

    6

    Category: ArtMOLAA Presents Fantastic Mexico

  • Take a Trip to Havana

    Take a Trip to Havana
  • Join the RLn Network

    Subscribe Today:


    Options


  • Get Home Delivery!

    Get Home Delivery!
  • Reset The Net: Protect Your Privacy

    Reset The Net: Protect Your Privacy