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PT 109    by William Doyle order for
PT 109
by William Doyle
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

So much has been written about John F. Kennedy that one would think that there can be very little, if anything, more to say about the former president's life. But, since JFK continues to be rated above all the other 20th century presidents, the books keep coming even though many of them seem to be rehashing information already published.

That might seem to be the case with William Doyle's PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy. In this narrative, Doyle revisits Kennedy's brush with death in August of 1943 when his U.S. Navy motor torpedo boat was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer in the South Pacific.

Two crew men were killed, but the rest were able to make it to an island where they remained until rescued. Kennedy emerged from the incident with permanent back injuries and he was lauded as a war hero for helping his remaining crewmen survive.

Drawing upon a number of sources that include declassified documents, materials from the Japanese military archives, and firsthand interviews with the last of the surviving links to the event, Doyle has expanded on earlier books about this episode in JFK's life, and explains the impact it had on his political career in later years.

An added feature of the rescue of Kennedy and his crew is provided by William 'Bud' Liebenow. In his nineties when interviewed, Liebenow was the captain of 109's sister ship and played an important role in the rescue effort.

In assessing how the PT 109 mishap transformed Kennedy psychologically and perhaps affected his decision-making years later when he was in the White House, Doyle takes his book into a speculative area which some readers will find interesting although others may not.

Did the sinking and its aftermath develop in JFK a sharp skepticism toward the military bureaucracy as Doyle suggests? Perhaps! And, would Kennedy ever have made a successful run for the House of Representatives if he could not have had the war combat hero card to play? That's another question open to various interpretations.

Well illustrated, this book covers a lot of familiar ground with an interesting wrinkle or two. Although older readers may not wish to revisit this subject, younger individuals unfamiliar with the details of JFK's war years will find it very informative.

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