BY ALFRED PAGEPITU
THE memory of the PT109 crew has been commemorated with a six-man team swimming the 4.2 mile route from Kennedy Island to Olosana and Naru and back to Kennedy Island.
On the early morning of August 8, 2018, waded into the cold water and began their journey. Five dugout canoes accompanied the swimmers along with a lead boat and a rear boat.
The swim was strenuous and intense. But the team proceeded through the water without the additional challenges of serious injuries, risk of hostile fire from enemy aircraft and vessels and lack of food and water that had beset the PT 109 crew.
The tranquil setting is a far cry from the fierce combat that had raged across the Solomon Islands during World War Two.
The swimmers are Peter Canfield (an Atlanta lawyer), John Kulewicz (a Columbus lawyer and team leader of the swimmer), Rich Lovering (a Columbus lawyer). Jack Lundberg (a builder in Montana and Ohio), Jay Madigan (an Orlando environmental consultant) and Adrian Mula (from Antigua, first mate on the yacht Antares, anchored nearby).
It took them two and a half hours to three hours. The swim was especially meaningful for those whose fathers and uncles had served in the American forces in the Pacific during World War Two.
Island Sun Gizo and Kerrie Kennedy of Dive Gizo accompanied the team to Kennedy Island, Olasana, Naru and then back to Kennedy.
“In the days before the swim got underway, the team was honoured to receive best wishes from former US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy as you embark on this incredible journey and for finding such a meaningful way to mark the 75th Anniversary,” the team leader John J Kulewicz told Island Sun Gizo.
Kulewicz is the son of the two other crew members (Ensign Leonard J Thom, the Executive Officer, and torpedoman Jack Kirksey).
Historian Mike Bell of Maine spoke with team members and shared personal memorabilia.
He said Mary Ellen Frawley, sister of Ensign Thom, sends her best wishes and prayers.
He said a highlight of the swim was the opportunity to meet with the extended families of Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, the two Solomon Islanders who had brought the crew’s rescue in coordination with Australian coastwatcher Reginald Evans and a team of seven scouts.
The Gasa family welcomed the team to their village and homes. Entourages from the Kumana family paid visits to the team, one arriving aboard a speeding boat from which an American flag given to them by the US Navy was waving in the stiff wind and rain.
Danny and Kerrie Kennedy of Dive Gizo arranged the family meetings and handled all of the logistics for the swim. Danny (unrelated to JFK’s family) is an American expatriate born in Florida who has served in the provincial parliament. His wife Kerrie was born in Australia. The opportunity to work with them was indispensable to the success of the team.
The team was quartered at Fatboys Resort. Ideally situated across the water from Kennedy Island, the facility bears a name with literary origins that is hardly descriptive of the energetic involvement of all guests in a wide range of water activities.
Australian proprietors Karen and John Flynn and the friendly local staff made the swimmers feel especially welcome with their warm hospitality and a wide range of nutritious daily meals.
“The swim was a true test of our spirit and stamina,” said team captain John
“My teammates and I were inspired by curiosity, idealism and the love of country and willingness to take personal risks in service of the nation that guided the crew of PT 109 and all who served in World War Two.
“We each left the water with an even deeper respect for the adversity that President Kennedy and the surviving crew of PT 109 overcame. We head home with an especially grateful memory of all who served in the South Pacific, including the two sailors who perished in the PT 109 collision, and a sincere appreciation for the generosity of the people of the Solomon Islands,” said Kulewicz.
He said around 2.20am on August 2, 1943, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri emerged from darkness and fog to ram through PT 109, an American motor torpedo boat skippered by Lt John F Kennedy, that was patrolling in the Solomon Islands.
Two of the 13 crew members were killed instantly. The 11 survivors swam three miles to a deserted island, then known as Plum Pudding Island or Kasolo, after daybreak.
Two days later, they took to the water again to move to a nearby island called Olasana, in search of food and fresh water. There the crew awaited rescue while Lt Kennedy made several nighttime swims into Ferguson Passage and Blackett Strait to look for returning PT boats, and daytime swims over to the neighboring island called Naru.
After a fateful encounter with native canoeists Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, who took news of their survival to Australian coastwatcher Reginald Evans and the US Navy, the crew was rescued on August 8, 1943.