KENNEDY, John F. (1917-1963). PT-109. An archive of two autograph letters signed and two typed letters signed ("John F. Kennedy"), to Kloye Ann Kirksey (the widow of crewman Andrew Jackson Kirksey, killed on PT-109), 1943-1961. Together 9 pages, 4tos and 8vo, on Naval, Senatorial, and Presidential stationery; with a black and white photo of PT-109 crew (spotted, as JFK points out in 26 Mar 1944 letter, by heat affecting the negative), ca. 1943. 4 x 6in.; also with a carbon copy of 22 August 1943 memo by Lt. B. R. White and Lt. J. G. McClure, “Sinking of PT 109 and subsequent rescue of survivors.” 5pp., single-spaced, 4tos.; and two additional JFK TLS to Mrs. Kirksey with secretarial signatures. Final lines of 26 March 1944 ALS traced over.
“WE WERE SHEARED BY A FAST-MOVING JAPANESE DESTROYER AS WE TURNED INTO THEM FOR A TORPEDO SHOT”
JFK extends his “deepest sympathy” to Mrs. Kirksey for her “great loss." in his 10 October 1943 autograph letter. “Your husband rode the PT 109 with me from the time he arrived in the Solomons,” Kennedy writes, “he was looked on as the most promising man on the boat…the thought of you and your son was always with him.” He then gives a dramatic account of the battle on the night of 1 August 1943: “You may already have heard what happened to us that night off New Georgia. We were sheared by a fast-moving Japanese destroyer as we turned into them for a torpedo shot. Some of us were left on the boat, others thrown into the water. It took several hours for all of us to get together, and when we finally had, two men were missing. One of them was Jack. We could find no trace and no one reported seeing him. I’m truly sorry that I cannot offer you hope that he survived that night. You do have the consolation of knowing that your husband died in the service of his country. He left a fine reputation with all, and those of us who knew him think of him with respect and affection.” JFK leaves out his own heroic exploits in saving a badly burned crewman, Patrick McMahon, by towing him through the water for four hours by a strap clenched in Kennedy’s teeth, then keeping his men alive for six days until rescued.
On 26 March 1944: Kennedy encloses “a picture [included in the lot] taken on the PT 109 off Guadalcanal early in July just before we moved up to New Georgia. The picture, unfortunately, is poor, the heat spoiled the negative but it is good of Jack.” He invites Mrs. Kirksey to reach out to him for help: “Your husband was a great friend of mine, and I will feel it a privilege if there is something I could do.” On 12 July 1944 he tells her she will receive the $2,000 realized from John Hersey’s account of the episode for Reader’s Digest. Seventeen years later, on 24 April 1961 now President, JFK sends Mrs. Kirksey a photo (not included) of the war memorial where her late husband’s name is inscribed. Provenance: Sang Collection. Sotheby's New York, April 26, 1978, lot 158.