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Customer Reviews (10)
Short, easy to read and inspirational
I had seen the movie, but had never read the book, so when I found "PT 109..." for sale at a flea market, (© 1961, first printing, 220 pages, hardback) I decided the time had come to do so. I was 15 and too young to vote in 1960 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran for President of The United States, but I was aware of some of the campaign rhetoric for and against his election. In the years that followed, I was neither pro- or con- on the issue of his presidency, until November 22, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated him. All I was aware of was he had a fitness program that annoyed me greatly because it impinged on my teenage laziness. That is until November 22 when I, like the rest of America and the world cried at the thought that someone could do this evil thing. Since then I had considered him heroic as a martyr is considered heroic. Reading Robert J. Donovan's "PT 109..." has opened my eyes to the true measure of JFK's heroism in the 46 years he had in this life.
"PT109" is not so much about a boat, or a crew, or WW II, but about what happens when you put them together, and call forth the best they can produce. NOW I am impressed with the man. He was not the kind of hero that produced awesome stories of great events in great numbers. He was an ordinary man who was capable of heroic acts who called forth the best he had in him, who did what he had to do, and who did it impressively well. NOW I understand why he was so loved, respected and appreciated by those who knew him personally.
Donovan has produced what I consider an excellent description of courage, leadership, determination, and loyalty. Kennedy embodied all these traits in abundance, and, as a result, earned his way to the White House. "PT 109..." is also about survival, war time naval life, and the trials of military life in general. Along with these elements, the author skillfully weaves in humorous vignettes and descriptions of the flora and fauna of some of the islands and word pictures of the islands themselves. His descriptions of Kennedy shortly after his rescue is a good example of his linguistic talent:
"Here he was, bearded, gaunt, unwashed, half-starved, half-naked, blotched with festering coral wounds, castaway on a miserable patch of jungle surrounded by sharks, being greeted as if he were in his father's embassy in London." (pg. 187)
His description of one of the islands was also helpful in "seeing" the place:
"If Lumberi was a wilderness, Lambu Lambu was little more than a mangrove swamp, where green lizards a foot long glided over damp roots and scorpions dropped out of trees into PT boats moored below. Lambu Lambu Cove leads back into a small river, which is known to the natives as the Katapaqu but which could as suitably be called Styx. It is a dark, fetid stream that flows through blackened mangrove roots into heavy jungle and looks as though it may disappear eventually into a dismal cavern. The screech of strange birds pierces the foliage..."
Contrary to what was written by one Amazon dot Com reviewer, this book is not boring. It is anything but boring. While it would not rise to the level of a fast paced action thriller, it is a page turner. There is great suspense and good story telling to be found in the descriptions of PT 109's collision with the Amagiri, the Japanese destroyer that rammed her (109) and the hours just before and just after. There is likewise good storytelling and great suspense in the crew's efforts to survive and find their way to an island not covered by Japanese, avoid shark attacks, and then to get from island to island where they could be found and rescued. Admittedly this is only a part of the story, yet it is still the central part of the adventure, and this reader was well pleased with Donovan's work. Further, the author rounds out and finishes the story bringing us briefly to the White House in 1961. I am really sorry that the other reviewer found this boring. He obviously missed the point of the book, which was not to thrill and excite, but to tell an authentic story of strength and the ordinary heroism, possibly waiting to be brought out in all of us.
Therefore, I give Robert J. Donovan five very satisfied and enthusiastic stars for PT 109.
Note: This review is from the 1961 first edition, hard cover, 220 pages.
A Profile in Courage of JFK and Others...
The book is very detailed and descriptive. Some today might say the book's pace could be a little faster. However, it is still a good read. The book shows how the men of that generation volunteered to go into the service and then into harm's way; regardless of their background, education, or families money. Truly, as fellow author Stephen Ambrose stated they were "Citizen Soldiers". This book is not a combat, action-packed wartime epic but instead about Jack Kennedy and other Navy men and how they got into the PT Boat service and their experiences in the Pacific war.
It is ironic that JFK could have been killed on several occasions, such as when Japanese dive-bombers and fighters hit Rendova Harbor right before the fateful intercept patrol with Japanese destroyers. Further, Jack Kennedy just missed being killed when the incident with the Amagiri occurred. Further, the author does a very good job laying out the facts of that incident.
It is telling of Jack's leadership and character when later he asks the surviving crew members if they want to "fight or surrender". When it was about to be put to a vote, Kennedy stated, "There's nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose" (page 119). Here is a man who went to Harvard, his father was Ambassador to England with a family both well known & wealthy, and JFK states he has "nothing to lose". Whether a reader likes the Kennedy family or not, this book tells the true story of a young JFK who rose to the challeges put in front of him.
The only criticism I would have is that JFK's time as commander of the PT-59 is only very briefly mentioned in the main book. However, one could argue that this is a book focusing on Jack's time with the PT-109, only. The new Foreword and new Preface to the 40th Anniversary Edition help put things in perspective. The new Afterward gives some detailed information on the history of American PT Boats and JFK's time as Skipper of the PT-59 (after the PT-109).
Even more heoric than I imagined.
I thought I already knew the story of PT109 but this definitive account corrected many of my misconceptions. I found the "true story" to be evenmore heoric than my idealized truth had been.
While PT-109 is written in a factual, after-action battle report style, it can serve a purpose greater than just the telling of a heoric story.For PT109 does not, as one might suspect, glorify war.Rather it celebrates a time when a man from a very privliged family risked his life not just for his country, but for his shipmates who were "common men".For this reason and for the straight-forward history it delivers, it deserves to be on every High School history teacher's list of "recommended books."
Even if your not a teacher, when your are done with PT109, be sure to past it on to somone of the upcoming generation.Who knows? You might insipre a future President.
Classic American History!
As Daniel Schorr in the new forward to this book suggests, World War 2 brought out the best in many men, and the ones who manned the motor torpedo boats were among the bravest, setting out in small plywood boats to fight an enemy in often large ships. The ordeal that Kennedy and his crew went through after PT-109 was destroyed is a story of courage that will last the ages. It is obvious that Robert Donovan was very careful to get the facts straight as he wrote this book, it is a great war story. For me it was a page turner, written in an easy to read, flowing style. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, a gem of a book about a small piece of American history, a fascinating account indeed. Kennedy is portrayed, and rightly so, as a compassionate and intelligent young man.
In a very fine afterword to this 40th anniversary edition, Duane Hove give us additional details of Kennedy's military service, and also interesting text on the history of the PT boats before, during, and after the war, and also where you can see PT boats on display today, only a few of these magnificent boats remain with us.
great to see this new edition
I was about 10 when the Saturday Evening Post ran a serialized version of Donovan's book.I'll never forget coming home from school the day the next edition was due, and dropping everything to read the next installment.With the passage of 40 years, and a rather older perspective, I can see that the book isn't perfect.Other reviews pick on the flaws.But it's great regardless.If you've never read the story, or like me want to relive a bit of the past, I recommend it highly.
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