Thursday, 6 July 2006

Extract from Profiles in Courage

Extract from Introduction written by Caroline Kennedy.

"John F. Kennedy began his public service career as a PT-boat commander in the South Pacific in World War II. While on patrol on the night of August 2, 1943, the PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, the Amagiri, and exploded into flames, throwing crew members into the burning water. Two were killed and one was burned so badly he couldn't swim. Clutching a strap of the injured man's life jacket in his teeth, Lieutenant Kennedy towed the wounded sailor to the nearest island, three miles away. For the next six days, with little food or water, the men hid, fearing they would be captured by the Japanese. Each evening Kennedy swam through shark-infested waters to other islands seeking help, until he was spotted by two Solomon Islanders, Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa. They picked a coconut, onto which Kennedy carved a message, which they took to the hideout of a nearby Australian coast watcher who arranged rescue. In the summer of 2002 a National Geographic Society expedition found that the legend of John F. Kennedy's courage lives on in the far-away Solomon Islands. Using remote-controlled vehicles with underwater cameras, explorer Robert Ballard and his team discovered the sunken PT-109. Expedition members met Eroni Kumana, the man whose simple canoe saved my father's life and changed the course of history, and his son, John F. Kennedy Kumana.

My father's bravery earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal "for extremely heroic conduct," and a Purple Heart for his injuries. It also led to Profiles in Courage. The collision with the Japanese destroyer left him with a spinal injury, which required surgery in the winter of 1954-55. Elected to the U.S. Senate two years before, my father was interested in understanding the qualities that make a great senator. History was his passion, and he spent his months of recuperation reading the chronicles of his legendary predecessors. To both my parents, history was not a dull, dry affair, but a constant source of inspiration. They believed that there truly are heroes, and we all can learn from their example. My father's heroes were men and women who were willing to risk their careers to do what was right for our country. Profiles in Courage, published in 1956, tells their stories."

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