Academic journal article Military Review

Into the Dark Water: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109

Academic journal article Military Review

Into the Dark Water: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109

Article excerpt

INTO THE DARK WATER: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109

John J. Domagalski, Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2014, 280 pages

The naval vessel PT109 is fully ensconced in popular culture, given the aura of its final and most famous skipper--John F. Kennedy. Baby boomers may recall the 1963 movie, its enduring images of the doomed patrol torpedo (PT) boat, and its heroic young skipper amongst a backdrop of tropical islands, messages on coconuts, coast watchers, and a largely unseen but insidious enemy.

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While JFK's rescue narrative has been told often and in great detail, author John Domagalski takes a unique approach in an insightful and well-written new work that pays homage not only to PT-109 but to the patrol torpedo community as a whole.

Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy, one of three skippers in the short life of PT-109, is preceded in command by Lt. Rollin Westholm and Ensign Bryant Larson. Each skipper is given equal time, and Kennedy himself does not appear until about midway through the book. The author effectively interweaves the story of all three, to include their accession into the Navy, their training, their deployment, and their experiences under fire. In this manner, PT-109 is a microcosm of the many boats and their crews that made the journey from training at Melville, Rhode Island, and in Panama, to combat in the distant South Pacific.

The author is clearly at his best in his vivid descriptions of night combat--the Dark Water of his title--and the perils faced by PT-109 and other PT boats as they confronted the vaunted Tokyo Express--the Japanese Navy's destroyers and escorts that provided the vital lifeline to its forward bases in the lower Solomon Islands. …

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