A Coconut Saves JFK's Life

This is taken from an article by Jacopo della Quercia appearing in Reader’s Digest, February 2020.

August 2, 1943, began as a cloudy, moonless night in the South Pacific for 26-year-old Navy lieutenant John F. Kennedy. As Kennedy and his crew patrolled the Solomon Islands from their boat PT-109, a Japanese destroyer pierced through the fog and sliced the smaller ship in half. An enormous fireball filled the sky, and two men aboard PT-109 were killed. As Kennedy and ten other survivors huddled around the wreck, they realized they had no choice but to swim to a nearby island. Kennedy, a former member of the Harvard swim team, personally towed one of his comrades with his teeth for five hours through shark- and crocodile-infested waters to Plum Pudding Island, where they ate coconuts to survive.

After several days, the men flagged down two Solomon Islands natives passing in a canoe, who agreed to take a message to the Allied forces. The dispatch was carved into a coconut shell: “NAURO ISL … COMMANDER … NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT … HE CAN PILOT … 11 ALIVE … NEED SMALL BOAT … KENNEDY.” The islanders delivered the coconut, and the men were rescued.

Years later, Judge Ernest W. Gibson Jr., a colonel in the South Pacific during the war, surprised the newly elected President Kennedy with a gift. It was the coconut he had carved his message into. Kennedy had it encased in plastic and used it as a paperweight throughout his presidency. Today, it is on permanent display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.