Caroline Kennedy Honors JFK's Heroic World War II Swim in the Solomon Islands
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Caroline Kennedy Honors JFK’s Heroic World War II Swim in the Solomon Islands

In a poignant tribute to her late father, former US President John F. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, the current US ambassador to Australia, recreated a remarkable feat that took place eighty years ago during World War II. Her father’s act of heroism as the commander of PT-109, a torpedo boat, played a crucial role in shaping his military and leadership record, ultimately paving the way for his election as the 35th President of the United States in 1960.

Father-Son Duo Swims Three Quarters

On a symbolic Wednesday morning, Caroline Kennedy, aged 65, alongside her son, Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, embarked on a journey to recreate a portion of her father’s epic swim. The duo swam about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) in approximately 30 minutes between two tiny palm-fringed islets in the Solomon Islands. This endeavor held immense personal significance for the ambassador, who shared her reflections on the US Embassy’s Twitter account, now known as X, expressing a renewed appreciation for her father’s heroism and that of his crew.

Caroline Kennedy Honors JFK's Heroic World War II Swim in the Solomon Islands
Source: Stars and Stripes

What Exactly Happened?

The original act of bravery occurred on August 1, 1943, when JFK’s PT-109 was struck by a Japanese Imperial Navy destroyer in the dark hours of the early morning. Despite the destruction and the boat capsizing, Kennedy displayed extraordinary leadership by gathering the surviving crew, 11 out of the 13 aboard the vessel, and initiating a 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) swim to the safety of tiny Plum Pudding Island, which is now named after him. In the subsequent days, JFK and his crew embarked on further swims to nearby islands, including Olasana and Naru, in search of food and rescue. Ambassador Kennedy’s swim between Olasana and Naru, retracing her father’s footsteps, served as a powerful tribute to the perseverance and determination demonstrated during those harrowing days.

Caroline Kennedy Honors the Duo

The fortunes of the PT-109 crew turned when they encountered two islanders, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, who were scouts for the Allies. These courageous individuals played a vital role in helping Kennedy establish contact with the US Navy, eventually leading to the safe rescue of the crew on August 8, 1943. In recognition of his valor and leadership, JFK was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medals.

During her heartfelt speech on Kennedy Island, Caroline Kennedy expressed her deep gratitude to the families of Gasa and Kumana for their ancestors’ heroism. She acknowledged that her father’s experiences in the Solomon Islands had a profound impact on shaping his character and instilling in him a sense of profound responsibility as a leader. The willingness of the islanders to risk their lives to save others left an indelible mark on JFK, influencing his approach to life and public service.

Why Does Solomon Islands Hold a Special Place in Caroline Kennedy’s Heart?

The Solomon Islands hold a special place in Caroline Kennedy’s heart, as they are where her father first experienced the responsibility of leadership. The knowledge that the lives and safety of his crew depended on him compelled JFK to risk his own life to save theirs, a principle that guided his actions throughout his life. Reflecting on the enduring connections that transcend time and borders, Caroline Kennedy recounted an exceptional tribute made 15 years ago by Eroni Kumana to her father’s grave. Kumana presented a rare and precious example of ‘kustom money,’ a ceremonial item carved from a giant clam shell, symbolizing deep respect and honor for one’s chief. This gesture, along with Caroline Kennedy’s visit and swim, exemplifies the lasting impact of JFK’s heroism on the people of the Solomon Islands.

Caroline Kennedy Honors JFK's Heroic World War II Swim in the Solomon Islands
Source: Stars and Stripes

In return, the ambassador presented the families of the islanders with two PT Boat pins that belonged to President Kennedy, symbolizing the deep appreciation and gratitude of the Kennedy family for the heroic acts that saved their father’s life.

The legacy of John F. Kennedy’s heroism and the enduring bonds with the people of the Solomon Islands continue to inspire and touch the hearts of people around the world. Caroline Kennedy’s tribute exemplifies the indomitable spirit of her father, a spirit that lives on through the stories of his courage, leadership, and the lasting connections he forged with those whose lives he touched.


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