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Interview 10:37 - 23:22 Play 10:37 - More
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Jay M. Cohen  







John F. Kennedy; Kennedy Island; PT-109; Office of Naval Research  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
20 May 2002

  • Solomon Islands
  • Kennedy Island
  • -8.112778   156.905556
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Two-Track Mono; Electrovoice RE50 Dynamic Omni Microphone

Show: Ballard PT-109
Log of DAT #: 5
Engineer: Neal Conan - Kennedy Island
Date: May 20, 2002

JC = Jay M. Cohen
NC = Neal Conan

Ambi. Waves lap gently against the shore.

0:50 NC
This is Kennedy Island

Ambi. Barely audible sea-gull?

1:38 - 1:47¿1:56
Ambi. A bird whistles

2:24 - 2:33
A bird sharply and more audibly whistles. "peep¿peep¿"

3:32 - 4:00 (through next statement)
A different bird shrills

3:44 NC
And this is where they came ashore¿ plum island it was known then, officially, but Kennedy didn't know the name. He called it "bird island," and it has since become known as Kennedy Island.

Bird regularly shrills

4:11 NC
Excuse me!

Ambi - footsteps with waves still audible, bird shrilling

louder footsteps, bird sounds louder as well as wave sound retreats to background.

5:00 - 5:16
very clear, loud calling of shrilling bird

two birds shrill back and forth for a few seconds
5:40 - 6:02
better sound of the same

New bird noise, however not very loud

footsteps, twigs being snapped with the birds still audible.

6:56 - 7:45
A new bird, similar to the shrilling bird

7:49 - 8:09
A different sounding bird responds to the shrills. The birds call back and forth regularly and quickly for about 20 seconds. Then, shrilling bird continues.

New birds, one shrills while one whistles. Perhaps 3 or 4 bird sounds here.

a bird rapidly "beeps"

9:26 NC

9:26 - 10:26
Ambi - footsteps

(Some one whistles)
It's a Kennedy _____¿

9:55 NC
I got that

NC's footing slips audibly, gasps

10:26 End of Track 1 / Beginning of Track 2

Interview: Jay M. Cohen

10:37 NC
What does it mean to you to be here?

1041 JC
Well, you know, as a child of the "greatest generation," growing up with the story of pt 109, and all the incredible heroic feats of the fighting men and women of WWII, esp. in the pacific and the island chains... it's really hard to describe. There's an immortality being on a very small Pac. Island. You feel like it's here just for you in the middle of paradise, the coral, the clear water, broken clouds¿ it's as if nothing could ever disturb this and yet just 60 years ago, coming up on the 60th ann. Of the Guadalcanal in august, this ¿ was an incredible battlefield - planes flying overhead, amer./jap/allied/tokyo express running down this slot right past this island every night¿ Kennedy and pt109 was just one of three pt boats in this area that night trying to intercept those destroyers that were trying to resupply the Japanese. When you look at the scale here and you realize the tremendous feat it was - the great physical condition, John Kennedy and the rest of his crew must have been in. we're standing here in the shade of a tree and you can hear the waves very quietly lapping.. but it's probably 100 % humidity and about 110 in the sun! you can imagine swimming in this, esp. having to stay out of the water and trying to be on land in the daylight so you wouldn't get captured¿ by the Jap who basically controlled these waters and certainly controlled much of the land. It really is timeless, and it's very moving - I never thought a NYC boy growing up, joining the navy to see the world.. all these many years later in the sol. Islands¿ this is esp touching for my wife b/c her father was a career marine officer - artillery. He fought at Tinian, Saipan, went ashore the second day with his artillery in Iwo Jima, and while he might not have been in these specific waters, he's no longer with us, it gives the fam a great appreciation for the sacrifice that gen. Made and continues to make. I just app. The opportunity to be here and appreciate a small part of this history.

13:42 NC
you look at the distances here, and the swims that were involved, obviously after battle - exhaustion, terrified - still the thing that most impressed me was to walk off across that coral reef, cutting up his feet, swimming out into Ferguson passage, trying to hail pt boats, and swimming there at night knowing what was beneath him and that there was blood in the water.
14:08 JC
well I think your points are very well taken. As a young midshipman, in Hawaii, I didn't know any better I just dragged my legs against the coral, and a several days later I had this enormous infection.. I didn't know what was wrong, it was coral poisoning - it was terribly painful and you use antibiotics when they're available, b/c they may not have been available in the war and the coral even. Works its way out of your skin. I think the navy has always been somewhat unique of the responsibility, the absolute responsibility that we give c.o.s, here JFK was a lt. J.g., the equiv. Of a 1st lieutenant in the army or air force or marine corps. He had command of a pt boat, many people said they were expendable, they certainly sailed in harms way they were called devil boats. And he was in an accident that was not of his doing, you've been here a few nights now and you see how pitch black it is - you can't see your hand in front of your face, and of course enemy ships run a darkened ship. And yet he felt that enormous responsibility. That all cos feel, it doesn't matter if you're early 20s or in your mid-40s, the responsibility For your people.. and that is an enormous motivating factor, esp when they're injured, esp, when you're in fear of being captured. It's ironic, I think, that Carolyn ken had profiles of courage for our age, and of course JFK had his famous book profiles in courage - but you see that courage that was not unique to the greatest generation - you see it in afghan. today, we see it at sea, we see it wherever we send our forces. But it's certainly a shining example for the responsibility of command and the camaraderie that a ship or a boat crew brings together

16:11 NC
There was an interesting moment after they landed here, and he asked his men ' do you want to continue as a military unit or will it be every man for himself. What was that about?

16:23 JC
I think when you feel that you're close to desperation, there's no fresh water here¿ we've already talked about how hot it is, how humid it is, the fact that there are enemy soldiers and aircraft patrolling, probably a high probability that they were to be captured, and if they weren't, they'd probably die unrescued. And I think that all cos at some point an extremis, it's not a breakdown in military discipline, that's what makes America so great you know after WWII after we interviewed the German generals, they had a famous line, they said - 'you know, we have your doctrine. Why didn't you follow it?' and I think it epitomizes the American blue jacket, the sailor, the GI- we encourage, esp in all volunteer service and I know WWII wasn't, but everyone rose to the occasion whether you were drafted or volunteered - and so I think it was an act of compassion.. and consideration for survival, and there are great stories throughout history of whether you're in the cold or hot whether you're at land or at sea, life boat navigation, a small group offers to go out, risk their lives, to try and bring back help to rescue the greater good. So I see it just as a sign of the man and a strength of character that we expect of c.o.s. Obviously they knew the right answer, and as the founding fathers said, we must stay together or we shall certainly hang¿ we need to hang together or we will hang separately.. I think there's that feeling, certainly in a small boat, I spent my life in submarines with a crew of about a 100, 120, that camaraderie ... is .. it's palpable.

18:29 NC
what's the importance of this story to the navy today?

18:35 JC
Well, you know the navy they - and all navies, are the most traditional of all the services. For those of us who have chosen a life at sea value those traditions, while others may denigrate those traditions. But it's one more in a multitude of stories that occur every generation, every year, every conflict that allows young men and women to find the inner strength to go to sea, to face the unknown, to fight the good fight, even in face of enormous odds against them. I think that's the real story of pt 109 and all of the pt boat sailors and officers who sacrificed so much just as a small portion of the enormous losses we suffered in WWII.

19:44 NC
one final question - why are you here today?

19:38 JC
well, I'm the chief of naval research, and the congress very wisely in 1946 realized the enormous contribution that tech. Played in us winning WWII whether it was radar, radio, anti-sub warfare, understand the physics of the oceans so we could use it to our advantage. and to our enemy's disadvantage. And so they empowered the office of nav. Research to invest not only basic technology - you don't now what you don't know and you've gotta go up a lot of alleys to figure out which ones are blind¿ you've got to go ahead and find those tech. Discoveries that would empower our sailors and marines and by extensions the country to be victorious in wars.. one of the shining examples was in the mid 70's, a young researcher went ahead and proposed to measure time more accurately - we all had Timex watches and atomic clocks at the naval observatory - 'Why did we need to measure time more accurately? - and it was a small amount - it was 70000 dollars, which was a small amount to the taxpayer even in the 1970s, and from that small investment came GPS, because GPS is based on the extremely accurate measurement of time and time differences. So the O.N.R. has invested for 50 years in discovering invention, we've had a relationship with ¿. As well as doctor bob Ballard, for more than 30 years all aspects of the navy, dr. Ballard has wonderful talents in being able to bring to bear cutting edge tech. And sensors, and platforms and what ewe call remotely operated vehicles and towed vehicles that use sonar and video and digital and so many other sensors that unlock the archaeological wonders that are under the sea as well as the scientific info. That is still left to be discovered. So in a small way ONR has continued to fund dr. Ballard's effort and in a small way fun this effort, I think that's most important, not only for the reasons we've talked about - for science and technology - but also for the relationship it brings the navy with PT-109 , but it's not only PT-109 as you know Neal, we thing there's a possibility in a search we might find Grampus, a WWII diesel sub, which was lost with all hands - we never knew the cause of it's loss, or where it was lost, there were 71 men on board - it would t be wonderful if we could find it - I don't know if we found it, or if we will, but if we photograph it we could bring closure to those families that have lived so long and not knowing what happened.. and since 9/11 and enduring freedom so many other things we have learned how important that closure is¿ so I think the money is a small amount - a couple of tens of thousands of dollars that he navy has invested in this effort - it's a small contribution to n.g. and other government agencies but I think it's money well spent.

23:24 -23:43
Ambi¿ waves lightly lapping the shore

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