NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
23 May 2002
- Near Gizo; Aboard ship
- -8.11214 156.905488
Two-Track Mono; Electrovoice RE50 Dynamic Omni Microphone
Show: Ballard PT 109
Log of DAT #: 12
Date: May 23, 2002
BB = Bob Ballard
Dw = Dwight Coleman
DK = Dick Keresey
NC = Neal Conan
all right, here we go. A bit slower. A little faster.. yeah that's a good speed right there
then we're going to go down and pass that guy on the left. All right, so there's the guy
do you want me to refresh this screen, so we know where to stop?
yeah, that would be good. Yeah, so we'll start with that. You ready?
you see how that's all crummy? Standby¿
hit the space bar
okay, this will take us back through¿ okay we're turning. I think if we're looking for anything it'll be larger. So we're not worried about that database.
you got a radio here Dwight?
yup. Okay, that's going to start up there, and our guy is right here. And now we're about.. a beam of it. now we're heading south of it. We're making the turn, so here we are. And now we'd be going down this way. Okay, let's take a peek here. Nice! Man, look at those sand waves. Okay¿ where are we? Ducking back up. Now we're right due south of it, now we're ducking back up. Okay that's about as far as.. we're now going to advance above it. Oh, That's not it. now we'll go back¿ and just keep going¿ So we're way up there. We're going to come down.. there it is, and we're looking for down in there now. I think that's beyond our data. Certainly that's down near Ferguson passage¿ down, not yet¿ okay, we're turning towards ferg. Passage¿ and that's the right low, in the turn. There's the sand waves, again¿ starting to see Kennedy island, so we're really tucked in. so this is¿
about a mile.
no, it's not there
nope.. not there
so that's it?
all right, there she blows. One more line or what?
um, no there's more
let's see.. oh! We have one more that wraps underneath, that would be a nice one to see, because these other ones are in the turn and you get distorted rays. That would be a good one. Is it this one? Let's see, this should be interesting
actually what this one does, it turns and then it's going north
well still, let's see. There's all the blocks coming off their coral reefs. Now here we go, we're going to head in a turn now¿ there's the turn¿ okay, now, this is a place to watch. Smooth, smooth, smooth, look at that!
we're still turning a bit
yeah but still, this is pretty nice coherent sand waves.
So it comes up¿ nope. Nice bedforms but¿ no more pt 109.
that's gotta be it
well, bracket it. bingo, we're done.
just searching to see if there was anything further south.
7:30 Track 1 ends
7:31 Track 2 begins
Setting up interview¿
well, first of all, lemme make sure you have you name correct so I don't mispronounce it.. Dick Keresey. You were the commander of PT¿
same model, the same ..?
identical to the 109. initially the boats were in the same squadron.
where are you from originally?
Montclair New Jersey?
Montclair New Jersey, lived there all my life.
I grew up in Englewood
now we live in Delray Beach, FL
everybody that grew up in NJ lives in Delray Beach
right, it's South Jersey
a very southern part of new jersey¿ um.. tell me about what happened that day - you know what day we're talking about, starting out on the mission - first of all, you must have known John Kennedy.
I'd say I know him about as well as i knew 20 boat captains out here. Maybe a little better. Except for my own squadron. I mean, and I had personal contacts with, he.. he called me off for reef just about when I first met him when I got out here, and towards the end when he was here when he had his gun point, he pulled me off a Japanese held island. I knew Jack Kennedy very well as I was indebted to him, and I was out the night his boat went down, and I was involved with that story about 10 minutes before about 5 miles away.
what kind of night was it?
very dark, no moon, and heavy cloud cover, which are advantages, because our chief fear were Japanese night bombers, and they came down, there must have been a dozen of them overhead trying to protect their destroyers from us, and they did da real good job. They didn't hit any of us but they had us looking up a lot and traveling at very slow speeds. Our only defense against night bombers was to keep our wake down. These waters here are very phosphorescent, and it's a shock to see the size of a pt boat wake at night, it's like a search light pointing at us. And that diminishes and virtually you can' be seen at any height at all if you're running at slow speed, so that's why we ran at slow speeds.
a lot of people kept one motor going?
I did. One of the known tactics to avoid night bombers was to run on your center engine because the center prop. Is down about 6 in. in depth from the two wing props, so it creates much less wake when you've only got one prop turning over than with all 3, big diff., big diff..
so that was standard practice?
it was stand practice, yeah. I think everybody at that point always ran on the engine if they're just staying in place, or staying within 3 or 400 yards where they're supposed to be they'd stay on their center engine. The others were out of gear running, so there was no problem getting on all 3 3ngines when you wanted to.
so what happened to you that night?
the whole night? You have to start with the day. Because it was a terrible, one of the worst 24 hours I ever had. About noon, you see the japs had their own plans for that night, and one was to get rid of the pt boats. The japs knew where we were. And at 12 noon, almost precisely at 12 noon, the day before this night battle, we were attacked by anywhere from a dozen to 15 dive bombers, concentrated by us. By Ius I mean there were pt boats at lorenx. 2 or 3 boats on a mooring, and we were taken totally by surprise. These dive bombers were.. we were all at general quarters because there was a lot of air activity anyway. So we were at g. c. but we didn't know what was going to happen to us until this dozen or 15 torpedo. Bombers came around the eastern end of rendova right down into the harob and right on us, and we were there moored¿ we were general quarers so all of thiis happened in about 15 seconds. We saw the dive bombers, we were at g.c., so when they got close enough I gave the hand signal to fire, and so we were firing at them and they were dropping bombs on us, and the noise was absolutely incredible, and I looked down at my hands, Neal, and I thought it was raining, it wasn't raining it was sawdust, and right form looking down at my hands and wondering why it was sawdust, and looking to my left and there was a bow of a pt boat looking as if it was pasted against the sky about 50 to 75 feet up, and one of the bombs, obviously, had hit the pt boat 100 feet away from me, and blown the bow right up in the air. It was right in the apex when I looked because it looked like it was pasted there. I don't remember going down I was too busy, I had other things. That was then. We lost two boats in that attack, and with others out of commission that night we sent out 15, which was a lot, but we sent out everybody, no matter what the circum. Were. And I'd ben out, I was tired when I started, and I think most of us were, I operated a total of 10 out of 11 nights, remembering when you came in you had to refuel. And at that point we refueled form 50 gallon drums. It took a long time, and I was tired.. we ran up to we started out around 5, 6 o clock in the afternoon, just as it was starting to turn dark, and we ran up to blackett strait, because we'd been briefed that night that there could be jap destroyers coming down. I remember the time¿ at every night briefing, the intel office told us to look at this and lok at that, but I didn't know, which they probably told us, for sure that we were going to be attacked, or that we were having a problem with 4 enemy dest. Coming at us. I must have realized something wsa up because of that attack that day at noon, and on the way up there we were bombed, there was extraordinary air activity all directed at us, none of the bombs hit us but they shook us up. An we were on station Neal, I'll make this as brief as poss., there were 15 boats divided into 4 divisions. 4 boat div., the fist one to the westernmost one was the one that jk was in. then another 4 boat div., 2 or 3 miles east of him, another div. Another mile or so east of that one, and then my div., or the one I was in, of 3 boats, which was the easternmost, I'd say there were 5 miles, 6 miles separating my boat, the 105 from the 109. there were two torpedo attacks that we made that night, the first with all 15 of us supposedly getting into it occurred around midnight - Jack didn't get in position to fire any of his torpedos, only his division leader and another boat maybe fired, but they were ineffective. They turned and went home, and that left the 109 with no radar. The only radar was on the division leader boat and they went back to base b/c they didn't have any torpedos. So he was in any affect blind, up at one end. down at where I was, my division leader and the other boat in my div. Fired torpedos and went home.. I fired only 2, I fired my after torpedos. And the minute I fired them I realized that one - I was too far away to be effective, and 2nd, I was going to miss astern, because they were practically a beam of me when I fired them. And I knew I' miss astern. We had very slow torpedos, 27 knots, that's terrible. The modern torpedos even then were 50 knots. The jap dest. Would turn up 35 knots, so my chances were hitting it on a beam end shot were terrible, so I didn't fire my forward two torpedoes, and that left me out there alone. B/c the other two had gone home. I think there were a total of.. in b.s. itself, there were only 4 torpedo boats left, the 109 and two others ,and they were together. They hadn't been in the same div., but they got together, remnants of the other divisions, and me on the PT-105 5 miles down the strait. Around 2 in the morning, I spotted a bow wave - I could, I mean, this is something we were skilled in, I could detect.. I knew what a bow wave looked like, and I knew that this bow wave could only be created by one of these destroyers. I really didn't see the dest. Itself, I saw the bow wave itself, decided it was a dest, decided to fire on it, turned to get the right target angle, or one I judged for a slow moving target, and fired and as I fired my torpedo, the dest, I could see it's stern wake boil up and I knew he was going to top speed, an¿ it fired one round at me, just one shot in my general direction.. I thought ' oh, I'm really under attack' and I couldn't be more that 500 yards away, and if he kept at it he'd get me, and I was turning to get away when I suddenly noticed that he just fired one round. One flash, one report of a shell going overhead, and I started moving back down toward home, really, but I was still traveling at idling speed, because again I wasn't afraid of that destroyer as long as he decided not to fire at me, I was afraid of this bomber escort overhead. And about 10 minutes later, there was a , what I thought was a flare in the water about 200 yards from me. The next morning, I won't go on about the flare at this point, but the next morning in the debriefing I heard fro the first time that the 109 was sunk. What I thought was a flare burning on the water at 200 yards, was really the 109 exploding 5 miles away. I'm almost certain that the two were connected but at the time it was just a flare on the water. By a flare on the water.. the flares went off at 1000 feet or so overhead, but once in a while a parachute that brought them down wouldn't work, and I thought that the para. Hadn't opened, the flare had hit the water and something had caused it to go off on the water. I think it was actually the 109 exploding. The first time I knew it had been sunk was that debriefing at bout 6am in the morning. That was a night
there have been some who have been critical of the way John Kennedy handled that boat that evening, that he should have seen the destroyer coming, men were sleeping, that sort of thing.
but for the grace of God go me, go I. It was.. first of all, a critical point was to remember is those destroyers were against a huge mountain island called kolomangaro, so there was no silhouette at all. On a night like that, a ship of that size could be 200 yards away and you wouldn't see it unless you saw the wake. That's why all I ever saw of the dest. That I fired at was the wake, I never really saw the destroyer until I saw the bow wave, and I was experienced - I knew it was a bow wave, and then I saw that was confirmed when I asaw the oiling up of the stern wave. So there's no way that the 109 could have seen that destroyer which was heading straight forward, so it had even less silhouette, and you don't see a bow wave very well from forward of a destroyer - you see it better from the side. I don't think anyone on that boat or an any other boat could have seen that destroyer when it was more than, at most, 400, 500 yards away. And if it was running at 30 knots, uh, you're talking, 10 to 15 seconds to do anything. You can't do anything in 10 to 15 seconds. Even if you were traveling at high speeds, which is ridiculous, you'd have a hard time. And he wasn't, nobody was traveling at anything over idling speed. At that time no one ever said "oh, the 109 was negligent," and so forth. I never heard one word of criticism, and if anyone would have heard it, I would have heard it. I was there the whole time. The only crit. I heard was for the guys who didn't go look for him, they had their own reasons, I'm not judging them either. And the worst mistake at all, the base command didn't send back the next day in daylight to make a high speed run up blackett striat to look for them - if we would have done that we would have found them! That was the dumbest part about it. there wasn't hen, I never heard anyone criticize Jack Kennedy, or the crew of the 109, there wasn't any crit. Then and I haven't heard any criticism since from any pt boat officer.
by the next day, by the debriefing, when you heard that the pt109 was exploded, sunk, the crew, Kennedy were considered dead at that point?
they were gone, yes. And there was no discussion about it, they were¿ I thought of it, I can't speak for everyone else, but they were gone¿ and those three friends of mine that were going - Jack, and barney ross, and there were others that went. Lenny Thom, and they were all three officers very well. Logging, bowman, and the Russell islands.. ?? momentarily grieved for all three, not for just one, and it was just for a moment, because we couldn't think of those things. A half an hour after it happened was the last time I thought about it.
when did you find out different?
about four or five days later. I saw, I don't remember this, but I saw the message that came down. There were two, one on a coconut shell on the coconut itself, and then there was an other message, not from Jack Kennedy but from lenny thom, I think the other one came down via the coastwatcher, and itw as the coastwatcher and the natives that had found John - nobody on our side found them - and I tell ya, we gotta be eternally grateful to the s.i. natives, they saved them at least with 2 or 300 lives. I credit them on another occasion being alive to the si natives, their being on our side and not their side. I don't think they've gotten the recognition that they should of. And I don't mean.. this is getting political, it just came to me that the impact of it was when I landed at guadal., when I saw what terrible shape their economy is in, and if there's ever a place that deserved help and needed help it was the Solomon islands, and the si people
you read some of the history books and it's like nobody lived here
well, the population was small, but they were here. I don't know how many natives there were here, but they were here, and they were leading good lives. The people that were here, the Europeans, were on the whole missionaries. They had a coconut industry but it was very small, and most of them just lived subsistence living, but I tell ya, I lived with them for a week, and they were doing fine. I think they were doing better then than what they are now, but they're a lovely people. They just seem to be naturally friendly people. I mean, I've never been political but I tell ya, it really got to me to see how much help they really do need and they really do deserve. Are you aware of this? Have you been down?
Honiara? Yeah, just passed through, but I'll go down on Saturday.
Go down and take a good look at that place.. you get 100 yards from the center nd the roads are barely passable. They haven't had any.. I know that you can say 'it's their fault' because of their problem with the malaitans being there, that's a local immigration problem. Apparently that trouble they had was because of so many malatians coming over and they're different from one another. Even if you put that aside they must have been struggling. Why don't we do something for people struggling in the world? Why don't we do something?
35:50 - 36:01
Ambi¿ loud squeaking noise that persists through the next question, sounds like giant mice. Then at 36:01 someone puts a drink on a table.
Waiting for the taxi to go by?
so when, after the incident, when was the next time you saw Jack Kennedy?
well I saw him briefly the day he came back, the whole bunch came in to Rendova, well I think he was moved out because he was in pretty bad shape.. I mean, he was walking around but he needed some hospital time. When I did see him I didn't talk to him. I did talk to barney ross briefly - they were in the medical tent. Then he was gone to get patched up, then they put him in command of a gun - boat, a pt boat that had been converted into a gun boat. I think they put a 37mm, I think they had a 40mm, well it was a gun boat it didn't have any torpedos in it, and of course that's what we needed. I didn't see Jack, well neal, I got assigned to the 2nd marine parachute div. In the early part of November, when they were making a diversionary raid on troisol island, next to bugonvill. The actual landing was going to take place on bug., and the idea was that the 2nd marine par. Batallion, under col. Krulak, who later became commandant, and was eventually was succeeded by his son at com., and their job was to create a diversion - which mean they were torun around, fire their guns, attack, and my job was to find a harbor in case we took the island. These two were incompatible, because every time I stuck my head out I was fired on. So, they accomplished their mission beautifully. The only thing I acc. Was at a certain point they need help, to evacuate a company of marines that had been trapped about t10 miles from our base. So, they sent up I think it was me that suggested it, to get a couple of pt boats up here or more, to help provide firepower and so forth, if we could find that company, and help them off - radio communications were terrible - and that was the idea. And lo and behold two boats come up with Jack Kennedy as the lead boat, and I went aboard his boat, which was a great surprise to him, and I think his first words were 'what are you doing here?' ya know? And I think my words to him were 'never mind what I'm doing here, we gotta try and get these marines off,' well I tell you we arrived in the absolute nick of time. One of the boats, the engines had quit - not only was it filling with water it was drifting bck to the beach to where the japs were. When we got there, the marines had fixed bayonets, and their one natives scout who could easily have gone over the side and swum ashore somewhere else, instead whipped out his machete and he was going to stay with his marines. These are the kinda things that makes me get so incensed when I see what appears to be abandonment of these people as far as Americans are concerned. And we came up and got them aboard. Some of them wounded, one boy died on Jack's boat that night¿ but we got everybody off who could get off, I think they lost probably 6 or a dozen marines¿but we got about 80 marines off we.. really, Jack Kennedy was in charge of it, but I was showing them where the spot was, and that was the last time I saw him other than in civilian life. B/c, I think he was sent - well his tour of duty was over, so I don't know if he went back b/c his tour of duty was over or for medical reasons. I think he went back because his tour of duty was over, just like me. We both went back, I think, roughly the same time.
you must have heard his story, then, his swim over to Kennedy island and all that
oh yes, not from Jack but from barney ross and lenny thom, I heard it firsthand. I didn't need to read anything about it. one of the others told me the essentials of what had happened¿ told me, of course, he ws a great swimmer.. he towed mcmahon, engineer, badly burned, he took off his tape-back Jacket and put it on, I think I'll call him mcmahon, I'm not sure, I think that was the name.
they called him pop didn't they? Didn't they call him pop?
I don't know, but he put his Jacket on him, so he had no Jacket, and he did the backstroke holding on to the string from the Jackets. At one point mcmahon hurting so bad he thrashed around and told Jack to leave him, and Jack in effect, gave him a disciplinary talk - he was captain, he was going to take it back, and pipe down. Weird. Either ross or lenny thom told me that. He tried to get out - he swam out at night over carl reefs - you step on it and you get an infection - he tried to swim on it at night in the Ferguson Passage because we would come up every night on patrol and go through this confined piece of water. His idea was to shout and wave his arms as we went by. But I guess, you know, that was all he could do but I often thought that hew as fortunate not to attract our attention - I had no idea there was anyone there - we could have opened fire on his thrashing around in the water and that would be the end of it. I don't say that would happen, but that was all he could do. he did it. but he never attracted our attention so we'll never know. He was saved by solomon island natives, and the Australian coastwatcher, evans
seems to me it was fortunate enough to not attract attention from sharks - he must have been bleeding from those coral cuts.
oh absolutely. And sharks were a real menace out there. We lost some people to sharks that were wounded in the water, but uh.. what else could eh do? he was trying to save his crew. I don't think I could have done it.
what do you think this story, obviously he went on to be pres, so this story lives on. What do you think we have to learn from it today? Why is it important still?
well, the big mistake we made that night, or the next day, was not going back to look for him. That was very important. Even if he had gone up, everybody said, there's an explosion, there's no one alive¿ you just go back and you look. And the lesson we learned, I think from that, was the simple milit. Lesson that everybody knows today, is that you always go back and look, b/c it means, for instance back then, when I went out after that, I was always very careful - I became a div. Leader right after that, and I was always very careful as to who was in the 2nd or 3rd boats that was from a list of boat captains who if I ran on a reef, or if something like that happened to me, would stay there and try and get me out. A pretty big list. Certainly would have been Kennedy, there certainly was a small list that I would not go out with - I never told people why, but I had a little discretion as to who I had in my div. And I always made sure that I had the kind of guys like Kennedy - I had a list, a whole bunch of them. Miles, battle, webb, and they'd stay with me. And I mean stay with me, to the death. That was very important. It doesn't sound like very much, but that was a milit. Lesson that we learned. Other than that, I didn't make a connection between the boat captain and the president. They're two different people. Just like today.. there are two different people in me. There's me, and the captain of 105.
he wrote afterwards.. you said you met him in civilian life, could you talk about it?
I visited him when he was a congr. Just as a friend. Went down there, and talke dot him in wash. He put everything aside and we just talked. He was a very loyal and very enthusiastic pt boat alumnus. I was in the white house talking to people who would say 3rd echelon¿ and we ate lunch together in the café. And they started hinting about this: 'when you go see the man, he might talk about this or that.. and I said 'who's the man' and they said 'he's the president' and I was stunned! I was just down in wash and in the white house. They told me he always looked at the list of visitors in the w.h. every morning as a matter orf routine, and he saw Keresey on the list, and he asked 'is this the same Keresey that was in pt boats with me,' and they scurried around in the navy deptr. And so forth but they didn't talk to me, and sure enough I visited with him in the oval office, and we visited for about ten minutes. And we didn't talk about anything but the same idiotic things we talked about when we were in the war. I never had a serious conversation.. but people.. John iles, who was his roommate, shack mate, shantymate or something, insisted he was bored to death when the two of us together because we'd talk politics. I don't remember that I jujst give you that as an example.. I didn't ever talk politics with Jack Kennedy, he was part of a group and we always talked trivia. Why I think John Iles was wrong, is I never heard anybody ever talk about what they were going to do more in the future than that day. We never talked about the future. Talking about the future was bad luck, and I don't think he was planning a run for office. He was planning to get through that day just like the rest of us. I never see any connection between that guy who was a boat captain, and the president of the united states. two different people.
when you talk to br. And lt., when they talked about what had happened after the incident, what were their primary.. .they must have described what Jack did.. what was their impression?
oh well they were always close friends of Jack Kennedy. He had a very loyal crew. And¿ but the fact of the matter is I do remember hearing from either ross or lenny about what he did in the way of swimming out trying to find us and getting mcmahon back, I don't remember anything else about it. we didn't talk about things, not only didn't we talk about things in the future, we didn't sit around and talk about things in past either. We talked about the present and that's about all. That was very important because we were always in the front lines. For 13 months that's all I was. When I heard that the base was going to get movies, I knew perfectly well that's when we move. If movies were coming in next week, we wouldn't be here next week.
eventually the story comes out in the newspapers and then the magazines, and george Hershey writes about it.. do you think it was overblown?
well see I never saw that. I don' tknow whether it was overblown because I was overseas, either reverses or I wasn't paying attention. Oh I don't¿ well when John Hershey wrote that article, Jack Kennedy was not a political figure, I think he just wrote it b/c it was a vey interesting - and it was - a very interesting method of survival - I don't think the Hershey article which was isolated, had anything to do with j.k.'s other person. I think just b/c it was an interesting story. Of course after he became president, again, I don't think it was overblown, Neal. He had a very interesting war-time career. More things happen to him than most of us.
some would say that the incident, or the war itself, again going back to what you ere saying - you don't make no connection between the skipper and the president - but some would say it was the 'making of the man,' do you put any credence in that?
I think I probably helped, sure¿ it was a time when all of us had to make judgments that you know, you wouldn't expect that guys 25 years of age would have to make, some of us were younger than that. It could have had that affect¿ in forming his character. I really , Neal, to be honest with you, I don't know I'm not a good enough psychologist to know. It's definitely affected him, he was definitely an enthusiastic, ah¿ I mean to him that was an important part of his life. He was very enthus. And interested in what was happening. He wasn't particularly interested, I heard, and I heard form a good sports, a fella by the name of bill battle, and bill told me that his only interest in the move pt109, was he wanted them to give a part in the to barney ross. And they did. Barney ross is in pt109, he plays the part of an old chief and he was just as funny there as ¿ he was a great actor! They should have used him more! And bill battle told me that the one thing Jack asked about in connection in that movie, was could they find a part for barney ross. This was typical, he would think of somebody like that. As you can see, I'm a fan! Chuckles