Tag Archives: JFK

A Tale of Two Barrys

Antiwar protest, 1967

Antiwar protest, 1967

If you ask people about the 60s, the responses and images they conjure up tend to be of hippies, anti-war protests, the counter culture, free love and rock n roll. Certainly other images (and memories) come to mind, the civil rights movement, The King and Kennedy killings, urban riots and even positive things like the Mercury and Gemini programs, the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion, the Mazeroski home run, and two events that left an indelible mark on me – the Apollo 11 lunar mission and the Miracle Mets winning the 1969 World Series.  But that’s for a different piece.  This one’s about music.

Joan Baez & Bob Dylan

Joan Baez & Bob Dylan

What we learn, what we remember or think we remember is often subject to wishful thinking and maybe prevailing attitudes. My musical 1960s were shaped by 3 older brothers, their collection of LPs and 45s, and the 77 WABC radio DJ “Cousin Brucie” (Bruce Morrow, who by the way is still broadcasting on Sirius Satellite Radio).  I have to tell you, it wasn’t all about Elvis, hot-rods, lovesick teens, lovesick teens on the beach, or the mop-topped British.

Album Cover, Eve of DestructionMy brothers’ had two records (it’s collective because I couldn’t tell you who owned which ones) which struck me even then as not being like the others. They didn’t fall into the regular pattern of performances by the Ronettes, Jay and the Americans or The Four Seasons.  These two LPs came out 6 months apart and each said something definitive about the period. Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire was released in July 1965 and went to No.1 on Billboard in the last week of September. Ballads of the Green Berets by Sgt. Barry Sadler was released in January 1966 and went to No.1 in three weeks, and was the Billboard no.1 single for 1966.

McGuire’s “Eve” was angry, in your face and harsh; it didn’t leave room for very much hope.  On the one hand it captured the realities of the day, though not the mood.  That would come later.  It certainly didn’t have much in common with other songs of the day.   Needless to say that “establishment” response to Eve of Destruction wasn’t positive, being banned on several US stations, and even on the BBC.    

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.

At the other end, Sadler’s Ballads of the Green Berets (the title single is “Ballad of the Green Berets” ) was straightforward, sung in a very personal style, and quietly patriotic.  It was about the soldiers but not about the war itself.

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

The album’s place on the charts and its content benefit Album Cover, Ballads of the Green Beretsfrom having been released in 1965-66 rather than later on. I have to wonder if it had been written 2-3 years later whether RCA could have released it, and if it wouldn’t have had some of the same anger McGuire has, but from a different perspective.  At first glance the lyrics to “Ballad of the Green Beret” may seem kitschy, but remember the influences are still the Righteous Brothers and The Lettermen, and the Green Berets felt they’d responded to JFK’s appeal of “What you can do for your country”.

Talk about a juxtaposition.  “Eve of Destruction” has always stuck with me because it was so stark and honest.  I can even draw a line from McGuire to Neil Young’s 1970 ode to the Kent State shootings – Ohio, another no-punches-pulled song.  In the Sadler album, there’s a song titled “I’m a Lucky One” about a soldier who’s finished his tour and is about to go home.  In it he reminisces about his friends and perhaps what shortly lies ahead in the American collective memory.  They come to him in a dream and appeal to him as the survivor – “…Tell them about us Sadler, don’t let us die in vain.”

– Richard 


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Heroes and Politicians


Sometime during election week we watched an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show; Rob, Laura, Mel, Sally, and Buddy. Whatever the episode was, there was a stand-up comic moment where the target was none other than the President – John F. Kennedy. My 15 year old was shocked; how do you make blatant fun of a murdered icon? When we explained the episode was (in this case) from early 1963, she felt better. As we were talking about JFK, I was reminded again about the magnitude of his historic / cultural footprint. I vaguely remember the assassination, mostly because it disrupted everyone and everything around me.

John Kennedy is undeniably one of the most intriguing Americans of the 20th Century. The stories and myths are well-known and still fascinating us 48 years after his death. My misgiving is that for too many this is the sum of knowledge about President Kennedy; he was married to Jackie, he was killed in Dallas, and at the very least Marilyn Monroe sang him an over-the-top seductive rendition of Happy Birthday to You. How many of you know that he was a pretty brave man and at least in my view, a legitimate hero?

More aware than most and for whatever other motivations, Kennedy enlisted in the US Navy in September, 1941 after being turned down by the army for a bad back.

US Navy PT boats

Photo courtesy of US Navy

Commissioned a Lieutenant, Kennedy was assigned to a PT (Patrol Torpedo) Boat squadron in the Panama Canal Zone in December 1942 as Commanding Officer of PT-101. Two months later he was able to arrange a transfer to a PT Boat Squadron based at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. On April 14, 1943 Lieutenant j.g. (junior grade) John F. Kennedy assumed command of PT-109.  Between the middle of April and August, PT-109 and the other boats went out on almost nightly patrols/raids to reconnoiter and disrupt Japanese shipping and troop movements in Ferguson and Blackett Straits in the Solomons, about 200 miles northwest of Guadalcanal.

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109, 1943
Photo courtesy of US Navy

On the night of August 2, 1943 PT-109 was involved in its final action. Sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 AM while patrolling Blackett Strait at low speed to reduce their chances of being seen, PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer IJN Amagiri making 40 knots (20-21 mph.) The Japanese continued on without realizing what had happened, leaving Kennedy’s severely crippled boat foundering in its wake. After taking stock of the situation, determining that two of the crew were missing and rounding up the survivors, the eight men began a three mile / five hour swim to Plum Pudding Island, with Kennedy towing a badly burned crew-member  using his teeth. Over the next four days Kennedy and Ensign George H. R. Ross alternated swimming out to try and hail any PT boats operating nearby, swimming to other islands to look for food and water, and moving the entire party to another island to avoid Japanese barge patrols.

Kennedy in cockpit of PT-109

Photo courtesy of US Navy

On August 6th, Kennedy and the crew made contact with a pair of Solomon Islanders – Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana who worked under the auspices of an Australian coastwatcher – Lt. Reginald Evans. Without pen and paper, Kennedy was at a loss as to how to send a message, until Gasa demonstrated how to carve a coconut shell. Lt. Kennedy carved the following message:

POS’IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE

Lt. Evans arranged for Kennedy to be brought to him to finalize rescue plans with US forces, and PT-109’s surviving crew were rescued on August 8th. Lt. John F. Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the PT-109 action. in May 1961 Coastwatcher Evans was a guest of the White House, returning the message coconut to its author, the President of the United States.

Crew of the PT-109

  • Lieutenant j.g John F. Kennedy – Commanding Officer
  • Ensign Leonard J. Thom – Executive Officer
  • Ensign George H. “Barney” Ross – Friend of JFK
  • Raymond Albert – Signalman 1st,
  • Charles A. Harris – Gunner’s Mate 3rd
  • William Johnston – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd
  • Andrew Jackson Kirksey – Torpedoman 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • John E. Maguire – Radioman 2nd
  • Harold W. Marney – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • Edman Edgar Mauer – Quartermaster 3rd
  • Patrick Henry McMahon – Motor Machinist Mate 1st
  • Ray L. Starkey – Torpedoman 2nd
  • Gerald E. Zinser – Motor Machinist Mate 1st

Collision with history : the search for John F. Kennedy‘s PT 109 / Robert D. Ballard

John F. Kennedy and PT-109 / Richard Tregaskis

PT 109 [videorecording] with Cliff Robertson

PT 109 : John F. Kennedy in World War II / Robert J. Donovan

The search for Kennedy‘s PT 109 [videorecording] / National Geographic

– Richard


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