PT 109 (1963) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • During WW2, Lieut. John F. Kennedy takes command of PT 109 to fight the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.

  • Dramatization of President John F. Kennedy's wartime experiences during which he captained a PT boat, took it to battle and had it sunk by a Japanese destroyer. He and the survivors had to make their way to an island, find food and shelter and signal the Navy for rescue.

  • When Lt. Jack Kennedy arrives in the South Pacific during World War II, he's keen to command his own PT boat. All he can find is a decrepit old cast-off, but he scrounges a crew together and the PT 109 is soon made seaworthy. Kennedy is an able commander who quickly gains the confidence and loyalty of his men. While on patrol on a dark and moonless night, the PT boat is cut in half after being struck by a Japanese destroyer. The survivors swim to nearby islands but are in enemy territory and in constant danger of being found out. Based on true events in the life of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

  • Solomon Islands, 1943. US forces are slowly pushing the Japanese out of the region. Short of larger warships, and suited to the shallow, narrow waters of the Solomons, the US Navy is heavily reliant on Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats to harry the enemy and perform all manner of other duties. One such boat is PT-109. Based on a (mostly) true story, here we see PT-109's exploits in the Solomons campaign, especially one incident for which it would become famous. Moreover, the movie focuses on the exploits and derring-do of PT-109's commander, Lt (jg) John Fitzgerald Kennedy.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In the spring of 1943, Lt. (j.g.) John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) requests assignment to the PT boat base at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Amid scheming yeomen and Japanese air raids, he makes the acquaintance of Commander C.R. Ritchie (James Gregory), the crusty senior maintenance officer, before meeting his new commanding officer, Lt. Alvin Cluster (Grant Williams). Insisting on skippering a PT boat, Kennedy accepts command of PT 109, a battle-scarred, crewless mess of a boat moored beneath camouflaged netting. Ritchie gives him exactly one week to whip his new boat into shape; with his new executive officer, Ensign Leonard Thom (Ty Hardin) and a crew of nine enlisted men, Kennedy sets out to work a miracle.

    Within the given week, PT 109 meets Ritchie's tough standards of readiness and is sent out on trial maneuvers. Kennedy and his crew learn the hard way that being last to return to base means being stuck at the refueling pier for several hours; meanwhile, his engineers warn him of the consequences of reversing his engines at high speed. While awaiting refueling, Kennedy and Thom learn that the nearby island of Rendova has been invaded by Allied forces and is to be the future site of a new base. Refueling still has not been completed when Cluster sends PT 109 on an emergency rescue mission to cover an evacuation of Marines from Choiseul. Laying down cover fire, Kennedy and his men come to the rescue of a platoon of Marines when their evacuation craft is hit by a grenade. As they move out of range of the Japanese forces, PT 109 runs out of fuel; the incoming tide very nearly pulls it back within range of enemy guns before another PT boat arrives with a tow line.

    Three of Kennedy's crew have been wounded and are replaced, shortly before the squadron is transferred to the completed base at Rendova. Although Ritchie is initially ordered to stay behind at Tulagi, he has it out with the flotilla commander and arranges his transfer to Rendova with the crew of PT 109. En route, the boat is attacked by a Japanese fighter plane. Standing by the 20-mm machine gun astern, Ritchie prevails upon the gunner to let him take a shot - and successfully splashes the attacking plane.

    Upon arrival at Rendova, Kennedy orders one high-speed reversal too many. The engines fail, sending the boat crashing into a maintenance shed at the end of the pier; Ritchie vehemently chews Kennedy out, but more important matters - including a protracted air raid by Japanese bombers - take precedence. During the raid, Kennedy runs into an old friend, George "Barney" Ross (Robert Culp). In excess of a duty station, Ross is allowed to join PT 109 to man a 37-mm anti-tank gun Kennedy has attached to the foredeck. Thereafter, PT 109 is sent out on a late-night patrol with the squadron to intercept the "Tokyo Express" before it can reach Guadalcanal. During transit, Kennedy has a word with his torpedoman, Andrew Kirksey, who has a terrible foreboding that he will be killed before PT 109 returns to base.

    The darkness of Blackett Strait is impenetrable; none of the crew are aware that a Japanese destroyer is bearing down on PT 109 until it appears out of nowhere, ramming the boat amidships and cutting it in half. Several of the crew are thrown overboard; many are severely burnt and wounded. Kennedy and the unhurt members of the crew swim among flaming wreckage and burning fuel oil to rescue the survivors as PT 109's foredeck barely remains afloat. Kirksey and a machinist's mate, Harold Marney, are never found.

    The next morning, the survivors cling to the remains of PT 109 as Kennedy makes the daring decision to swim for the nearest uninhabited island. Not a minute after the crew abandons ship, the foredeck capsizes, leaving Kennedy and his men to swim three and a half miles to dry land. Upon reaching the island, they narrowly avoid being detected by a Japanese patrol barge, but also fail to attract the attention of an overflying American reconnaissance plane. Many of the crew believe that they have been given up for dead, but Kennedy refuses to despair. Over the course of two nights, he and Ross swim out into open water in the hopes of flagging down a friendly patrol, but luck is not on their side.

    Hope for survivors also dwindles among the command staff at Rendova, but unfazed, Kennedy leads his crew on another swim to the island of Olasana. While there, two native Solomon Islanders discover the Americans. Though they speak no English, Kennedy carves a message on a green coconut and asks them to take it to Rendova. The next day, another native canoe - bearing a message from Reginald Evans, a nearby Australian coastwatcher - arrives to take Kennedy to meet Evans. Despite the risky passage, Kennedy makes contact with Evans, who has radioed Rendova with news of the survivors. Kennedy then rendezvouses with PT 157 at Paporan Island and pilots it to Olasana, where his crew, still hidden in the bushes, straggle out to their salvation.

    Though they are all entitled to a month of survivor leave stateside, Kennedy declines his own leave, feeling that he still has a job to do. He takes command of PT 59, a converted gunboat, and continues in his duties with five former PT 109 crew members at his side.

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