Diving the Site of JFK’s WWII Shipwreck


Three thousand, six hundred meters below the surface of the Solomon Sea lies the wreckage of PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat last commanded by John F. Kennedy during World War II.

This PT boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer on a moonless night in August 1943, only to be discovered by a National Geographic expedition led by explorer Robert Ballard in 2002. Many of our field sites in the Solomon Islands—such as Gizo, our current location—are surrounded by relics such as this from countless battles won and lost on these waters.

The location of Kennedy Island in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. (Images from Google Maps 2015. Content may not reflect National Geographic’s current map policy.)

This week, our pursuit of bumphead parrotfish led us high above this shipwreck and onto the small tropical island where Kennedy and his crew were stranded for six days, surviving solely on coconuts. It was striking to think of the future U.S. president, roughly at our age, brought for a very different reason to this same remote Pacific island. We asked ourselves how we would fare in his shoes.

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Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109 in the South Pacific, 1943. (Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

On the reefs surrounding this historically-rich island (aptly dubbed Kennedy Island by locals) we conducted a morning and an afternoon dive survey, like we do at all our study sites.

This involves the two of us gearing up on the boat and tipping back into the ocean to dive the shallow reefs where bumpheads love to roam and forage. On this particular day, we were happy to find that the surrounding reefs were largely composed of Pocilloporid corals—the group of hard, branching corals that make up —> Read More