John F. Kennedy - 80-G-165141
“[It was] a hell of an attack” – Lt. John F. Kennedy
On April 7, 1943, John F. Kennedy arrived in the Solomon Islands during the Japanese aerial assault to take back Guadalcanal from the Allied forces as part of Operation I-Go. As Kennedy stood on deck and watched, nine Japanese planes were targeting the ship, LST 449, carrying him on the final leg of his journey.
The LST desperately zigzagged to evade the Japanese bombing runs. “One 500-pound bomb exploded close enough to the LST 449 that it threw the ship’s captain across the bridge, fracturing his neck. Two more bombs detonated near the starboard bow, soaking the deck with geysers of salt water. One massive blast pushed the ship’s stern out of the ocean and forced it into a 20-degree list.
“I happened to be looking back at Kennedy’s ship while four dive bombers were attacking it,” recalled a sailor on a nearby American ship. “There were so many exploding bombs along with the resulting water spouts that I could not see the LST.”
Although technically a passenger, Kennedy pitched in the fight by passing shells to the ship’s 40 mm antiaircraft station.
Kennedy later wrote a friend about a Japanese pilot who “parachuted into the water and the LST 449 went to rescue him as he bobbed in the water. At first, Kennedy was struck by how young the pilot looked, with his powerful build and close-cropped, jet-black hair. But Kennedy was stunned by what happened next. When the LST got to within twenty yards, the pilot abruptly pulled out a revolver and opened fire at the bridge of the American craft. ‘I had been praising the Lord and passing the ammunition right alongside,’ Kennedy later explained, ‘but that slowed me a bit, the thought of him sitting in the water battling an entire ship.’ The Americans replied with so much gunfire it seemed to Kennedy the water was boiling with bullets, but everyone was too surprised to shoot straight. ‘Finally an old soldier standing next to me picked up his rifle, fired once, and blew the top of his head off,’ recalled Kennedy. ‘He threw his arms up, plunged forward and sank, and we hauled our ass out of there.’”
Having survived the attack, the LST swiftly withdrew the 300 miles back to its embarkation port. Kennedy would reach his assigned PT boat unit, six days later.