An obscure piece of US history was discovered late last month as a crane salvaged what is believed to be the wreckage of the PT-59, a Navy patrol boat commanded by former President John F. Kennedy during his time in the military.
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority pulled from the mud the wreckage of the boat, which sank in the waters of Manhattan’s North Cove urban wetland. The MTA pulled the boat up to build a $610 million sea wall on the waterfront in order to prevent the train yard there from flooding, as it did during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
MTA officials consulted with archaeological historians who believe the recovered wreckage belongs to the PT-59. The agency is in touch with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the Battleship Cove maritime museum in Fall River, Massachusetts, about possibly acquiring the remnants.
Kennedy’s record as a war hero helped get him elected to the nation’s highest office. He rescued his crew during World War II after a Japanese destroyer sunk his first vessel, the PT-109—a tale that was famously recounted in the .
The Navy sold the PT-59, which Kennedy commanded afterward, for surplus in the 1950s and it became a fishing charter boat, later rechristened the and the .
At some point, a fire damaged the boat, which was purchased by Redmond Burke, a schoolteacher, in 1970. There were no engines, so he had it towed to 208th Street, using it as a houseboat.
“It was an adventure for me,” Burke, now 80, and on hand for the vessel’s emergence from the river, told the . “It was me, the rats, and the few corpses that came floating by.”
Burke claims that he checked the boat’s hull number, 274398, with the US Coast Guard, who confirmed it was the PT-59. His students informed him of the Kennedy connection.
A collector of Kennedy memorabilia, Aubrey Mayhew, once planned to buy the PT-59, but the deal fell through and Burke abandoned the boat in the mid-1970s, leaving it on the dock to sink into the mud.
Kennedy biographer William Doyle, who uncovered this forgotten history in his research, voiced his hopes that or a historic organization might try to excavate the PT-59 to the in 2017. Instead, it was the MTA that rose to the occasion.