Today in History: August 2

PT-109, a Patrol Torpedo boat, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, the Amagiri, on this date in 1943 in the Pacific Ocean near the Solomon Islands. PT-109 was sliced in two. Two members of its crew were killed and two others badly injured, but eleven survived, including its commander, Lieutenant, junior grade, John F. Kennedy. What followed made Kennedy a wartime hero.

The ship sank. The destroyer motored on to its home base, its crew either oblivious to what the ship had done or celebrating what they thought was a minor triumph in the long war.

The eleven survivors, including Kennedy, swam to a tiny, deserted island, Plum Pudding Island (now called Kennedy Island) some three miles away. That island had no water or coconuts, so they swam to another island. There they survived for several days on coconuts while hiding from passing Japanese ships.

The men were found by two Solomon Islanders, and Kennedy carved a message on a coconut for them to take (at some risk) by canoe to the nearest Allied base. The ploy succeeded and a rescue party was sent for the men, who had been presumed dead after the collision and explosion and reported as dead to their families.

Kennedy went on to life as John F. Kennedy. He gave away PT-109 tie clasps as mementos for the rest of his life. The last surviving member of the crew died in 2001. The two Solomon Islanders who helped the crew died in recent years: Eroni Kumana, one of the two, died on two years ago today at the age of 93.

* * * *
August 2, 1979 was a summer day like any summer day in my 10-year-old world. “Back to school” and all the dread that that phrase inspired was probably on my mind. We had an above-ground swimming pool (no deep end) that I was beginning to outgrow.

I just found a “what day of the week” website and learned that this particular date, in 1979, was a Thursday. I am sure that if given some objects from my youth, some photos, they might trigger some specific recollections from the summer of 1979 that I do not have accessible in my 2016 brain. Generally, I remember that by 10, I was riding my bike all day long or taking long walks in the woods behind our house or playing games with my younger sister in the garage, a dark poorly lit underbelly to the house that still is a setting for my 47-year-old psyche’s nightmares. (Nothing scary ever happened there.)

I have specific memories, snapshots, of August 2, 1979, though: The Poughkeepsie Journal was still publishing a late-afternoon edition back then, and I remember that retrieving the paper was a job I loved. The paper that afternoon had a confusing headline about Thurman Munson (the catcher on the New York Yankees, the captain of the team, my second-favorite player on the Yankees, after Graig Nettles) dying that very day in a plane crash. This was confusing to me because I was 10 and, um, how do baseball players, Yankees no less, die?

I brought the paper into the house, to my mom, and she immediately—as if something really important had happened—called out for my dad. We turned on “Live at 5” on WNBC, and there was the emotional confirmation of the newspaper’s confusing (to me) headline.

If you’d asked me that day whether I thought 32 was old (Munson was all of 32 years when he died, 37 years ago today), of course I though 32 was ancient, and after all weren’t the baseball writers already describing Munson as old? I also remember feeling sad that he would not see the new decade, about to begin in just a few months.

An ESPN article from 1989:

* * * *

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves today
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
—Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”

Wallace Stevens died on this date in 1955.

Raymond Carver died 28 years ago today. Norman Maclean died 26 years ago today. William S. Burroughs died 19 years ago on August 2. Fela Kuti died 19 years ago today.

* * * *
Carroll O’Connor was born 92 years ago today. James Baldwin was born on this date in 1924. The late Wes Craven would be 77 today. Jim Capaldi was born on this date in 1944.

* * * *
Senator Paul Laxalt is 94. Shimon Peres is 93. Garth Hudson is 79. Isabel Allende is 74. James Fallows is 67. Lance Ito is 66. Butch Patrick is 63. Caleb Carr is 61. Mojo Nixon is 59.

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One comment

  1. loisajay · August 2, 2016

    Thurman Munson…what a great memory. Thank you, Mark.


Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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