New York City Has Salvaged John F. Kennedy’s Lost Navy Patrol Boat From a Cove Off the Coast of Manhattan

The remnants of the World War II boat could wind up at a museum.

John F. Kennedy during his Navy service, when he commanded the PT-59. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.
John F. Kennedy during his Navy service, when he commanded the PT-59. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

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, an urban wetland off the Harlem River at 207th Street in Inwood. 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.

The excavation has already attracted some attention, with crowds who knew of the PT-59’s obscure history gathering to watch it emerge from the watery depths.

The MTA pulled this wreckage from the North Cove in Inwood. It is believed to be the remnants of the PT-59, a Navy patrol ship commanded by John F. Kennedy during his Navy service in World War II. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The MTA pulled this wreckage from the North Cove. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

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 New Yorker.

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 Sun Tan and the Sea Queen V.

The PT-59, a Navy patrol ship commanded by John F. Kennedy during his Navy service in World War II, as seen in the Solomon Islands. Photo by Jerry Gilmartin, MMC, USN, Ret., courtesy of the US Navy, taken by United States Marine.

The PT-59, a Navy patrol ship commanded by John F. Kennedy during his Navy service in World War II, as seen in the Solomon Islands. Photo by Jerry Gilmartin, MMC, USN, Ret., courtesy of the US Navy, taken by United States Marine.

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 New York Times. “It was me, the rats, and the few corpses that came floating by.”

The MTA pulled this wreckage from the North Cove in Inwood. It is believed to be the remnants of the PT-59, a Navy patrol ship commanded by John F. Kennedy during his Navy service in World War II. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The MTA pulled this wreckage from the North Cove in Inwood. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

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 New York Post in 2017. Instead, it was the MTA that rose to the occasion.


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