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Item 1043 - John F. Kennedy PT-109 Letters Catalog 438 (Sep 2014)

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(we are no longer accepting bids on this item)
Minimum Bid: $10,000.00
Sold Price: $200,000.00 (includes buyer's premium)


Amazing archive of material, highlighted by four letters by John F. Kennedy, from the family of Harold W. Marney, one of two crew members killed when the PT-109 commanded by JFK was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. In addition to these letters are the Purple Heart medal posthumously awarded to Harold W. Marney, the telegram sent to the family informing them of his loss, a few photos, and various related correspondence.

First is an ALS signed “John F. Kennedy, Lt. (jg) USNR,” three pages, 8 x 10.5, circa August–October 1943. In part: “This letter is to offer my deepest sympathy to you for the loss of your son. I realize that there is nothing that I can say can make your sorrow less; particularly as I know him; and I know what a great loss he must be to you and your family. Your son rode the PT 109 with me on the night of August 1–2 when a Japanese destroyer, travelling at a high speed cut us in two, as we turned into him for a shot. I am truly sorry that I cannot offer you hope that he survived that night. You do have the consolation of knowing that your son died in the service of his country.” Kennedy's PT-109 boat was performing nighttime patrols in the Solomon Islands when it was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, slicing it in half and spilling most of the crew into the ocean.

Second is an ALS signed “John F. Kennedy, Lt. USNR,” one page both sides, 8 x 10.5, circa October–December 1943. In part: When the crew was finally united around the floating bow, we could find no trace of him, although every effort was made to find him. I am terribly sorry that cannot be of more help or encouragement to you. I know how unsatisfactory is the word ‘missing’—but that is all that we can tell—that is all of the information we have. Again my I express my deep sympathy to you both for your great loss.” Although two were killed, the remaining members of the crew were able to cling to debris from the ship and float to a nearby island, where they awaited rescue. For playing an instrumental role in saving these crew members, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Kennedy's heroism in the face of danger played a key role in forming the foundation for his nationwide appeal as a strong leader, and his presidential campaign would later distribute pins shaped like the PT-109 to his supporters.

Third is an ALS signed “Jack Kennedy,” one page both sides, 5.5 x 6.75, Hyannisport letterhead, September 1, 1944. In part: “I want you to know how much I appreciated your card. I know you know how we all feel—boys like Harold and my brother Joe can never be replaced—but there is some consolation in knowing that they were doing what they wanted to do—and were doing it well. In this letter the roles are reversed, as it is surely in response to a sympathy card sent by the Marneys to Kennedy following the loss of his brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., just two weeks before on August 12, 1944—just after the first anniversary of the PT-109 incident. He was a naval aviator and killed while in flight when an explosive prematurely detonated, destroying his aircraft. This devastating loss of his elder brother meant that JFK became the family's political standard-bearer, with expectations falling upon him to continue their tradition in politics.

Fourth is a TLS as president, signed “John F. Kennedy,” one page, 7 x 10.25, White House letterhead, April 24, 1961. In part: “I recently requested from the American Battle Monuments Commission a picture of the Manila American Cemetery, whose memorial wall bears the inscription of your son and my former shipmate. If ever you are in the Nation’s capital, I would like very much to have the White House and other public places here shown to you.” This is accompanied by the large color 19 x 15.5 photo of the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, framed to an overall size of 21.5 x 18.

Another piece of important ephemera is the telegram that Mr. and Mrs. Charles V. Marney received informing them of the disaster, sent by Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of Naval Personnel, stamp-dated August 21, 1943. In full: "The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Harold William Marney motor machinist mate second class USN is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The department appreciates your great anxiety but details not now available and delay in receipt thereof must necessarily be expected. To prevent possible aid to our enemies please to not divulge the name of his ship or station."

Other items of great historic interest include: Marney's Purple Heart medal, with his information engraved on the reverse, accompanied by the original Purple Heart citation document bearing autopen signatures of James Forrestal and Randall Jacobs, and a similar citation bearing a facsimile signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; a fine studio portrait of Harold Marney as a young man; six secretarial or autopen letters from JFK's senate office to Mrs. Jennie H. Marney, regarding potential social security benefits; numerous relevant newspaper clippings; and an assortment of associated correspondence from various figures, including letters from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and various naval officials. In overall fine condition.

This represents one of the most significant military archives we have ever offered and would be the cornerstone of any Kennedy or American history collection, with Kennedy's detailed explanation of what happened to the PT-109 and thoughtful condolences extended to the family of a man he could not save. In terms of content, this represents the pinnacle of any Kennedy wartime correspondence and to our knowledge are the only letters describing the PT-109 incident in depth. That he draws the parallel between Harold Marney and his own brother is also quite interesting, referencing one of the earliest catastrophic events of the so-called 'Kennedy curse.' Enhanced by other material related to Marney, including his Purple Heart, this is a remarkably unique collection of the highest caliber.

Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.


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