Character in Real Life - One-Minute Testimonials

DILIGENCE – A One-Minute Testimonial


By Steve Withrow


The Story of John F. Kennedy and the PT 109

[NOTE: A good prop for this would be a coconut. Carve onto the coconut this message, “11 alive native knows posit & reef Nauru Island Kennedy”]

John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States. On his desk in the Oval Office sat a coconut, very similar to this one, with this message, “11 alive native knows posit & reef Nauru Island Kennedy.” It was one of his most prized possessions, and the story of that coconut will teach us a lesson about the importance of diligence in the face of great pain and difficulty

On the night of August 1st – 2nd, 1942, Lieutenant, Junior Grade Kennedy, and his crew of 12 were

n patrol in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. It was WWII, and Lieutenant Kennedy was in charge of the PT-109, an 80’ long wood-hulled torpedo boat. The PT boats were quite fast, and carried enough firepower in their torpedoes to sink a battleship.
On this evening 15 PT boats were dispatched to the Blackette Straight in an attempt to locate and interrupt the periodic high-speed

Japanese barge traffic known as “the Tokyo Express,” which resupplied their forces in the Solomons.

In order to avoid detection, the 109 with Kennedy at the helm, had slowed to a crawl to keep their wake and engine noise at a minimum. As they crept along in the poor visibility they were surprised when suddenly, out of the concealing darkness, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri was inside their torpedo range before they saw it. Steaming at 40 knots, the Amagiri sliced them in two within 10 seconds, killing two crewman instantly and hurling Kennedy into the cockpit, where he landed on his bad back. The 109 burst into flames, but within moments, the wake of the Amagiri doused the flames of the bow to which Kennedy and several of his crewmen were clinging.

Over the next 3 days, as he sought to save the remaining members of his crew, Lieutenant Kennedy would display a heroic level of diligence that won him a Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. His display of diligence is an example for us all.

In the moments that followed Kennedy began to call out for his remaining crew. Two of the five who were not clinging to the bow were hurt. Charles A. Harris had a hurt leg, and Patrick Henry McMahon, the engineer, was badly burned. It took Kennedy almost three hours to locate them in the darkness and bring them back to the sinking bow.

As dawn broke, their situation deteriorated. The current was carrying them toward an island occupied by Japanese forces, where they would surely be captured, and what remained of the boat was listing badly and starting to swamp. So Kennedy determined they would all swim for a small island about four miles away, barely visible to them.

McMahon could not fend for himself, so Kennedy gripped the strap of McMahon’s life jacket with his teeth and towed his injured crewman for five hours until they reached the island. By the time they emerged, they had spent 15 hours in the sea.

But they soon discovered there was no food or water on the island, so that night, Kennedy swam to the Ferguson passage in hopes of sighting another Patrol boat… but without luck. The next evening ensign George Ross tried the same to no avail. But both Ross and Kennedy had spotted another slightly larger island that had coconuts, so they set out on another long swim with Kennedy again towing McMahon.

It was now the fourth day, and as luck would have it they encountered friendly natives. Kennedy cut a message on a coconut that read “11 alive native knows posit & reef Nauru Island Kennedy.” He handed the coconut to one of the natives and said, “Rendova, Rendova!,” which meant that they should carry the message by dugout to the Navy’s PT base on Rendova island. Two days later the rescue was completed.

Diligence is the ability to take a task and use all one’s energies to perform it quickly and skillfully. It is a stick-to-it-iveness that will not allow itself to fail in the face of adversity over long durations of time. Years later, the coconut on th’e President’s desk reminded him of the diligence that leadership requires.

The Bible says in Romans that, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a mans gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith…. If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” (Romans 12:6-8 NIV) We lead, just as Lieutenant Kennedy did in 1942, by our diligence… using all our energies to do what God has placed before us, and sticking with it.

Optional Questions

  1. What companion character qualities do you see in this story? (Courage, persistence, determination, industry, love, etc.)
  2. What do I want to accomplish this week (or throughout my life) that will require diligence?
  3. What would that diligence look like in practical terms?
  4. What are the biggest enemies of diligence?
  5. How can I make these enemies of diligence a non-factor in my success



This material is published by the Faith Committee of the Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Reproduction and Adaptation is encouraged.