JFK thanks Clare Booth Luce for good-luck coin - HISTORY
Year
1942

JFK thanks Clare Booth Luce for good-luck coin

On this day in 1942, a young Navy officer named John F. Kennedy writes a letter to playwright and family friend Clare Booth Luce thanking her for sending him a good-luck coin.

According to Library of Congress records, the coin had belonged to Booth Luce’s mother. Kennedy received the gift just a day before leaving the Kennedy home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, for World War II duty in the Pacific. In his note, he thanked Booth Luce for her kindness and swore he would clip the coin to his military identification tags.He told her, “good luck is a commodity in rather large demand these days and I feel you have given me a particularly potent bit of it.”

The good-luck charm may have come in handy in 1942 when the PT boat Kennedy was commanding in the Pacific came under heavy fire from the Japanese. In July 1943, according to the official Navy report, Kennedy and the crew of PT 109 were ordered into combat near the Solomon Islands. In the middle of the night on August 2, their boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and caught fire. Several of Kennedy’s shipmates were blown overboard into a sea of burning oil. Kennedy dove in to rescue three of the crew and in the process swallowed some of the toxic mixture. (Kennedy would later blame this for chronic stomach problems.) For 12 hours, Kennedy and his crew clung to the wrecked hull, before he gave the order to abandon ship. Kennedy and the other good swimmers placed the injured on a makeshift raft, and then took turns pushing and towing the raft four miles to safety on a nearby island.

For six days, Kennedy and his crew waited on the island for rescue. They survived by drinking coconut milk and rainwater until native islanders discovered the sailors and offered them food and shelter. Every night, Kennedy tried to signal other U.S. navy ships in the area. He also reportedly scrawled a message on a coconut husk and gestured to the islanders to take it to a nearby PT base at Rendova. On August 8, a Navy patrol boat picked up the haggard survivors.

On June 12, 1944, while he was in the hospital recovering from back surgery, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps’ highest honor for “courage, endurance and excellent leadership [that] contributed to the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” The future president also received a Purple Heart for wounds received during battle.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Lord Nelson born

Horatio Nelson, Britain’s most celebrated naval hero, is born in Burnham Thorpe, England. In the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, he won a series of crucial victories and saved England from possible invasion by France.The son of the village rector, he entered the British ...read more

Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy,” is born

As a boy, Autry sang in the church choir in Tioga and mastered the mail-order guitar his parents bought him for his 12th birthday. He was already an accomplished amateur and sometime-professional musician when, in the early 1920s, his family moved to Oklahoma, setting in motion ...read more

The Tylenol murders

Investigators soon determined that the tainted Tylenol capsules hadn’t been tampered with at the factories where they were produced. This meant that someone had taken the bottles from store shelves, laced them with poison and then returned them to grocery stores and pharmacies, ...read more

Babi Yar massacre begins

The Babi Yar massacre of nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children begins on the outskirts of Kiev in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine.The German army took Kiev on September 19, and special SS squads prepared to carry out Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s orders to exterminate all Jews and ...read more

American woman climbs Everest

Stacy Allison of Portland, Oregon, becomes the first American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth. Allison, a member of the Northwest American Everest Expedition, climbed the Himalayan peak using the ...read more

Reporter Judith Miller released from prison

On this day in 2005, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is released from a federal detention center in Alexandria, Virginia, after agreeing to testify in the investigation into the leaking of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. Miller had been behind bars since ...read more

Nazis and communists divvy up Poland

On this day in 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agree to divide control of occupied Poland roughly along the Bug River–the Germans taking everything west, the Soviets taking everything east.As a follow-up to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact), ...read more

Charges dropped against Green Berets

Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announces that the U.S. Army, conceding that it is helpless to enlist the cooperation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is dropping the murder charges (of August 6) against eight Special Forces accused of killing a Vietnamese ...read more

Willie Mays makes catch

On September 29, 1954, Willie Mays, centerfielder for the New York Giants, makes an amazing over-the-shoulder catch of a fly ball hit by Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz to rob Wertz of extra bases in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The catch has gone down as one of the ...read more

Miguel de Cervantes is born

Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is born this day near Madrid.Cervantes led an adventurous life and achieved much popular success, but he nevertheless struggled financially throughout his life. Little is know about his childhood, except that he was a favorite student ...read more

“Message filmmaker” Stanley Kramer is born

On this day in 1913, Stanley Kramer, the director and producer whose best-known “message” movies–including The Defiant Ones,Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner–tackled controversial political and social themes, is born in New York City. During his career in ...read more

Trains collide in Pakistan

A passenger train collides with an oil-tanker train in the Gambar province of western Pakistan, killing 300 people and seriously injuring another 150 on this day in 1957.The passenger train, bound for Karachi from western Pakistan, was overcrowded, which was not unusual at the ...read more

Cyanide-laced Tylenol kills six

Flight attendant Paula Prince buys a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol. Prince was found dead on October 1, becomingthe final victim of a mysterious ailment in Chicago, Illinois. Over the previous 24 hours,six other people had suddenly died of unknown causes in northwest Chicago. ...read more

Russians want the American dream

An article in the New York Times claims that Russian citizens want the “American dream”: private property and a home of their own. The article was one of many that appeared during the 1950s and 1960s, as the American media attempted to portray the average Russian as someone not ...read more