SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF) — A retired Lieutenant Commander credited with rescuing John F. Kennedy during World War II recounted his experience in front of a packed crowd in San Rafael Monday.
95-year old U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Ted Robinson was a young ensign in the South Pacific when he got word that a Navy torpedo boat had been sunk, and its crew set adrift.
That boat was the PT 109, and its skipper was a young lieutenant named John F. Kennedy.
“He had a lot of guts, and what he did to try to save his men after his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer is unbelievable,” Robinson said.
Kennedy dove into a burning sea to pull his men back onto the wreckage, and then swam for two miles towing an injured sailor, despite his own serious injuries.
Robinson was asked to make a rescue attempt.
“If you’re a little pissy-ass ensign, which I was, and the commanding officer of the United States Navy asks if you’d like to do something, it’s gotta be the greatest idea in the whole freakin’ world!” Robinson said.
Against all odds, Robinson sailed his own PT boat through 30-miles of enemy-controlled water to save Kennedy and his crew. After his own boat was destroyed, Robinson shared a hospital tent with the future president, where they took photos of each other.
Even then, Robinson remembers Kennedy being concerned about the living conditions of the island natives.
“He was talking about someday we ought to help people like this, and that was the start of the Peace Corps,” he said.
Robinson spoke for nearly an hour Monday, and received a standing ovation from the audience.
Robinson lives in the Sacramento area, and has written a book on his experience during the war, called ‘Water In My Veins: The Pauper Who Helped Save A President.’