Naval History, February 2003
Did JFK's Order Sink PT-109?
By Curtis L. Nelson
Privately, John F. Kennedy apparently was willing to take responsibility for the loss of his torpedo boat in World War II. He told at least one contemporary that he had throttled up, with the muffler flaps closed (right, visible on the PT-109's stern), which likely would have stalled the boat.This, in effect, is what Kennedy admitted to Robinson as having happened that night. He was patrolling slowly at 6 knots. When he saw the destroyer, he throttled up. On receiving the signal, the motormac first should have opened the muffler flaps. Apparently, he did not do this. Instead, he immediately opened the throttle on the engines and they stalled, leaving the boat helpless before the onrushing bow of the Amagiri. 

All this implies that the tragedy was in large measure the motormac's fault, 

not Kennedy's. So why did Kennedy tell Robinson that he himself failed to open the valves, and that he obviously felt terrible about not doing so? The Robinson article makes no attempt to answer these questions or discuss the ramifications of the admission. The article says only that Kennedy was upset about how others "years after the war [sitting] in a nice well-lit room back in Miami Beach" would view the incident, and blamed his failure on the natural disorientation he felt in the midst of the crisis.

Given all this, Kennedy's admission of failing to open his flaps makes no sense—until one realizes he is not admitting guilt, but responsibility. Like any sea captain, Kennedy was responsible for everything that happened on his boat. What Kennedy in effect told Robinson is that he was willing to accept that responsibility, at least privately, for what was actually his motormac's error.

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