With all of the promise and expectations of the aspiring youth of America, it was President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States, who ushered in a movement of service and commitment to country that is still prevalent in our culture. In his January 1961 inauguration speech, Kennedy called for Americans to contribute to making the nation a better place, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
His election to the White House was the culmination of the embodiment of this sentiment, having served in the U.S. Senate (1953-1960) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1947-1953) representing the state of Massachusetts. But JFK’s service had been kickstarted when he volunteered to serve in the United States Navy in October of 1941, and remained there through the bulk of World War II before being medically retired in March of 1945.
With an assassin’s bullet, all of that promise was stripped from the American youth, replacing the excitement with a vacuum.
During the height of Kennedy’s popularity while in office, Warner Brothers released a war film in June of 1963 documenting Kennedy’s service in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific when he served as a skipper of three motor torpedo (PT) boats; PT-101, PT109 and PT59. The film focused on JFK’s first command, PT-109 and the events surrounding his heroism following the boat’s sinking, after being rammed by a Japanese destroyer.
Collectors of all walks and interests have been pursuing Kennedy memorabilia with considerable interest and fervor. The popularity of the president and the film about his service have contributed to persistent demand for anything that can be connected to him. With high demand and substantial popularity comes incredible values for these items. Where there’s money to be made, people seek opportunity to cash in with legitimate, fringe and fraudulent memorabilia.
For buyers of Kennedy memorabilia, iron-clad provenance should be required prior making a purchase. Investing in proper due diligence — researching the piece and the history — has to be a step performed before funds are exchanged. When it comes to militaria and Kennedy, buyers should be especially be wary – as in the case of a current “Kennedy” online auction listing ”John F. Kennedy: His Very Own PT-109 Shoulder Patch.”
The seller proceeds to describe exactly how the patch is authentic by detailing the previous owner’s relationship to the deceased president, noting that then-Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Kennedy had sent his personal uniform patch to his cousin as token to cheer her up in the midst of her sorrow for being sent to boarding school. The story certainly seems plausible. Accompanying the patch (which is framed in a display) are:
- Various copy-images of JFK and the crew of the PT109
- JFK receiving a medal (probably his Navy and Marine Corps Medal)
- A circa 1930 color photo of JFK and Marylou as children
- A patch from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy
- A signed notarized statement from Marylou Connelly McCarthy (JFK’s cousin and recipient of the patch), dated 1998, discussing the patch and her relationship with and feelings for JFK.
- A letter of provenance from the family
All of the items do seem to add up except for one small (well, not that small) inaccuracy. Shoulder patches, such as this motor torpedo boat example, were worn solely by enlisted personnel (petty officer 1/c and below) on their jumper uniforms. Officers never donned shoulder patches, which punches a hole in the story.
I suppose that JFK could have collected the patch from his unit and sent it as a keepsake for his cousin, which would solidify those aspects of the seller’s story. Considering the minimum opening bid requirement of $17,000.00 and no takers at press time, it appears that the provenance isn’t quite rock-solid enough for any prospective buyers.
Remember the militaria collectors’ mantra: “Buy the item, not the story.”