The top of the Key enclosed within a polished circular jacket engraved “109” on both sides, signed Tiffany on the pendant loop. With fitted case stamped Tiffany & Co., New York.

This key was given to president Kennedy by Peter Tare, an organization of people who served on PT boats. Other gifts from this group are in the permanent collection of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Lieutenant John F. Kennedy became a training instructor at the Melville Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center, Rhode Island on December 3, 1942. After his own preparation there he had hoped to see immediate active service aboard a patrol torpedo (PT) boat, but was prevented from doing so in favor of remaining at Melville as a teacher. Kennedy managed to secure an interview with senator David I. Walsh, chairman of the Senate Affairs Committee. Walsh promised to help him find a posting overseas. Less than three moths later he received orders to join Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two and was soon on his way to the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific.

By the following August, Kennedy found himself in command of the PT 109, playing a small part in the sweeping counteraction that was to drive Japanese forces back from the area. He and his twelve-man crew were among a number whose function was to patrol islands and coral islets to the east of New Georgia. According to an account written by John Hersey not long after the incident, the PT 109 was working one night forty miles from the Rendova and disaster struck. “An officer named George [‘Barney’] Ross was up on the bow, magnifying the void with binoculars. Kennedy was at the wheel, and he saw Ross turn and point into the darkness. The man in the forward machine-gun turret shouted, ‘Ship at two o’clock!’ Kennedy saw a shape and spun the wheel to turn form an attack, but the 109 answered sluggishly…Thirteen men on the PT hardly had the time to brace themselves. Those that say the Japanese ship coming were paralyzed by fear… Then the Japanese crashed in to the 109 and cut her right in two… Kennedy was thrown hard to the left of the cockpit, and he thought, ‘This is how it feels to be killed’…”

Heresy’s detailed report of the events of the next few days makes harrowing reading. Two men vanished on the collision, other were wounded, and none survived without haunting memories. Kennedy’s’ own part in the event was crucial to their eventual rescue. With Barney Ross he set out to explore nearby islands, the closest of which, Narus, was an hours swim away. Along the way they ground an abandoned Japanese canoe and in it they sent off once more. “ Soon the two could see a white lines ahead and could era a freighting roar – waves crashing on a reef. They had got out of the tidal current and were approaching the island all right, but now they realized that the wind and the waves were carrying them toward the reef.”

Eventually Kennedy and Ross managed a painful crossing of the reef before finding dry land, where they instantly fell into a deep sleep. Awakening next morning they were surprised to find themselves surrounded by natives, one of whom handed over a letter which proved to be from the commander of a New Zealand infantry patrol operating nearby. Within hours, Kennedy, Ross and the other PT 109 survivors were with friendly forces and soon to be taken to the naval hospital at Tulagi. (Goddard Lieberson, editor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy…As We Remember Him, New York, 1965, pp. 39-45).


The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, April 23-26, 1996,SOTHEBY’S Publications, New York, 1996.


Sale Code: 6834 “JKO”


Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 91.44 cm x 91.44 cm (36” x 36”)
Date of creation: April, 2016