navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Civil War to Today
feature logo Weekly Reader ® Current Events

President's Sunken Ship Discovered

In recent years, underwater explorer Robert Ballard discovered a famous sunken ship. The ship is named PT-109. Its captain survived its sinking and later became a U.S. president.

Ballard is best known for finding the Titanic, another famous sunken ship. Even though Ballard has made many underwater discoveries, the search for PT-109 was one of the most difficult tasks he has ever faced. “To succeed,” Ballard said, “we needed all our skills and technology, plus a healthy dose of luck.”

Searching the Deep

Ballard discovered PT-109 in the South Pacific Ocean off the Solomon Islands. These islands are about 1,200 miles northeast of Australia. To find the sunken ship, Ballard used sound waves. Sound waves pass through water but bounce off solid objects, such as the seafloor. After sound waves bounce off an object, a receiver can show an image of the object.

By using sound, Ballard was able to map the ocean floor. In a particular flat area, he found a small mound.

Ballard and his crew then used a robot submarine to explore the area. The robot took photos of the mound. The photos showed a torpedo tube sticking through the sand. A torpedo is a weapon that submarines use, and it is launched through a tube. Ballard and his crew had discovered PT-109!

A Hero

The story of what happened to PT-109 is a story about a hero, John F. Kennedy.

In 1943, World War II (1939–1945) was being fought. Kennedy was a lieutenant in the navy. His mission was to fight the Japanese. Early in the morning of August 2, a Japanese warship, the Amagiri, smashed into Kennedy's boat, the PT-109.

This crash killed two of Kennedy's crew. Kennedy and 10 others were thrown into the ocean. Puddles of burning gasoline filled the surrounding water. The survivors had to swim to a nearby island. As he swam through the cold ocean water, Kennedy used his teeth to grab onto the clothes of an injured crewmember and dragged him to safety.

Years later, Kennedy became the 35th U.S. president.

“Finding PT-109 is especially meaningful to the members of my family,” said Kennedy's brother, Senator Edward Kennedy. “But we also believe it represents the story of all the brave young soldiers who fought with such courage in the South Pacific to ensure victory during World War II.”