World War II history will leap off the black and white pages Saturday as PT-157 crew members who helped save John Kennedy and his crew of the ill fated PT-109 talk about life on the patrol boat.
The presentation will be held at Veteran’s Park and is set for 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Author Bridge Carney, who has written a chronicle of the PT-157’s missions titled First-Up will be on hand as well as PT-157 Skipper William ‘Bud’ Liebenow, of Mount Airy and PT-157 Torpedoman 1/C Welford West.
It all started out innocently enough for Carney, who was trying to research details for a model of the PT-157.
“The group I was with at the time were into building PT boat models and they said you have to pick a certain boat so I picked the 157,” recalled Carney. “I knew they had rescued the 109 so I thought then why not?” He contacted Liebenow and the stories he heard while getting details to improve his model inspired him.
“I though to myself once I got my model finished I was going to come back around and write down these stories,” said Carney. “Here was important history that you just don’t find in a log book.” Carney’s first book was titled PT-157: A Scale Model Builder’s Notebook and the second work is titled First-Up Chronicles of the PT-157.
He explained that first-up is a naval term to describe being assigned to the front lines. He said Memorial Day will mark the 70th anniversary of the rescue and subsequent action the crew saw in 1943. Carney said the stories he came to know as oral history which will soon be lost. He said PT-157 and others of its class were involved in pushing Japanese forces back, island by island, after Guadalcanal.
Originally, the plan was to only feature the newest book at Pages Books and Coffee in Downtown Mount Airy. Cagney, who lives in California hit upon the presentation idea while talking with Liebenow.
“My wife said you gotta go,” said Cagney, who explained he then got in touch with West who also wanted to participate and the remainder of the local details were worked out with the help of Mike Thorpe of the VFW. West’s nephew, Don Dufault, plans to fly from Massachusetts to Virginia where he will pick up his uncle and the two plan on picking up Cagney at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Carney said word soon got out and he has been contacted by model builders from states including Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Arizona who plan to come in for the presentation. He said all members of 109’s crew have died so chances to hear about the rescue first hand continue to decrease.
“PT-157 had a dynamic crew,” said Carney. “Bud (Liebenow) was at the wheel for the rescue with Wilford (West) who’s dad was a lobsterman giving him soundings from the bow. They had to noodle this 80-foot boat at night through uncharted waters to within 150 feet of the shore.” Some survivors swam to the 157 to be picked up and West and fellow crew members rowed to the island to pick up victims who were badly burned.
“I’m going to be there between two men who can tell them (the audience) about the PT boats,” added Carney. “This is a living history museum for people to use.”
A book signing has been scheduled for Monday at Pages from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719=1952.