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Naval officer who helped save John F. Kennedy during WWII dies at age 97

February 27, 2017 (Photo Credit: Central Press/Getty Images)
William “Bud” Liebenow, the Navy officer who rescued future President John F. Kennedy and his crew during World War II, died Friday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. He was 97.

A native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Liebenow was a young college graduate when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. He joined the Navy, where he served on small, heavily armed attack boats known as PT boats.


Liebenow and Kennedy were serving in the South Pacific in 1943 as captains of PT boats. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109, was attacked by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was among the 11 surviving crew members who were able to swim to a small island. Kennedy etched a note into a coconut that natives of the Solomon Islands then delivered to an American base.

Liebenow tracked down the survivors of PT-109 by guiding his boat behind enemy lines. "Pulled right up to the beach," Liebenow told WRAL-TV in 2015. "Just a part of the job really." Kennedy would go on to invite Liebenow and his family to his presidential inauguration 18 years later.

The rescue the crew of PT-109 was not the only rescue of Liebenow’s naval career. Liebenow commanded a PT boat during the D-Day invasion of northern France. He sped around the waters off the shores of Normandy rescuing service members whose boats had been destroyed, including about 60 crew members from the USS Corry. After the D-Day landings, Liebenow’s PT boat carried Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, and other high-ranking Allied officers.

Following World War II, Liebenow worked for Chesapeake and Ohio Railway for 30 years before retiring in 1981. He is survived by his wife, Lucy, and two children. 

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