COLUMBUS, Ohio — A historian says a former Ohio State University student should be recognized along with John F. Kennedy as heroes of PT-109.
Kennedy towed an injured man to safety and swam between islands hoping to flag down another patrolling PT boat in the days after the boat he commanded was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in 1943.
The historian, Michael Bell, said Leonard Thom, the boat’s second in command, also towed an injured shipmate to a South Pacific island after the boat was rammed.
He also said it was Thom’s detailed note on paper, not Kennedy’s note scrawled on a coconut shell, that led to the rescue of the crew. Thom got natives of nearby islands to carry both messages to a PT base.
Bell is pushing for more recognition of Thom by promoting his self-published book “Unsung Hero” and appearing on a History Channel documentary on PT-109.
Thom died in a car-train crash in 1946 as he was going home to his pregnant wife and young son in Youngstown.
“Kennedy did a great job as commander, and he parlayed that into a Senate seat and the presidency,” Bell said. “But everybody forgot about Lenny” after he died.
Bell, who lives in Wyoming, has read extensively of Kennedy and has researched the role of PT boats — small, fast, 80-foot ships that patrolled enemy shipping channels in World War II.
He spoke Saturday to some of Thom’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers from the late 1930s and early 1940s at Ohio State, where Thom played tackle. A room at the fraternity’s house was renamed in Thom’s honor.
Thom downplayed his role in rescuing the crew when he was alive.
“When Lenny was telling me the story, he put all the focus on Kennedy,” said Charlie Maag, Thom’s high school teammate in Sandusky before both played for Ohio State. “He said Kennedy was the factor that held everybody together.”
But Bell’s book is filled with anecdotes that show Thom was also a respected leader.
“It’s my way of making sure he’s not forgotten,” Bell said.
Lenny Thom the unsung hero of the PT-109; Ohio State Football, Phi Delta Theta President, and great friend of #JFK.
Ty Hardin above played the part of Lenny, the Executive Officer of the fabled fighting torpedo boat.
The proceeding picture is OSU “BMOC” on the right and that’s JFK on the left.