USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.: Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran

USS Joseph P Kennedy NA43-3112

USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR in a 1952 photo. NHHC photo number NA43-3112.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. During that dramatic confrontation, ships and aircraft of the U.S. Navy formed a blockade around the island of Cuba, to put a stop to Soviet efforts to build an offensive nuclear force on that island nation (watch a video about the Crisis here). One of the many ships involved in what was termed a “quarantine” operation was the Gearing class destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (DD 850). The destroyer is now open to the public as a museum ship in Massachusetts.

USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was commissioned in late 1945, just missing the action of World War II. It was named after the older brother of future president John F. Kennedy, who died in 1944 during an experimental program which used bombers  as explosives-laden guided missiles. Human pilots were required to get the aircraft off the ground and pilot them for the first part of their remote controlled voyage. Lieutenant Kennedy’s PB4Y-1 aircraft exploded prematurely over the skies of England on the way to its target in France. Kennedy and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Wilford Willy, were both killed. DD 850 was named in honor of the naval aviator, with his sister Jean Kennedy serving as ship’s sponsor. The family connection with the destroyer was a strong one, with brother Robert serving in the ship as an apprentice seaman during its shakedown cruise in early 1946.

Kennedy had its first taste of combat during the Korean war, where the destroyer served in carrier screens, and pounded shore targets with her main guns. In 1961, Kennedy underwent Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization upgrades (FRAM) and re-entered service in the middle of 1962. Just a few months later, the crisis around Cuba unfolded, and Kennedy found itself playing a leading role in the blockade operations. Of particular note was the boarding operation of the Lebanese flagged freighter Marucla (see photo below).

USN 711187 Kennedy Cuban Missile Crisis

Destroyer USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR sends a boarding party over to freighter Marucla during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962. NHHC photo USN 711187.

 

Kennedy remained in service for another 11 years, and participated in the recovery operations for NASA’s Gemini 6, 7, and 12 missions, as well as the later Apollo 4 mission. After nearly 30 years of service, the destroyer was finally decommissioned in 1973. Kennedy is now one of the feature attractions at Battleship Cove, in Fall River, MA. As with other museum ships, keeping this 67 year old steel ship in top condition in a maritime environment is hard work. Twice a year, curators and maintenance staff team up with dedicated volunteers for a Field Day to tackle restoration projects. Earlier this year, in May, over 70 people turned out to work on the ship. The group included a mix of active duty Navy personnel, Navy veterans, and civilians from around the country. In addition to extensive repainting of several passageways, the Field Day team restored Electronic Countermeasures Room Number 1 within the Combat Information Center (see photo below of the restored and functioning SPA-25 Radar Repeater).

Joseph P Kennedy radar

Restored SPA-25 Radar Repeater in Combat Information Center on board USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR. Photo by Edward Hayes.

 

The fall Field Day on board Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. is scheduled for 11-14 October, and volunteers are always needed. Those interested in lending a hand should contact Rich Angelini at rich_angelini@comcast.net, or call the museum at 1-508-678-1100. Throughout the month of October, the Navy and the nation will be remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis. Battleship Cove is hosting a series of events on October 27, and here in the Washington DC area we’ve designed a set of exhibit panels remembering the confrontation (see our earlier story here). If you look closely at the panel on the right, you’ll see that Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. is part of the presentation – displaying the seapower of the United States in the face of adversity.

Joseph P Kennedy May 2012 Field Day

May 2012 Field Day volunteers and staff on board USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR. Photo by Edward Hayes.

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9 Responses to USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.: Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran

  1. We certainly appreciate the efforts of the Naval Historical Foundation and their historical tribute to the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr DD850 and the efforts of our hard working volunteers. It is certainly hoped that our restoration efforts aboard DD850 help preserve the history of the United States Navy during the Cold War period and give citizens of our country a opportunity to visit and understand the commitment of veterans to our freedoms. Once again, our thanks and best wishes to the Naval Historical Foundation.

  2. Robert Kilkelly says:

    Thanks for your continuing support of the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. DD 850.

  3. Jim Gay says:

    Great article and photos! Many thanks to the Naval Historical Foundation for their highlighting of the ‘Joey P’ and for your hard work preserving the history of the world’s greatest Navy!

  4. Edward Hayes says:

    The support of the Naval Historical Foundation is greatly appreciated. Many thanks for paying tribute to the efforts of the dedicated volunteers of the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

  5. Chris Wyser-Pratte says:

    She was a fine ship, and being an officer aboard her was one of the most important formative experiences of my life. Members of the wardroom used to go to reunions when Capt. Hayes was alive, and are planning another reunion at the mountain retreat of one of our members, Big Pay (Don Watters.) The friendships made aboard JPK have been solid gold for a lifetime.

  6. I served on the JPK during the missile crisis and I’m looking for operational history of the ship during the crisis. After boarding the Marcula on the 26th of October we went on to take part in a number of operations. I remember helping to bring a Soviet sub to the surface and I think it may have been B59 on the 27th but would like confirmation. I also recall chasing a submersed object around the Caribbean for about a week and would appreciate any information about that event anyone might recall, as well as the trip to Panama to escort Marines to Gitmo.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the question Larry. The first place to look would be the National Archives, but that would require you to get to College Park, MD. Alternately, the Digital National Security Archives has digitized tens of thousands of documents, many from the Crisis. As we understand it, many of these records include Navy documents. Here is their website: nsarchive.chadwyck.com/marketing/index.jsp

  7. Winfield Renshaw says:

    I was a GMGSN at the time of the crisis, after the freighter laid too we did send our motor whale boat to the freighter, secured one of the 5″ mounts and took position on the upper deck with 2 BARS and the 30 cal. machine gun.
    and I do remember chasing a contact around the Caribbean, after that we were heading home mid watch, but a carrier needed escort so we went back south to escort her home !!

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