The next morning, August 6, Kennedy returned with Gasa and Kumana to Naru, intercepting Ross along the way as he was swimming back. The islanders showed the two Americans where a boat had been hidden on Naru. Kennedy was at a loss for a way to send a message, but Gasa showed him how to scratch a few words into the husk of a green coconut.
Gasa and Kumana left with the message—
COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS
POS'IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY
As they waited for a rescue, Kennedy insisted on going out with Ross into Ferguson Passage in the two-man canoe. Heavy seas swamped the canoe and so battered the men that they barely made it back to Naru. But the next morning, August 7, eight islanders appeared at Naru shortly after Kennedy and Ross awoke. They brought food and instructions from the local Allied coastwatcher, Lt. A. Reginald Evans, who instructed Kennedy to come to Evans's post.
Stopping long enough at Olasana to feed the crew, the islanders hid Kennedy under a pile of palm fronds and paddled him to Gomu Island in Blackett Strait. Early in the evening of August 7, a little more than six days after PT-109's sinking, Kennedy stepped on to Gomu. There was still a rescue to be planned with Evans, no small thing in enemy-held waters, but the worst of the ordeal of PT 109 was over.
Evans already notified his commander of the discovery of PT-109's survivors, and the base commander proposed sending a rescue mission directly to Olasana. Kennedy insisted on being picked up first so that he could guide the rescue boats, PT 157 and PT 171, among the reefs and shallows of the island chain.
Late on the night of August 7, the boats met Kennedy at the rendezvous point, exchanging a prearranged signal of four shots. Kennedy's revolver was down to only three rounds, so he borrowed a rifle from Evans for the fourth. Standing up in the canoe to give the signal, Kennedy did not anticipate the rifle's recoil, which threw him off balance and dumped him in the water. A soaking wet and thoroughly exasperated Navy lieutenant climbed aboard PT 157.
The PT boats crossed Blackett Strait under Kennedy's direction and eased up to Olasana Island early in the morning of August 8. The exhausted men of PT 109 were all asleep. Kennedy began yelling for them, much to the chagrin of his rescuers, who were nervous about the proximity of the Japanese. But the rescue went forward without incident, and the men of PT 109 reached the US base at Rendova at 5:30 a.m. on August 8.
For his courage and leadership, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and injuries suffered during the incident also qualified him for a Purple Heart. Ensign Leonard Thom also received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. But for John F. Kennedy, the consequences of the event were more far-reaching than simple decorations.
The story was picked up by the writer John Hersey, who told it to the readers of The New Yorker and Reader's Digest. It followed Kennedy into politics and provided a strong foundation for his appeal as a leader.