There may be an important part of World War II history at the bottom of the Harlem River.
William Doyle, author of the John F. Kennedy biography “PT 109” (William Morrow), believes with “99.99 percent accuracy” that that’s the location of PT-59, a World War II boat on which Kennedy performed heroic deeds that few know of today.
With Monday being JFK’s 100th birthday, the timing of Doyle’s Bronx discovery is appropriate.
For Doyle, 59 and based in Manhattan, the quest to find and identify the boat began in January 2016. That’s when he became intrigued by online chatter among JFK buffs about the little known PT 59 and its legacy in the Solomon Islands, about 1,100 miles east of Papua New Guinea
In November 1943, “Japanese infantrymen were chasing American [soldiers] out of the jungle and shooting them to pieces,” Doyle told The Post. Kennedy, the PT-59’s commander, “pulled close to shore and 10 Marines were rescued.”
Kennedy based his presidential campaign off his Purple Heart-worthy valor on the PT-109 — which sunk upon being rammed by a Japanese destroyer in August 1943 — having played a key role in the survival of 10 crewmen. But “he almost never talked publicly about what he did aboard the 59,” Doyle said.
Internet gossip had it that the 59 was now at the bottom of the Harlem River alongside 208th Street, near an MTA rail yard. Aerial photos showed a trace outline of what was said to be the boat.
Doyle’s first question: How could it possibly have ended up there?
Following a paper trail, Doyle found that in 1944 the 59 went from the Solomon Islands to the Motor Torpedo Squadrons Training Center in Rhode Island then wound up in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Declared Army surplus, the PT was sold to Gus Marinak of the Bronx who used it as a party boat for weekend fishermen in the 1940s and ’’50s.
“Those New Yorkers probably had no idea that they were on a historic vessel,” said Doyle. “During the 1960s, the boat was sold [to Donald Schmahl, who used it for commercial fishing trips] and docked on the 23rd Street Pier, near the FDR.”
Around 1969 the PT was set on fire by vandals. The assumption was that it had been disposed of. “I wondered how it could have ended up on 208th Street,” Doyle recalled. “I started to lose confidence” that it was the 59.
This past March, he called Alyce Guthrie, whose late father, James “Boats” Newberry, was a PT historian. Doyle asked for documentation related to Kennedy’s boat. She found two names that offered clues: Redmond Burke and Aubrey Mayhew.
“I found a 1970 newspaper article about Redmond purchasing ‘the burned-out hull of a World War II PT boat,’ ” Doyle said. “He docked it at 208th Street, near where he lived in Inwood. He . . . wanted to make it into a houseboat.”
Ranking among the biggest collectors of JFK memorabilia, Mayhew had purchased the Texas School Book Depository and tried to buy the boat. The sale eventually fell apart. Burke, said Doyle, let the PT “sink so it would be less of a hazard.”
Satisfied that it was the PT 59, Doyle recruited neighbor Fred Mamoun, an investigative news producer, to join him for reconnaissance. The two waited for low tide, rented a 12-foot motorboat, and headed out on the Harlem River. Pulling up near the presumed site, they saw wood poking out of the water in a pattern suggestive of the PT-59 hull. Excited, the men checked the river bottom with an oar and agreed that it was shallow and solid.
“Then I stepped out and started getting sucked under,” recalled Doyle. “I was up to my knees in quicksand and sinking fast.” As the vessel rocked precariously, Mamoun and the boat’s pilot struggled to pull Doyle to safety.
At that moment, Doyle considered the PT 59’s final resting spot and realized, “It’s an ugly, Godforsaken, forgotten place. That is why nobody goes up there and why the boat has been left alone.”
On a trip in April, Doyle then used a precision saw attached to a long pole to cut wood samples from the boat, as well as from the nearby dock and dock bumper. Two wood-products analysis labs confirmed the cuttings were not identical, proving that what Doyle believed to be the boat was not a piece of errant dock. The wood is spruce, which matches material used in PT boat construction, but Doyle retains .01 percent doubt.
Surety will only come with excavation and examination of the boat. Doyle’s hope is that a Kennedy-related organization — such as the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum — will raise the PT-59.
Said Doyle, “I have no immediate plans beyond . . . making it a potential last chapter for future printings of ‘PT 109’ and drawing people’s attention to an extraordinary story.”