Patrick Henry (Mac) McMahon, who was saved from drowning by Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy after their PT boat was sunk by the Japanese during World War II, died Sunday in Encinitas. He was 84.
Memorial services for McMahon will be held at 11 a.m. today at Encinitas Mortuary, followed by a private interment in Riverside National Cemetery.
McMahon had lived in Encinitas since 1976, when he retired after 23 years as the postmaster of Cathedral City, Calif., near Palm Springs. He was best known for his role in the PT-109 tragedy, which made Kennedy--the skipper of the boat and future president of the United States--a hero.
While patrolling the Blackett Strait near the Solomon Islands in August, 1943, the PT-109 was sliced in half by the Japanese destroyer Amatiro. The sinking and epic rescue of the crew were later depicted in a book and motion picture.
Because he suffered extensive burns in the action, McMahon was unable to swim. The machinist mate first class was kept afloat for about four hours by Kennedy, who swam three miles to a small island with McMahon's life jacket between his teeth.
"My stepfather often told me that he begged Kennedy to just leave him there, that the rescue was too difficult," said William Kelly, McMahon's stepson, who works for a shipbuilding company in Pascagoula, Miss. "He thought the world of President Kennedy, who saved his life, no doubt about it."
McMahon died of complications from pneumonia at Rancho Encinitas, an Encinitas convalescent home, where his granddaughter had taken him two weeks ago.
Kelly said that his mother, Rose, McMahon's wife of 62 years, has suffered the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease for two years and that, in caring for her, his stepfather's own condition had weakened.
He said McMahon had always "liked and treasured Kennedy," not only for his heroism, but also for keeping in touch long after the war. He said President Kennedy once traveled with a crew of Secret Service agents from Los Angeles to Cathedral City just to have coffee with an old friend.
He said the McMahons had dined with the Kennedys in Hyannis Port, Mass. "They knew the whole family," he said.
McMahon was "rather quiet, subdued, he loved to read," Kelly said. "In his prime, he could read a novel a week. He enjoyed woodcarving. . . . He was an outstanding gentleman, a great guy and a great husband, and very modest for a man who had done so much, who had been all over the world. Because my own father died at an early age, I really saw my stepfather as my father. He will be missed very much."