John F. Kennedy’s Cane Donated to the National Museum of American History

April 20, 2010
In a special donation ceremony Wednesday, April 21, Lt. Cmdr. Ted Robinson, U.S. Navy Reserve, will donate a cane used by President John F. Kennedy during World War II to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The donation will also include a photo Robinson took of Kennedy leaning on the cane. The cane has been in Robinson’s possession since Kennedy used it on Tulagi, a South Pacific Island where the future president recovered from injuries in 1943. It will be part of the museum’s Division of Political History.

Robinson, author of Water In My Veins: The Pauper Who Helped Save A President is a former Navy colleague of Kennedy. On Aug. 8, 1943, Robinson was on board PT-157, which picked up Kennedy and the surviving crew of 10 who were on PT-109, which was rammed by a Japanese destroyer Aug. 2. Robinson was the first to speak to the sun-burned and starving men about their experiences over the course of that week and to learn of Kennedy’s heroism. After the loss of his own PT boat a month later, Robinson joined Kennedy, who was recovering from a back injury and also without a vessel, on Tulagi where they were tent mates. While there, Robinson learned about the future president’s wartime experiences, specifically his concerns about the events of Aug. 2, and what he was like as a human being.

One day while out with his camera, Robinson discovered Kennedy using a cane that Robinson had acquired in a trade with native islanders. He snapped a picture of Kennedy, who was smiling and leaning on the cane for support. The future president then took Robinson’s picture in the same pose. The two photos, cane and camera have been on display in Robinson’s living room since his return to the United States after the war’s end.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, the museum explores stories of freedom and justice, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).