John L. Iles Jr., a Shreveport, La., businessman and World War II veteran who served on PT boats with President John F. Kennedy, died last week in a Shreveport retirement village after a recent accident. He was 92.
“We’ve lost a real warrior,” fellow World War II veteran and Shreveporter John Fetzer, who piloted P-47 fighters during the conflict, told the Shreveport Times.
“He was a great guy and he lived a great life,” his son, John L. Iles III, told the newspaper.
Iles took part in the oral history project at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, which maintains a collection of his artifacts from the war, including his correspondence with Kennedy and other members of the Massachusetts family after the president’s assassination.
Kennedy and Iles, who met in Rhode Island in 1942 in PT training, shared a thatched hut on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands in 1943.
“We had liked one another from the start,” Iles said in a 1961 article in the Times after a visit with Kennedy at the White House. “I was as impressed with his Boston accent as he was with my Southern drawl.”
Iles had been featured in the Times numerous times, including a March 1961 account of his service with Kennedy and the meeting he and other patrol torpedo boat veterans had with the president at the White House.
After Kennedy was slain, Iles was sought out for recollections about his wartime friend, whom he saw about twice a year since the close of the war.
“I hardly know what to say,” a stunned Iles told The Times that Friday in November 1963. “I still find it hard to believe. It’s just terrible.”
Born in Oberlin in Allen Parish in November 1920, Iles enlisted in the Navy in late December 1942, was commissioned an ensign and volunteered for the dangerous but glamorous PT boat service. Iles commanded PT-105 — also identified as PT-125 in some accounts — out of the Solomon Islands, often berthing his boat next to that of Kennedy, PT-109. Unlike Kennedy, Iles saw service in two combat theaters of World War II, skippering his PT boat off the coast of southern France.
In May 1945 Iles carved another notch into the bark of history, driving a PT boat in the making of the classic John Ford movie “They Were Expendable,” which starred John Wayne.
Iles was discharged from the Navy in late 1945 and settled in Shreveport, where he worked in sales and was active in local efforts boosting Kennedy.