Last surviving member of PT boat crew that saved Kennedy dies

Greenville NewsNovember 27, 2013 

— The last surviving member of the crew that rescued John F. Kennedy from an island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II died Wednesday.

Greenville native Jack Gardo was 87. He died in his sleep at his home on Farrs Bridge Road, his daughter-in-law Brenda Gardo said.

Gardo enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 16, two years younger than the legal age, because he wanted to serve his country.

In 1943, Gardo’s PT 157 was sent to rescue the survivors of PT 109, which was cut in half by a Japanese ship. The crew knew where PT 109 was when it sank, but not where the survivors had gone. Five days passed.

They learned the location when a native islander arrived with a coconut in which Kennedy had scrawled their location. Gardo did not know who Kennedy was at the time, but soon learned he was an ambassador’s son who would go into politics.

On Wednesday, Brenda Gardo pointed out all the books Gardo had on Kennedy and the war.

“He followed him,” she said. Gardo and his wife Guynell were invited to Kennedy’s inauguration, but didn’t go.

Gardo grew up in the Brandon Mill community and attended Parker High School. He returned to Greenville in December 1946, and paid cash for a Cadillac.

“He said after the war he was going to ride first class,” Brenda Gardo said. He bought a new Cadillac every two years.

Memories of the war and his service were never far away. He kept his dog tags on his key ring, and regaled people with stories about his exploits, particularly the rescue of JFK.

Gardo built the house on Farrs Bridge Road in 1948. It was considered something of a landmark because at one time his front yard included four life-size BI-LO bulls — the ones that once sat on the roofs of the grocery stores for years. One remains. The other three were stolen, Brenda Gardo said, presumably for a fraternity prank.

The house also has a long driveway of terrazzo, which was his business.

As the owner of Greenville Terrazo, Gardo donated floors for the Shrine Club, Shriners Hospital and Berea First Baptist, where he and Guynell were members.

Gardo was a past president of the Greenville Shrine Club and past potentate of the Hejaz Shrine Temple. He did a lot of work for the Shriners Hospital, said Jerry Milliken, a friend who owns Milliken Cleaners.

“He was always helping with the kids,” Milliken said.

Gardo was known for his good-natured kidding. When a daughter married, he had a card printed saying he was the father of the bride and was broke. He printed up million-dollar bills with his picture on them and handed them out.

“Here’s your million dollars. Don’t say I never gave you anything,” Brenda Gardo recalled him saying.

When Brenda and her husband, Guy, had a daughter, Jack Gardo put her hospital picture on his business card with the words “This is my pride and joy.” He took the granddaughter, Krystal, to the Bahamas for her 18th birthday.

Jack and Guynell loved to travel. They went to Russia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and were frequent travelers to Las Vegas.

Brenda Gardo said her father-in-law was so personable people immediately felt at ease. He met people wherever he went, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra while attending their Vegas shows.

Milliken said a group of 75 to 100 friends chartered a plane for 20 years to spend the Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas. For several years, Milliken staged birthday parties for Gardo and another friend born in August on his houseboat on Lake Hartwell.

“Jack enjoyed it because he was in the Navy,” Milliken said.

“He wasn’t shy about anything,” Brenda Gardo said. “If you wanted him to do a hula hoop, he’d be up there hula hooping.”

He always took his family to the Shrine Circus.

Gardo went to the YMCA every day, Brenda Gardo said. It was almost like his office. If someone inquired about him, his wife would say, “Let me call him at the Y.” He and well-known Greenville restaurateur Vince Perone would get massages, swim a little, use the steam room, Brenda Gardo said.

“He didn’t have a hobby like fishing or golf,” she said. “His hobby was working in the yard, cutting grass, planting flowers. He loved having his tomato plants every year.”

Through the years, Gardo had a number of health problems, including prostate cancer, diabetes, heart problems and a knee replacement. But he never let the ailments stop him from doing the things he wanted to do.

“He was a leader, the guy who would take charge and get things done,” Milliken said.

Gardo and his wife have had dementia for about six years, Brenda Gardo said, and were bedridden. But until the end, Gardo remembered his family. Last week, he became comatose, and quietly slipped away around 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Besides Brenda and Guy Gardo and their daughter, survivors include Gardo’s wife, Guynell, daughter Janet and two great-grandchildren. Another daughter Jackie died in May.

Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes on White Horse Road is handling the funeral.

“He was the glue that bound the family together,” Brenda Gardo said. “He will be missed.”

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