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PT boat to make first visit to air show

After seven years of having to crane their

After seven years of having to crane their necks to see aerial activity at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, spectators this Memorial Day weekend will get to see a historic maritime attraction for the first time. Credit: Photo by John A. Musolino

After seven years of craning their necks to see aerial activity at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, spectators this Memorial Day weekend will get to see a historic maritime attraction for the first time.

A World War II-era patrol-torpedo boat -- featured in the popular 1960s TV comedy series "McHale's Navy" -- will be making its first visit to Long Island.

After the air show, it will dock at Babylon Town's Cedar Marina off Ocean Parkway so the public can get a closer look.

The boat, PT 728, is owned by Fleet Obsolete, based in Kingston on the Hudson River. Built in Annapolis and launched Sept. 25, 1945, it was slated to go to the Soviet Navy under the Lend-Lease Program, but with World War II at an end, the 75-foot craft was decommissioned and sold to a private owner in 1947. PT 728 also was featured in the Julia Roberts film "Sleeping With the Enemy."

Robert Iannucci of Kingston, a waterfront developer there, is president of Fleet Obsolete, which maintains his collection of four PT boats. He has owned PT 728 for six years. He said he has been inspired by the vessels most of his life.

"When I was a kid, I was a sea scout in Hackensack, New Jersey, and I've always been attracted by the heroics of the crews and the vessels themselves. The crews were 19-, 20-year-old kids and they were very much in harm's way" because the boats were made of plywood without any armor protection.

The most famous of the boats was PT 109 captained by a young Lt. John F. Kennedy. The boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer during World War II and Kennedy, later the nation's 35th president, performed heroic feats to save his surviving crew members.

"It's an old wooden boat and they had a 5-year design life and it is 65 years old so it's very expensive to run," he said. "We've replaced about 30 percent of the wood on the boat."

The three original 12-cylinder supercharged Packard gasoline engines that pushed the boat at 48 mph have been replaced by two 500-horsepower Detroit Diesel engines that can get the PT 728 up to 29 mph.

The boat's local appearance was arranged by the American Airpower Museum at the request of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

PT 728 will ply the ocean off Jones Beach to salute the centennial of American naval aviation while a squadron of World War II bombers flies overhead. Polimeni International and BDG are underwriting the trip.

On Memorial Day weekend, visitors can board the PT boat at the marina on Saturday and Sunday afternoon and on Monday. Details will be posted at www.americanairpowermuseum.org.

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