On November 22, 1963, while being driven through the streets of Dallas, Texas, in
his convertible car, President John F. Kennedy was shot dead, evidently by the lone
gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. The world had not only lost a common man, but a great
leader of men. From his courageous actions in World War II to his presidency, making
the decisions to turn away possible nuclear conflict with world powers, excellence can be
seen. Kennedy also found the time to author several best selling novels from his hidden
past. His symbolic figure represented all the fascination, power and hopefulness of youth
as he led a nation into a new era of well-being.
Sine the birth into the substantial Kennedy clan, much was to be foreseen of him.
Kennedy was born on May 29,1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. His father, Joe, Sr., was
a fortunate businessman with many political contacts. Appointed by President Roosevelt,
was given the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later the
famous position of United States ambassador to Great Britain (Anderson 98). His mother,
Rose, was a loving housewife and took young John on periodic trips around Boston
learning about American history. Both parents wowed on their children that their country
had been good to the Kennedys. Whatever benefits the family received from the country
they were told, must be returned by fulfilling some service for the country (Anderson 12).
The Kennedy clan included Joe, Jr., Bobby, Ted and their sisters, Eunice, Jean, Patricia,
Rosemary, and Kathleen. Joe, Jr., was a important figure in young John's life as he was the
figure for most of John's respect. His older brother was much bigger and stronger than
John and took it upon himself to be John's coach and guardian. John's childhood was full
of sports, fun and activity. This all ended when John grew old enough to leave for school.
At the age of thirteen, John left home to attend an away school for the first time.
Canterbury School, a boarding school in New Milford, Connecticut and Choate
Preparatory in Wallingford, Connecticut finished his elementary education ("JFK" 98).
John graduated in 1934 and was guaranteed a trip to London as a graduation gift. Soon
after, John became ill with jaundice and would have to go to the hospital. He spent the
rest of the summer trying to recover. He was not completely well when he started
Princeton, several weeks later in the fall of 1935. Around Christmas the jaundice returned
and John had to drop out of school. Before the next school year began, he told his father
he wanted to go to Harvard ("JFK" 98). On campus, young people took interest in
politics, social changes, and events in Europe. The United States was pulling out of the
Great Depression. It was at this time that John first became aware of the unlimited social
and economic differences in the United States. In June 1940, John graduated cum laude
(with praise or distinction) from Harvard. His thesis earned a magna cum laude (great
praise)( "JFK" 98). After graduation, John began to send his paper to publishers, and it
was admitted on his second try. Wilfrid Funk published it under the title Why England
Slept. It became a bestseller.
In the spring of 1941, both John and Joe, Jr., decided to enlist in the armed
services. Joe was admitted as a naval air lieutenant but John was turned down by both the
army and navy because of his back trouble and history of illness ("JFK" 98). After months
of exercise and military training, John reapplied and on September 19, John was admitted
into the navy as a desk clerk in Washington. He was fed up and applied for a change. In
June 1941, Kennedy was sent to Naval Officers Training School at Northwestern
University in Evanston, Illinois and then for extra training at the Motor Torpedo Boat
Center at Melville, Rhode Island.
In late April 1943, Commander John F. Kennedy was put in order of a PT 109, a
fast, light, attack craft in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Kennedy saw action in
night patrols and participated in enemy bombings. On August 1, 1943, during a usual
night patrol, a Japanese destroyer collided in the dark with Kennedy's craft and the PT 109
was sunk. Through human effort, the injured Kennedy heroically swam back and forth
saving his wounded crew. Two were killed in the crash. The injury had once again
bothered his back. Still, Kennedy pushed on swimming from island to island in the South
Pacific hoping for a patrol to come by. The commander had no idea he had been in the
water for eight hours. Finally, an island was spotted that could granted cover from
Japanese planes. With no edible plants or water, Kennedy brought about that he and the
crew must move on.
The next day, he once again attempted to search for rescue. After treading water
for hours, the commander was forced to admit no patrol boats were coming. He turned
back for the island but was swept away by a strong current. Kennedy fell on an island and
slept. He recovered enough energy to return to the island and gathered the crew to move
to another island in search of food. JFK was now desperate enough to seek help from
natives on a Japanese controlled island. After making contact with the natives, Kennedy
convinced the natives to deliver a message written on the back of a coconut shell to allied
forces. The coconut fell into the hands of allied scouts and a patrol was sent. The
coconut would appear again on the desk of an American President (Anderson 35).
The crew of the PT 109 were given a hero's welcome when they returned to base,
but Kennedy would have none of it. In permanent pain from the back injury, JFK soon
contracted malaria, became very ill, and lost twenty-five pounds. He was forced to give up
command and was sent home to Chelsea Naval Hospital near Hyannis Port. The
commander received the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and a citation
from Admiral W. F. Halsey. John's back failed to recover was an operation was done on
his spine in the summer of 1944.
During recovery, Kennedy received word that his brother Joe Jr. had been killed
in action. Joe had been qualified for home leave, but had volunteered for a special
bombing mission. The bombs had discharged early and Joe and his pilot were caught in the
detonation. Kennedy put his mind onto paper and a second book was publicized for the
family and close friends. He called it As We Remember Joe.
The family especially, JFK's father, had concluded that Joe Jr. would carry on the
family custom and go into politics. Both of his grandfathers had been active in politics
(Anderson 41). Now, instantly, JFK was the oldest Kennedy of his generation. Kennedy's
first chance in politics came when Congressman James Curley from the 11th District of
Massachusetts decided to retire in 1946(Gadney 42). JFK won his first Congressional seat
by a margin of more than two to one. At the age if twenty-nine, JFK was placed on the
front page of the New York Times and in Time Magazine. He was often mistaken in
Congress as a Senate page or an elevator operator.
It was during this time period in which Kennedy met and fell in love with
Jacqueline Bouvier. "Jackie", as she was known, came from a prosperous Catholic
background as prestigious as the Kennedys. She attended Vassar College and the
Sorbonne in Paris, France. She spoke French, Italian, and Spanish fluently. They were wed
on September 12,1953, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island. All
seemed well, yet after three two-year terms as a Congressman, Kennedy became frustrated
with House rules and customs and decided to run for Senate.
In 1952, Kennedy ran for Senate against Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.
Fifteen years older than Kennedy, Lodge was the official of two terms in the Senate. JFK
prevailed in the victory but was soon cursed with Addison's disease during his first year in
the Senate and had to operate on a fifty-fifty chance for survival (Gadney 52). While
recovering, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Bravery, a bestseller on examples of truthful
bravery in the lives of eight senators who endangered their careers for a great cause or
belief. Kennedy returned to Senate and participated in the powerful Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. He was also chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor. JFK
believed heavily in education, equal job opportunity, and the civil rights movement. His
biggest success came in the form of his Labor Reform Bill which passed by a margin of 90
to 1 in Senate dispute. Kennedy's first child, Caroline, was born during this time.
Due to his tremendous success in Congress, the Democratic party elected him for
the presidential ticket in 1960. Lyndon Johnson was chosen as the running mate with
Kennedy to secure and build upon the democratic bases in the southern states while the
Kennedys sought out the younger balloters, the factory workers, and the liberals (Gadney
During the Kennedy Administration, a great deal of events were going on.Jackie
had given birth to JFK,Jr., while all over the south, the civil rights movement was going in
full force with incidents breaking out. Specific focus gathered around a black air force
veteran, James Meredith, applied for admission to the University of Mississippi. In Cuba
both the Bay of Pigs occurred, in which U.S. supported rebels revolted in a poorly laid out
plan of events that fell out below them, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in which the Soviet
Republic were building missile silos in Cuba, 100 miles away from Florida. The Space
Race was in full force with both Russia and the U.S. in striving to reach the moon. U.S.
obligation in Vietnam was in the latter stages with plans to remove after the 1964 election.
On a trip to Dallas to stir up support for the re-election, the President's auto were
coming down elm street when three shots rang out. The first bullet entered at the base of
Kennedy's neck and exited through the back of his head. The second bullet hit Texas
Governor John Connally. Seconds later there was another shot and the back of the
president's head was severed away. The assassin- Lee Harvey Oswald with a mail-order
rifle fired from the Texas School Book Depository (Warren 5). Oswald had currently
applied for a passport to Communist Russia which led to a series of private meetings
between Oswald and the Russian Government (Warren 614). Oswald protested his
simplicity. President Johnson set up what quickly became known as the Warren
Commission headed by Chief Justice Warren to find the purpose behind the assassination,
The Commission finds the lone, depressed, mentally weak, anti-social kills an American
president ("Theories" 1). Other theories have evolved over time such as the Grassy Knoll
theory. Spectators say that a man in black was present and fired together with Oswald and
doubled the actual shots fired ("Theories" 1) Another theory is that the fired CIA director
Allen Dulles used his important middleman and plotted revenge ("Theories 2").
On Nov. 24, 1963 as Oswald was being escorted from the city jail, Jack Ruby shot
Oswald with a single shot from a Colt .38 revolver (Warren 350). Ruby was arrested and
stood trial in Dallas. He was found guilty and was sentenced to hang. He died in jail of
cancer, on January 3,1967.
Kennedy was the first President to be born in the twentieth century and was very
much a man of his time. He was excited, seeking, with a desire of knowledge, and he had
a feeling of deep assurance, not only to the people of the United States, but to the people
of the world. Many of the causes he fought for exist today because of what he did for the
rights of minorities, the poor, the very old and the very young. He assumed anything and
worked for everything he owned. Perhaps Kennedy gathered up his life best in his own
inaugural speech: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for