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JFK: His Life and Legacy


On November 22, 1963, while being driven through the
streets of Dallas, Texas, in his open car, President John
F. Kennedy was shot dead, apparently by the lone gunman,
Lee Harvey Oswald. The world had not only lost a common
man, but a great leader of men. >From his heroic actions in
World War II to his presidency, making the decisions to
avert possible nuclear conflict with world superpowers,
greatness can be seen. Kennedy also found the time to
author several best-selling novels from his experiences .
His symbolic figure represented all the charm, vigor and
optimism of youth as he led a nation into a new era of
From his birth into the powerful and influential Kennedy
clan, much was to be expected of him. Kennedy was born on
May 29,1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. His father, Joe,
Sr., was a successful businessman with many political
connections. Appointed by President Roosevelt, Joe, Sr.,
was given the chair of the Securities and Exchange
Commission and later the prestigious position of United
States ambassador to Great Britain(Anderson 98). His
mother, Rose, was a loving housewife and took young John on
frequent trips around historic Boston learning about
So 2 revolutionary history. Both parents impressed 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 performing 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 significant figure
in young John's life as he was the figure for most of
John's admiration. His older brother was much bigger and
stronger than John and took it upon himself to be John's
coach and protector. 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 completed his elementary
education("JFK" 98). John graduated in 1934 and was
promised 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 entirely 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. Hitler's
So 3 Nazi Germany followed aggressive territorial expansion
in Europe. It was at this time that John first became aware
of the vast 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 accepted
on his second try. Wilfrid Funk published it under the
title Why England Slept. It became a bestseller. John, at
twenty-five, became a literary sensation.
In the spring of 1941, both John and Joe, Jr., decided to
enroll in the armed services. Joe was accepted as a naval
air cadet 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 training and
conditioning, John reapplied and on September 19, John was
accepted into the navy as a desk clerk in Washington. He
was disgusted and applied for a transfer. In June 1941,
Kennedy was sent to Naval Officers Training School at
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and then for
additional training at the Motor Torpedo Boat Center at
Melville, Rhode Island.
In late April 1943, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was put in
command of a PT 109, a fast, light, attack craft in the
Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Kennedy saw action in
the form of night patrols and participated in enemy
bombings. On August 1, 1943, during a routine night patrol,
a Japanese destroyer collided in the darkness with
Kennedy's craft and the PT 109 was sunk.
Through superhuman effort, the injured Kennedy heroically
So 4 back and forth rescuing his wounded crew. Two were
killed in the crash. The injury had once again aggravated
his back. Still, Kennedy pushed on swimming from island to
island in the South Pacific hoping for a patrol to come by.
The lieutenant had no idea he had been in the water for
eight hours. Finally, an island was spotted that could
provided cover from Japanese planes. With no edible plants
or water, Kennedy realized that he and the crew must move
The next day, he once again attempted to search for rescue.
After treading water for hours, the lieutenant was forced
to admit no patrol boats were coming. He turned back for
the island but was swept away by a powerful current.
Kennedy collapsed 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 persuaded 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.
He refused home leave and was given another boat. In
constant 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
So 5 home to Chelsea Naval Hospital near Hyannis Port. The
lieutenant 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
performed 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 eligible
for home leave, but had volunteered for a special bombing
mission. The bombs had detonated early and Joe and his
copilot were caught in the explosion. Kennedy put his
feelings onto paper and a second book was published for the
family and close friends. He called it As We Remember Joe.
The family- particularly JFK's father- had assumed that
Joe, Jr. would carry on the family tradition and go into
politics. Both of his grandfathers had been active in
politics(Anderson 41). Now , suddenly, 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
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 wealthy Catholic background as
prestigious as the Kennedys. She attended Vassar College
and the Sorbonne in Paris, France. She
So 6 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 incumbent of two terms in the Senate. JFK prevailed
in the victory but was soon stricken with Addison's disease
during his first year in the Senate and had to operate on a
fifty-fifty chance for survival procedure(Gadney 52). While
recovering, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, a bestseller
on examples of moral courage in the lives of eight senators
who risked their careers for a great cause or a 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 strongly 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
debate. Kennedy's first child, Caroline, was born during
this time.
Due to his enormous success in Congress, the Democratic
party nominated 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
voters, the factory
So 7 workers, and the liberals(Gadney 61).
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 attention
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 beneath 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 competition to
reach the moon. U.S. involvement in Vietnam was in the
latter stages with plans to withdraw after the 1964
On a trip to Dallas to stir up support for the reelection,
the President's auto were coming down elm street when three
shots rang out. The first projectile 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 torn away. The assassin- Lee Harvey
Oswald with a mail-order rifle fired from the Texas School
Book Depository(Warren 5). Oswald had recently 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 innocence.
President Johnson set up what quickly became known as the
So 8 Warren Commission headed by Chief Justice Warren to
find the motive behind the assassination, The Commission
finds the lone, depressed, mentally unstable, anti-social
nut kills an American president("Theories" 1). Other
theories have evolved over time such as the Grassy Knoll
theory. Witnesses say that a man in black was present and
fired simultaneously with Oswald and doubled the actual
shots fired("Theories" 1) Another theory is that the fired
CIA director Allen Dulles used his considerable connections
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
restless, seeking, with a thirst of knowledge, and he had a
feeling of deep commitment, not only to the people of the
United States, but to the peoples 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 never took anything for granted and worked
for everything he owned. Perhaps Kennedy summed 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 your


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