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
prosperity. 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 American 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
swam 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 on. 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
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 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 election. 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 country." 


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