JFK: His Life and LegacyOn 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 thelone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. The world had not only lost a common man, but agreat leader of men.
From his heroic actions in World War II to his presidency, making the decisionsto avert possible nuclear conflict with world superpowers, greatness can beseen. Kennedy also found the time to author several best-selling novels fromhis experiences . His symbolic figure represented all the charm, vigor andoptimism 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 beexpected of him.
Kennedy was born on May 29,1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. His father, Joe, Sr. , was a successful businessman with many politicalconnections. Appointed by President Roosevelt, Joe, Sr. , was given the chair ofthe Securities and Exchange Commission and later the prestigious position ofUnited States ambassador to Great Britain(Anderson 98).
His mother, Rose, was aloving housewife and took young John on frequent trips around historic Bostonlearning about American revolutionary history. Both parents impressed on theirchildren that their country had been good to the Kennedys. Whatever benefitsthe family received from the country they were told, must be returned byperforming some service for the country(Anderson 12). The Kennedy clan includedJoe, Jr.
, Bobby, Ted and their sisters, Eunice, Jean, Patricia, Rosemary, andKathleen. Joe, Jr. , was a significant figure in young John’s life as he was thefigure for most of John’s admiration. His older brother was much bigger andstronger 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 Johngrew old enough to leave for school. At the age of thirteen, John left home to attend an away school for the firsttime. Canterbury School, a boarding school in New Milford, Connecticut andChoate Preparatory in Wallingford, Connecticut completed his elementaryeducation(“JFK” 98). John graduated in 1934 and was promised a trip to Londonas a graduation gift. Soon after, John became ill with jaundice andwould have to go to the hospital. He spent the rest of the summer trying torecover.
He was not entirely well when he started Princeton, several weekslater in the fall of 1935. Around Christmas the jaundice returned and John hadto drop out of school. Before the next school year began, he told his father hewanted to go to Harvard(“JFK” 98). On campus, young people took interest inpolitics, social changes, and events in Europe. The United States was pullingout of the Great Depression. Hitler’sNazi Germany followed aggressive territorial expansion in Europe.
It was atthis time that John first became aware of the vast social and economicdifferences in the United States. In June 1940, John graduated cum laude(withpraise or distinction) from Harvard. His thesis earned a magna cum laude(greatpraise)( “JFK” 98). After graduation, John began to send his paper topublishers, and it was accepted on his second try. Wilfrid Funk published itunder the title Why England Slept. It became a bestseller.
John, attwenty-five, became a literary sensation. In the spring of 1941, both John and Joe, Jr. , decided to enroll in the armedservices. Joe was accepted as a naval air cadet but John was turned down byboth 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 September19, John was accepted into the navy as a desk clerk in Washington. He wasdisgusted and applied for a transfer.
In June 1941, Kennedy was sent to NavalOfficers Training School at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois andthen for additional training at the Motor Torpedo Boat Center at Melville,Rhode Island. In late April 1943, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was put in commandof a PT 109, a fast, light, attack craft in the Solomon Islands in the SouthPacific. Kennedy saw action in the form of night patrols and participated inenemy bombings. On August 1, 1943, during a routine night patrol, a Japanesedestroyer collided in the darkness with Kennedy’s craft and the PT 109 wassunk. Through superhuman effort, the injured Kennedy heroically swam back andforth rescuing his wounded crew.
Two were killed in the crash. The injury hadonce again aggravated his back. Still, Kennedy pushed on swimming from islandto island in the South Pacific hoping for a patrol to come by. The lieutenanthad no idea he had been in the water for eight hours. Finally, an island wasspotted that could provided cover from Japanese planes.
With no edible plantsor water, Kennedy realized that he and the crew must move on. The next day, he once again attempted to search for rescue. After treadingwater for hours, the lieutenant was forced to admit no patrol boats werecoming. 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 returnto the island and gathered the crew to move to another island in search offood.
JFK was now desperate enough to seek help from natives on a Japanesecontrolled island. After making contact with the natives, Kennedy persuaded thenatives to deliver a message written on the back of a coconut shell to alliedforces. 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(Anderson35).
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 anotherboat. 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 commandand was sent home to Chelsea NavalHospital near Hyannis Port. The lieutenantreceived the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and a citation fromAdmiral W.
F. Halsey. John’s back failed to recover was an operation wasperformed on his spine in the summer of 1944. During recovery, Kennedy received word that his brother Joe, Jr.
had beenkilled in action. Joe had been eligible for home leave, but had volunteered fora special bombing mission. The bombs had detonated early and Joe and hiscopilot were caught in the explosion. Kennedy put his feelings onto paper and asecond book was published for the family and close friends. He called it As WeRemember Joe. The family- particularly JFK’s father- had assumed that Joe, Jr.
would carry onthe family tradition and go into politics. Both of his grandfathers had beenactive in politics(Anderson 41). Now , suddenly, JFK was the oldest Kennedy ofhis generation. Kennedy’s first chance in politics came when Congressman JamesCurley from the 11th District of Massachusetts decided to retire in 1946(Gadney42). 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 YorkTimes and in Time Magazine.
He was often mistaken in Congress as a Senate pageor an elevator operator. It was during this time period in which Kennedy met and fell in love withJacqueline Bouvier. “Jackie”, as she was known, came from a wealthy Catholicbackground as prestigious as the Kennedys. She attended Vassar College and theSorbonne 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 forSenate. 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 theSenate. JFK prevailed in the victory but was soon stricken with Addison’sdisease during his first year in the Senate and had to operate on a fifty-fiftychance for survival procedure(Gadney 52). While recovering, Kennedy wroteProfiles in Courage, a bestseller on examples of moral courage in the lives ofeight senators who risked their careers for a great cause or a belief. Kennedyreturned to Senate and participated in the powerful Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee.
He was also chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor. JFKbelieved strongly in education, equal job opportunity, and the civil rightsmovement. His biggest success came in the form of his Labor Reform Bill whichpassed 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 forthe presidential ticket in 1960.
Lyndon Johnson was chosen as the running matewith Kennedy tosecure and build upon the democratic bases in the southernstates while the Kennedys sought out the younger voters, the factory workers,and the liberals(Gadney 61). During the Kennedy Administration, a great deal of events were going on. Jackiehad given birth to JFK, Jr. , while all over the south, the civil rightsmovement was going in full force with incidents breaking out. Specificattention gathered around a black air force veteran, James Meredith, appliedfor admission to the University of Mississippi.
In Cuba both the Bay of Pigsoccurred, in which U. S. supported rebels revolted in a poorly laid out plan ofevents that fell out beneath them, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in which theSoviet Republic were building missile silos in Cuba, 100 miles away fromFlorida. The Space Race was in full force with both Russia and the U. S.
incompetition to reach the moon. U. S. involvement in Vietnam was in the latterstages with plans to withdraw after the 1964 election. On a trip to Dallas to stir up support for the reelection, the President’s autowere coming down elm street when three shots rang out. The first projectileentered 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 wasanother 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 BookDepository(Warren 5). Oswald had recently applied for a passport to CommunistRussia which led to a series of private meetings between Oswald and the RussianGovernment(Warren 614).
Oswald protested his innocence. President Johnson set up what quickly became known as the Warren Commissionheaded by Chief Justice Warren to find the motive behind the assassination, TheCommission finds the lone, depressed, mentally unstable, anti-social nut killsan American president(“Theories” 1). Other theories have evolved over timesuch as the Grassy Knoll theory. Witnesses say that a man in black was presentand fired simultaneously with Oswald and doubled the actual shotsfired(“Theories” 1) Another theory is that the fired CIA director Allen Dullesused his considerable connections and plotted revenge(“Theories 2”). On Nov. 24, 1963 as Oswald was being escorted from the city jail, Jack Rubyshot Oswald with a single shot from a Colt .
38 revolver(Warren 350). Ruby wasarrested and stood trial in Dallas. He was found guilty and was sentenced tohang. He died in jail of cancer, on January 3,1967. Kennedy was the first President to be born in the twentieth century and wasvery much a man of his time. He was restless, seeking, with a thirst ofknowledge, and he had a feeling of deep commitment, not only to the people ofthe United States, but to the peoples of the world.
Many of the causes hefought for exist today because of what he did for the rights of minorities, thepoor, the very old and the very young. He never took anything for granted andworked for everything he owned. Perhaps Kennedy summed up his life best in hisown inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what