JFK: His Life and Legacy On November 22, 1963, whilebeing driven through the streets of Dallas, Texas, in his opencar, President John F. Kennedy was shot dead, apparentlyby the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. The world had notonly lost a common man, but a great leader of men.
>Fromhis heroic actions in World War II to his presidency, makingthe decisions to avert possible nuclear conflict with worldsuperpowers, greatness can be seen. Kennedy also foundthe time to author several best-selling novels from hisexperiences . His symbolic figure represented all the charm,vigor and optimism of youth as he led a nation into a new eraof prosperity. From his birth into the powerful and influentialKennedy clan, much was to be expected of him. Kennedywas born on May 29,1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. Hisfather, Joe, Sr., was a successful businessman with manypolitical connections.
Appointed by President Roosevelt,Joe, Sr., was given the chair of the Securities and ExchangeCommission and later the prestigious position of UnitedStates ambassador to Great Britain(Anderson 98). Hismother, Rose, was a loving housewife and took young Johnon frequent trips around historic Boston learning aboutAmerican So 2 revolutionary history. Both parentsimpressed on their children that their country had been goodto the Kennedys. Whatever benefits the family received fromthe country they were told, must be returned by performingsome service for the country(Anderson 12). The Kennedyclan included Joe, Jr., Bobby, Ted and their sisters, Eunice,Jean, Patricia, Rosemary, and Kathleen.
Joe, Jr., was asignificant figure in young John’s life as he was the figure formost of John’s admiration. His older brother was muchbigger and stronger than John and took it upon himself to beJohn’s coach and protector. John’s childhood was full ofsports, fun and activity.
This all ended when John grew oldenough to leave for school. At the age of thirteen, John lefthome to attend an away school for the first time. CanterburySchool, a boarding school in New Milford, Connecticut andChoate Preparatory in Wallingford, Connecticut completedhis elementary education(“JFK” 98). John graduated in 1934and was promised a trip to London as a graduation gift.Soon after, John became ill with jaundice and would have togo to the hospital. He spent the rest of the summer trying torecover. He was not entirely well when he started Princeton,several weeks later in the fall of 1935.
Around Christmas thejaundice returned and John had to drop out of school.Before the next school year began, he told his father hewanted to go to Harvard(“JFK” 98). On campus, youngpeople took interest in politics, social changes, and events inEurope. The United States was pulling out of the GreatDepression. Hitler’s So 3 Nazi Germany followed aggressiveterritorial expansion in Europe. It was at this time that Johnfirst became aware of the vast social and economicdifferences in the United States.
In June 1940, Johngraduated cum laude(with praise or distinction) fromHarvard. His thesis earned a magna cum laude(great praise)(“JFK” 98). After graduation, John began to send his paperto publishers, and it was accepted on his second try.
WilfridFunk published it under the title Why England Slept. Itbecame a bestseller. John, at twenty-five, became a literarysensation. In the spring of 1941, both John and Joe, Jr.,decided to enroll in the armed services. Joe was accepted asa naval air cadet but John was turned down by both thearmy and navy because of his back trouble and history ofillness(“JFK” 98). After months of training and conditioning,John reapplied and on September 19, John was acceptedinto the navy as a desk clerk in Washington.
He wasdisgusted and applied for a transfer. In June 1941, Kennedywas sent to Naval Officers Training School at NorthwesternUniversity in Evanston, Illinois and then for additional trainingat the Motor Torpedo Boat Center at Melville, RhodeIsland. In late April 1943, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy wasput in command of a PT 109, a fast, light, attack craft in theSolomon Islands in the South Pacific. Kennedy saw action inthe form of night patrols and participated in enemybombings. On August 1, 1943, during a routine night patrol,a Japanese destroyer collided in the darkness withKennedy’s craft and the PT 109 was sunk.
Throughsuperhuman effort, the injured Kennedy heroically swam So4 back and forth rescuing his wounded crew. Two werekilled in the crash. The injury had once again aggravated hisback. Still, Kennedy pushed on swimming from island toisland in the South Pacific hoping for a patrol to come by.
The lieutenant had no idea he had been in the water for eighthours. Finally, an island was spotted that could providedcover from Japanese planes. With no edible plants or water,Kennedy realized that he and the crew must move on.
Thenext day, he once again attempted to search for rescue.After treading water for hours, the lieutenant was forced toadmit no patrol boats were coming. He turned back for theisland but was swept away by a powerful current. Kennedycollapsed on an island and slept. He recovered enoughenergy to return to the island and gathered the crew to moveto another island in search of food.
JFK was now desperateenough to seek help from natives on a Japanese controlledisland. After making contact with the natives, Kennedypersuaded the natives to deliver a message written on theback of a coconut shell to allied forces. The coconut fell intothe hands of allied scouts and a patrol was sent.
The coconutwould appear again on the desk of an AmericanPresident(Anderson 35). The crew of the PT 109 weregiven a hero’s welcome when they returned to base, butKennedy would have none of it. He refused home leave andwas given another boat. In constant pain from the backinjury, JFK soon contracted malaria, became very ill, andlost twenty-five pounds. He was forced to give up commandand was sent So 5 home to Chelsea Naval Hospital nearHyannis Port.
The lieutenant received the Purple Heart, theNavy and Marine Corps Medal, and a citation from AdmiralW. F. Halsey. John’s back failed to recover was anoperation was performed on his spine in the summer of1944. During recovery, Kennedy received word that hisbrother Joe, Jr. had been killed in action. Joe had beeneligible for home leave, but had volunteered for a specialbombing mission.
The bombs had detonated early and Joeand his copilot were caught in the explosion. Kennedy puthis feelings onto paper and a second book was published forthe family and close friends. He called it As We RememberJoe. The family- particularly JFK’s father- had assumed thatJoe, Jr.
would carry on the family tradition and go intopolitics. Both of his grandfathers had been active inpolitics(Anderson 41). Now , suddenly, JFK was the oldestKennedy of his generation.
Kennedy’s first chance in politicscame when Congressman James Curley from the 11thDistrict of Massachusetts decided to retire in 1946(Gadney42). JFK won his first Congressional seat by a margin ofmore than two to one. At the age if twenty-nine, JFK wasplaced on the front page of the New York Times and inTime Magazine. He was often mistaken in Congress as aSenate page or an elevator operator. It was during this timeperiod in which Kennedy met and fell in love with JacquelineBouvier. “Jackie”,as she was known, came from a wealthyCatholic background as prestigious as the Kennedys. Sheattended Vassar College and the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
She So 6 spoke French, Italian, and Spanish fluently. Theywere wed on September 12,1953, at St. Mary’s CatholicChurch in Newport, Rhode Island. All seemed well, yet afterthree two-year terms as a Congressman, Kennedy becamefrustrated with House rules and customs and decided to runfor Senate. In 1952, Kennedy ran for Senate againstRepublican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.
Fifteen years olderthan Kennedy, Lodge was the incumbent of two terms in theSenate. JFK prevailed in the victory but was soon strickenwith Addison’s disease during his first year in the Senate andhad to operate on a fifty-fifty chance for survivalprocedure(Gadney 52). While recovering, Kennedy wroteProfiles in Courage, a bestseller on examples of moralcourage in the lives of eight senators who risked their careersfor a great cause or a belief. Kennedy returned to Senateand participated in the powerful Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee.
He was also chairman of the SenateSubcommittee on Labor. JFK believed strongly ineducation, equal job opportunity, and the civil rightsmovement. His biggest success came in the form of hisLabor Reform Bill which passed by a margin of 90 to 1 inSenate debate. Kennedy’s first child, Caroline, was bornduring this time. Due to his enormous success in Congress,the Democratic party nominated him for the presidentialticket in 1960. Lyndon Johnson was chosen as the runningmate with Kennedy to secure and build upon the democraticbases in the southern states while the Kennedys sought outthe younger voters, the factory So 7 workers, and theliberals(Gadney 61). During the Kennedy Administration, agreat deal of events were going on.
Jackie had given birth toJFK, Jr., while all over the south, the civil rights movementwas going in full force with incidents breaking out. Specificattention gathered around a black air force veteran, JamesMeredith, applied for admission to the University ofMississippi. In Cuba both the Bay of Pigs occurred, in whichU.S. supported rebels revolted in a poorly laid out plan ofevents that fell out beneath them, and the Cuban MissileCrisis in which the Soviet Republic were building missile silosin Cuba, 100 miles away from Florida.
The Space Race wasin full force with both Russia and the U.S. in competition toreach the moon. U.S. involvement in Vietnam was in thelatter stages with plans to withdraw after the 1964 election.On a trip to Dallas to stir up support for the reelection, thePresident’s auto were coming down elm street when threeshots rang out.
The first projectile entered at the base ofKennedy’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 thepresident’s head was torn away. The assassin- Lee HarveyOswald with a mail-order rifle fired from the Texas SchoolBook Depository(Warren 5). Oswald had recently appliedfor a passport to Communist Russia which led to a series ofprivate meetings between Oswald and the RussianGovernment(Warren 614). Oswald protested his innocence.President Johnson set up what quickly became known as theSo 8 Warren Commission headed by Chief Justice Warrento find the motive behind the assassination, The Commissionfinds the lone, depressed, mentally unstable, anti-social nutkills an American president(“Theories” 1).
Other theorieshave evolved over time such as the Grassy Knoll theory.Witnesses say that a man in black was present and firedsimultaneously with Oswald and doubled the actual shotsfired(“Theories” 1) Another theory is that the fired CIAdirector Allen Dulles used his considerable connections andplotted revenge(“Theories 2”). On Nov. 24, 1963 asOswald was being escorted from the city jail, Jack Rubyshot Oswald with a single shot from a Colt .38revolver(Warren 350). Ruby was arrested and stood trial inDallas. He was found guilty and was sentenced to hang. Hedied in jail of cancer, on January 3,1967.
Kennedy was thefirst President to be born in the twentieth century and wasvery much a man of his time. He was restless, seeking, witha thirst of knowledge, and he had a feeling of deepcommitment, not only to the people of the United States, butto the peoples of the world. Many of the causes he foughtfor exist today because of what he did for the rights ofminorities, the poor, the very old and the very young. Henever took anything for granted and worked for everythinghe owned. Perhaps Kennedy summed up his life best in hisown inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can dofor you, but ask what you can do for your country.”Category: History