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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”