JFK His Life


JFK- His Life Essay, Research Paper

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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