John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the second son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose
Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was not a healthy infant and when he contracted
scarlet fever as a child, his father worried about him every single day. Joseph Kennedy
was an ambitious man and had the confident goal of earning a million dollars before he reached
the age of thirty-five. He would easily surpass his early financial goals and
went on to be a grand provider for his family. John Kennedy went to Choate and
later he attended Harvard. When John Kennedy was attending Harvard, his father
Joseph did not have any political plans for him. Most of Joe's political
aspirations were focused on John's older brother, Joe Jr. After Joe Jr. died in
combat in 1944, John Kennedy
became the subject of his father's goals of having a son in politics who would
ultimately be a realistic presidential candidate. John Kennedy obliged his
father and ran for the congressional seat in
Massachusetts's eleventh district and later would become a U.S. Senator. In
November 1960, John Kennedy became the first Catholic to win the presidency and
brought his father's opportunistic dream to fruition.
Because of John Kennedy's infamous assassination, he wouldn’t even get to
finish his first term in office.
15) Kennedy Was Medically Disqualified from the Army in World War II, So He
Joined the Navy Instead
During World War II, John F. Kennedy attempted to enlist for the Army, but due
to his chronic back problems he was medically disqualified and would look into
the Navy in order to participate in the armed services. Enlistment during World
War II was at an all time high due to the global conflict. His application for
the Navy was pushed through by Captain Alan Kirk, who was at the time director
of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Kirk had previously been the Naval Attaché
in London at the same time Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. At the time of the
attack on Pearl Harbor, Kennedy was an ensign (also known as a first officer) in the Naval Reserve
and was working as a staffer in the Office of Naval Intelligence. He attended the Naval
Reserve Officer Training Corps followed by the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron
Training Center. He was promoted to lieutenant junior grade shortly after
completing officer training. Once he finished the motor torpedo boat training,
Kennedy was assigned as commanding officer of PT 101.
Kennedy at the Controls of PT 101
In February 1943, he was transferred to the Solomon Islands and took command
of PT 109 in April.
U.S. Navy Map from 1943
Around 2AM on August 2, his boat was cut in half by a
14) Kennedy Earned the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for His Rescue of the Crew
of PT 109
When Kennedy's boat the PT 109 was cut in half, Kennedy and some of his
shipmates found themselves hanging on to what was left of their
boat. Kennedy began assessing the situation and began planning for a response to
save his own life, and the lives of his remaining crew members.
PT 109 Aboard the Liberty Ship Joseph Stanton on the Way to
Two of Kennedy's crew members were killed immediately from the wreck. After three hours
of maneuvering among the wreckage, Kennedy was able to consolidate the survivors
on the piece of the PT 109 he was floating on.
The Crew of PT 109
that they should swim for a small island that was in their view, an island
nearly three miles
away from the wreckage. It took nearly five hours to reach the shore. In order
to maneuver one of the injured men to the small island, Kennedy had to tow the
man by his life jacket strap, holding the strap firmly in his teeth. Kennedy and
his crew soon discovered that the island had no water or food, so the men swam to another (Kennedy towing the injured man),
where they eventually found coconuts. Four days later, Kennedy and one of his
officers swam to
another island where they found several natives, and gave one a message
for the PT base. On August 8, Kennedy and his crew's ordeal finally ended and
all of the survivors were rescued. Kennedy showed great bravery and leadership,
and was rightfully awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
13) The Warren Commission
Came to One Conclusion about Kennedy’s Assassination, the House Select Committee
on Assassinations Another
The Warren Commission, or the President’s Commission on the Assassination of
President Kennedy, conducted hearings immediately following Kennedy’s
assassination. Its unofficial name comes from Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was
the chairman for the commission. The Warren Commission issued an 889-page final
report on September 24, 1964, that it would later present to President Johnson and
to the public on September 27.
Warren Commission Presenting Report to President Johnson
The commission concluded there wasn't any evidence of a conspiracy and that
Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The Warren Commission also looked into Oswald's
shooting right outside of the Dallas Police Station, where they concluded that
Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald was not part of a larger conspiracy. For both
murders, the commission ruled that both were the actions of only two men and not
a part of a larger government conspiracy.
Arlen Specter Reproducing the Single Bullet Theory
The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations was commissioned
in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of Kennedy, Martin Luther King,
Jr., as well as the shooting of Alabama Governor George Wallace. All three
deaths occurred during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and many U.S.
citizens felt that there very well may of been something larger at play in all
three shootings. The committee,
which was made up of fourteen representatives, spent two years investigating the
two infamous assassinations and assignation attempt on Governor George Wallace.
U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations
The committee concluded that the evidence from the Kennedy assassination
showed that, scientifically, it was likely there were two gunmen instead of only
the one that the Warren Commission decided on. The Select Committee on
Assassinations ruled that the Kennedy
assassination was likely the result of a conspiracy, but the committee did not
allude to it being either Soviet or Cuban in origin.
12) Kennedy Was the Youngest Elected President
Kennedy was not the youngest man to become president, and that distinction
belongs to Theodore
Roosevelt. Roosevelt was not elected into office but rather he succeeded William McKinley,
who was assassinated. Kennedy, who was 42 years and 236 days when he was inaugurated,
is the youngest person to ever be elected to the office of President of the
President-elect Kennedy Shaking Current President
Kennedy was less than a year older than
Roosevelt was when he took the office following McKinley's assassination.
Kennedy was twelve years younger than the median age of all American presidents at
the time of his inauguration. Kennedy began
serving in the House of Representatives when he was only twenty-nine years old. He
served in the House for six years until he was thirty-five and then ran for a
Massachusetts Senate seat. He served there for nearly eight years, from
thirty-five to forty-three. That gave him nearly fourteen years of experience as
an active member of the legislative branch, which is far more experience than
most U.S. presidents. Bill
Clinton, the second-youngest elected president in the history of the office, had no governmental
experience at the federal level before becoming president.
Theodore Roosevelt’s only federal experience is only represented
by his short six months term as vice president. Despite his age, Kennedy was a
highly qualified candidate.
11) Kennedy Received Last Rites Three Times before His Death
Due to Kennedy’s physical condition and overall frailty, he had trouble walking,
used crutches when he wasn't in the public eye, had to go down stairs sideways,
and was plagued with Addison’s disease. Also Kennedy was devoutly Catholic,
which is largely why receiving last rites was so important to him. At the time
most treatments for Addison's disease led to additional infections and because
of all of his health issues, he received last rites on multiple occasions before
his death. He even received them three times before he even reached the age of
Lt. Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan Giving Last Rites to an
The first time he received last rites was in 1947. The doctor who diagnosed
him with Addison’s disease in England, believed that Kennedy had less than a
year to live. He booked passage to the United States on the Queen Mary while he
was severely ill, and a priest
was brought aboard to administer the sacrament.
The second time was in 1951 when Kennedy was in Japan and plagued with an Addison’s
crisis, apparently from neglecting his medication. His body temperature rocketed up
to 106 degrees, and the attending doctors believed he may die. A priest was
called to administer the sacrament.
Kennedy in 1954 after Undergoing Spinal Surgery
The third time was in 1954. After Kennedy underwent a back operation to place
a metal plate that hopefully would stabilize his spine, he developed a severe urinary
tract infection as a complication from the surgery. He would get so sick that he
would slip into a coma, and a priest once again was called to administer last
rites to Kennedy.
10) Kennedy Did Not Receive Valid Last Rites when He Was Assassinated
The shots in Dealey
Plaza were fired around 12:30PM CST. Kennedy was rushed to Parkland’s Trauma
Room #1. Doctors
described his condition as morbid at best and in other words, he was dead upon arrival. One
doctor said, “We had no hope of saving his life.”
Jacqueline Kennedy was incessant that the President receive last rites as
soon as possible. In compliance with Catholic doctrine, the sacrament of last
rites needs to be
administered before the soul leaves the body, and before the brain dies.
Reverend Oscar Huber left the room Kennedy’s body was in around 12:50PM.
Reverend Huber told reporters that Kennedy’s body was covered with a sheet, more
specifically already dead, when he arrived. Huber went on to try and comfort the First
Lady, assuring her that the sacrament was indeed valid.
The Warren Commission recorded his time of death at 1PM, a whole ten minutes
after the actual time of death. There is some conjecture that in order to give
First Lady some piece of mind in terms of religious closure, that the time of
death was altered slightly. Some believe this was done to provide the illusion
of the sacrament being performed in time to ease the suffering of Jacqueline,
when in all actuality it did not.
9) Kennedy Wrote Profiles in Courage While Recovering from Back Surgery
Kennedy’s first published book was his senior thesis titled Why England Slept,
released in 1940. During the same year as Kennedy matriculated from Harvard,
Why England Slept became a bestseller. Kennedy’s second book, Profiles in
Courage, was originally published in 1957 and Kennedy dedicated it to his
wife, Jacqueline. Profiles in Courage won Kennedy the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for
a biography. The book focused on eight senators who Kennedy
believed had shown immense courage, despite great political pressure applied by
constituents and respective political parties.
The most interesting thing about the book isn’t who he profiled or the fact
that he won a Pulitzer for it, but instead what Kennedy himself was going
through when he wrote it.
John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
In 1954 and 1955, Kennedy took two leaves of absence from the Senate. He took
leave in order to have back surgery the first time, and the second time was to
correct the initial surgery with an additional one. In a great moment of
personal weakness and vulnerability, he took it upon himself to study courage
and focused on examples of political courage to get him through his painful
ordeal. He collaborated on the book with Ted
Sorensen, who was his speechwriter all throughout his recovery. Kennedy acknowledged Sorensen’s
role in writing it in the introduction and paid Sorensen a “more than fair” sum
over several years for his role. Kennedy's book, Profiles in Courage has
even inspired an award called the Profile in Courage Award. Notable winners have
been former president Gerald Ford, Edward Kennedy, and Jennifer Brunner.
8) The 1960 Election Had One of the Closest Results in Popular Votes of Any
In the 1960 election, the results were so close that Kennedy’s win wasn’t made
official until noon on November 9, 1960, a whole day after the election. Kennedy won the popular vote by just
.17 percent. Based on popular vote alone, the 1960 election between Kennedy and
Nixon is the closest U.S. popular election of all time. Kennedy won only 118,574 more
total votes than Nixon did.
Kennedy and Nixon in a 1960 Presidential Debate
When examining electoral votes, the margin of victory between Kennedy and
Nixon was not unprecedented like the popular vote count. Kennedy won 303
electoral votes compared to Nixon’s 219 which works out to 56.4 percent of the
electoral vote, versus 40.8 percent.
President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson
The 1960 election was also the first one in which both men running for office
were born in the twentieth century. Other key issues during the election have to
do with Kennedy being a Catholic, considering up to this point no Catholic had ever been elected to the White House.
It should be noted that no Catholic had been elected before or since Kennedy. It
is estimated that Kennedy's Catholicism cost him an
estimated 1.5 million votes.
7) Kennedy’s Stance on Civil Rights during His Administration Started Slow
On October 19, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested during an Atlanta
sit-in. John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy immediately got involved. John Kennedy
called Coretta Scott King out of concern and support and Robert Kennedy called the
judge and helped secure King’s safe release. Due to the Kennedy brothers'
immediate action during one of the most turbulent periods of American history,
Kennedy received more than 70 percent of the African-American vote nationwide
less than a month later.
President Kennedy's Civil Rights Address
However, he was slow to act on civil rights once he assumed the office of
president because he was afraid of alienating members of congress from southern
states. But when James Meredith was denied admission to the University of
Mississippi, both John and Robert (U.S. Attorney General) acted. Kennedy's
administration sent federal marshals to escort
Meredith and when rioting ultimately erupted, he sent in the National Guard to
try to create some stability. When Bull Connor
started using fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham to stop
Civil Rights demonstrations, Kennedy sent in several thousand troops to stop the
horrible abuses of power that were being seen on television sets across the
forced the integration of the University of Alabama by federalizing and sending
in the Alabama National Guard. His administration moved on to work on a
comprehensive civil rights bill.
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. - June 22, 1963
Unfortunately, Kennedy didn’t live to see his civil rights bill become law
which happened in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed and signed by
President Lyndon Johnson.
Lyndon Johnson Signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act
6) On May 25, 1961, Kennedy Said the United States Would Land a Man on the
Moon by 1970
During the Cold War the United States and the
Soviet Union were in competition over a new frontier beyond the nuclear arms
race: space exploration technology. Not only did
the Soviet Union launch Sputnik in 1957, but it also put the first man in space
in April 1961. Kennedy saw the Soviet's space achievement as a symbol of the
United States falling behind, and the need for the U.S. to become more
competitive. There was only a month’s difference between the first Soviet
cosmonaut orbiting Earth and the first American astronaut in space, but
politically the Soviet achievement was still seen as an embarassment.
Kennedy consulted with NASA Administrator James Webb, Vice President Johnson,
and other officials in order to come to the conclusion by being the first
country to land a man on the moon would be a fantastic display of technological
Famous Moon Speech on May 25, 1961
On May 25, 1961, Kennedy went before a joint session of Congress and made a
speech announcing his intention to land a man on the moon within the decade.
Kennedy Getting an Explanation of the Saturn V Launch
System from Dr. Wernher von Braun
In 1969, more than five years after Kennedy’s death, Project Apollo and a
manned mission to the moon became a reality. During that same year on July 20th,
Neil Armstrong walked on the moon bringing Kennedy's dream of beating the
Soviets to the moon a reality.
5) The Bay of Pigs Assault-turned-fiasco
On April 17, 1961, all while the first cosmonaut was orbiting the Earth and the first
U.S. astronaut to reach space, 1,400 Cubans living in exile mounted a failed
invasion of Cuba during the Bay of Pigs.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was initially approved by President Eisenhower in
March 1960, after Castro rose to power in a 1959 armed revolt. The plan was to
have the CIA train Cubans living in exile in Guatemalan refugee camps.
The news of the training camps and the CIA's involvement spread among Cuban exiles in Miami,
and was eventually leaked to
Kennedy was briefed on the invasion plan before he was inaugurated. He
eventually authorized it in February 1961, and touted that disguising all U.S.
involvement would be crucial to the success of the attack.
Kennedy and Eisenhower Discussing Bay of Pigs Crisis at
The actual invasion began on April 15, and almost from the start problems
kept occurring. The B-26
bombers used in the invasion missed many of their targets, leaving the Cuban air force largely unharmed
and the trained exiled Cubans at the mercy of Cuban air support. On April 17,
the invasion force landed at the Bay of Pigs. The exiled Cubans came under heavy
fire immediately, and Castro ordered a massive counterattack. More than a
hundred CIA trained invaders were killed, nearly 1,200 surrendered, and a few escaped.
Negotiating with Castro over the release of the prisoners took twenty months.
The invasion turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Kennedy’s administration,
and a horrible way to start his presidency.
4) Kennedy Championed the Arts and Culture
When Kennedy was at boarding school, he found that he was madly passionate of
reading. His love of reading left him with a fondness
for literature and poetry, though he never thought of himself as an
intellectual. His favorite poets were Lord Byron and Robert Frost. Musically, he
preferred Irish ballads and Broadway show tunes to classical music. Early on
Kennedy recognized how important it is for the president to recognize, as well
as show regard
for intellectual and cultural excellence. Keeping this in mind he invited Frost to read a poem at
his inauguration. He also invited over fifty musicians, poets, painters, and
writers to the occasion.
John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Performing Arts -
At a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners, he called them
“the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever
been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when
Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” The Kennedys also made sure to invest in the next
generation’s arts and culture with, among other things, Concerts for Young
People at the White House. The Kennedys held a dinner to which they invited
leading musicians, writers, and artists from around the nation. The intent was
to enhance and solidify permanently, the role of arts in America.
3) Kennedy Started the Peace Corps
Kennedy—then the junior senator from Massachusetts—made a campaign speech on
October 14, 1960, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The speech was
delivered around two in the morning, to a surprisingly large and energetic
group. The speech was improvised and in it, he asked how many students would be
willing to work in the Foreign Service or spend their days as doctors in Ghana.
Very quickly a petition was passed around and the results were that some 1000
students agreed that they would be willing to perform some sort of foreign
Kennedy and Johnson Greeting Peace Corps Volunteers at the
Two weeks later, on November 2, 1960, he gave a speech at the Cow Palace in
San Francisco. During this speech, he proposed a “peace corps of talented men
and women” helping to further global peace, and the forward peaceful progress of developing
countries. This speech was given six days before the 1960 presidential election.
Kennedy Greeting Peace Corps Volunteers - August 28, 1961
Thankfully there was an overwhelming amount of support for his proposed peace
corps, and the program immediately gained traction. He began the process in his inaugural address with the
famous line, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for
you—ask what you can do for your country.”
2) While a Member of Congress and as President, Kennedy Donated His Entire
Salary to Charity
John F. Kennedy began donating his entire salary to charity in 1947, when he
became a congressman for Massachusetts’s eleventh district. Between his
nearly two years as president (as of the end of 1962), eight years as a
Massachusetts senator, and six years as a congressman, he donated a total of
nearly $500,000. This figure does not take into consideration his salary from
1963 and when
that’s included, his salary donated to charity rises to nearly $650,000. His
salary as president was $100,000 annually and his allowance for personal expenses was
$50,000, which Kennedy donated all of it to charity.
Joseph Kennedy Sr. and Family
He was able to do this because of his
family’s tremendous wealth. His father, Joseph P.
Kennedy, Sr., was estimated by Fortune to be worth more than $250 million
dollars just three years before John F. Kennedy won the presidency. When that
$250 million is adjusted for inflation, Joseph Kennedy would be a billionaire
today. If it wasn't for his family's immense fortune, it is very unlikely that
Kennedy could of afforded to donate his entire income to charity, despite his documented commitment to charity.
1) Kennedy Was
Very Ill and Hid It from the Public
Kennedy was sick most of his life and from age
thirteen on, he started experiencing sever abdominal pain. In 1934, Kennedy was sent to the Mayo Clinic
where he would be diagnosed with
colitis. Six years after he started having back pain, he had his first back
operation. In 1947, three years after his first back operation, Kennedy was
diagnosed with Addison’s disease which is also known as adrenal
insufficiency. The disease is caused by a failure of the adrenal glands to produce enough steroid
hormones for survival. In order to keep on going, Kennedy needed to be injected
daily with corticosteroids. Due to the serious treatments with steroids, he was
prone to bacterial infections and contracted them quite often.
Kennedy Meeting With Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
He had two more back operations, on in 1954 and
another to correct the first in 1955. His back problems were due to
osteoporosis and compression fractures. JFK is predominantly photographed
seated, due to fits of extreme pain. Beginning in 1955, Kennedy became narcotic
pain killer dependent and Kennedy needed a whole medicine cabinet full of
medications just to keep going. Even with all of his personal pain and
illnesses, he still managed to function as one of the most charismatic presidents
in U.S. history.
Kennedy and His Children John and Caroline at Camp David
A quick side note: If you look at all of the photos picturing Kennedy with
his children, he is never pictured holding them unless he is sitting. His
extreme back issues often rendered him so week, that he couldn't even pick up
his own children.
Tragically Kennedy was gunned down either by Oswald alone, or as a result of a
much bigger government conspiracy. In his short tenure as president, he was able
to get great governmental actions like The Civil Rights Act and the manned space
program started. Without his foresight and political mind, sending a man to the
moon and allowing a black man to eat with white people in the south, each could
of taken decades to accomplish. The Peace Corps is still active and well-staffed
with volunteers. NASA probably would have lost funding if not for Kennedy’s goal
of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. His presidency started a
family dynasty in politics, and even his brother Robert attempted to run for
president and following in his brother's footsteps. Sadly Robert Kennedy was
gunned down while campaigning for president in a hotel kitchen. Fortunately the
legacy lives on with his Edward Kennedy holding a senate seat for most of his
life and Patrick Joseph Kennedy II, the son of Edward Kennedy, a representative
from Rhode Island. There has been a Kennedy in congress for some 64 years now,
and all thanks to Joseph Kennedy Sr.'s grand dreams for himself and his family.
ABC News article
UPI article published in the Eugene Register-Guard on November 14, 1962
Dr. Jeffrey Kelman, who studied Kennedy’s medical records and appeared
on PBS Newshour