As a Harvard graduate, second of Ambassador Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s nine children, and the oldest living son by the time he was elected President, John F. Kennedy was many things long before he was an assassinated President. He was the youngest elected President of the United States and the first and only Roman Catholic President. He was a brother who had lost his eldest brother, Joe, and a father who had lost two children by the time he was 46 years old.
During World War II JFK served in the U. S. Navy in the Pacific Theatre (1943) and was awarded a Heroics Medal for bravery and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained when the PT 109 boat he was commanding was split in two by a Japanese warship. He brought all of his men to safety in spite of his injuries.
JFK was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author for biography in 1957. He was 38 years old when he wrote Profiles in Courage, which celebrated and detailed courageous acts by U.S. senators throughout history. He was aided by his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, and by the Library of Congress while recovering from back surgery which left him mostly immobilized and bedridden during 1954 and 1955. Before being elected President in 1960 he served three terms in the House of Representatives and one term in the Senate. Though he only served three years as President and was planning to run for re-election, he served during dark days–personally, professionally, and internationally–and bright days.
The invasion–known as The Bay of Pigs–to overthrow the communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, lead by Cuban expats and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, was not successful. Although the invasion was originally planned by former President Dwight Eisenhower and his Vice President Richard Nixon, it was handed over to Kennedy about two weeks after he took his Presidential oath. However, Kennedy took the blame for the botched attempt to oust Fidel Castro from power.
Spurred on by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the increasingly frigid Cold War, Cuba’s communist leader Fidel Castro allowed, maybe invited, the Soviet Union to place missiles on the island of Cuba and aim them at the United States. The missiles were discovered by a U.S. spy plane flying over the island just 90 miles south of Florida. JFK responded by placing a naval blockade between the U.S. and Cuba and demanded that Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev remove the missiles. The stand-off lasted thirteen days and ended when Khrushchev ordered the missiles removed. However, it is said that JFK later courted Castro and was willing to negotiate a peaceful resolution between the two nations.
While these two incidents marred his office, Kennedy is credited for a great many positive calls to action to the American people and to the world. He asked young Americans to serve those less fortunate than themselves which inspired thousands of young people to join the Peace Corps which he established by executive order in 1961. Not satisfied to let the Soviets continue to outpace the United States, Kennedy challenged the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to land men on the moon by the end of the decade. Thus, began the Space Race and the United States landed the first ever men on the moon in 1969.
Kennedy was also responsible for beginning the civil rights legislation that his Vice President and successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson later finished and signed into law. In 1963 John F. Kennedy appointed former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission documented substantial discrimination against women in the workplace and made specific recommendations for improvement including fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable child care. In 1965 the Equal Opportunity Act was passed and signed into law by President Johnson.
He was only married 10 years to wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy when he was killed. Their premature son, Patrick, two days old, died in August of the same year due to respiratory dysfunction common to premature babies. JFK was buried on November 25th, his son JFK Jr.’s 3rd birthday. After his grave and memorial site were finished at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. the bodies of Patrick and a stillborn daughter, Arabella, were buried with him at Arlington.
by Michelle Le Blanc