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On May 29th, 1917 John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. His parents were Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. They named him after Rose’s dad, the famous Boston mayor John Francis Fitzgerald, also known as “Honey Fitz”. Rose and Joseph ended up with nine children, four boys and five girls. John, or Jack as they also called him, was their second son.
Already as a little boy, John had problems with his health. When he was three years old he got sick with scarlet fever, a disease that could be deadly. But, John didn’t die, and a month later he was up and running again. But, through his childhood he was always suffering from something, always a disease bothering him.
By the time John was eight, they were a pretty big family, so Rose hired nannies and housekeepers to help her. They were at that time seven children, Joseph, the oldest one, John, Robert and his four sisters Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice and Patricia. The two youngest, Jean and Teddy, hadn’t been born yet.
John went to a school called Choate, where he was popular and had a lot of friends. He played tennis, football, basketball, golf and he loved reading. He wasn’t the brightest student, and didn’t always work as hard at school as he should. The only subjects he really put an effort into were English and History, his favourite subjects. He graduated from Choate in 1935.
In 1935 he entered Princeton University, but he didn’t stay here for long, only until Christmas. He was then forced to leave because of an attack of jaundice. He then entered Harvard University in 1936. He was very active in sports, even though he wasn’t very good. And it was during football training that he injured his back, something that would give him a lot of problems later in life.
In 1937 his dad was picked out to be the United States ambassador in England, so the whole family moved to England, except John and his older brother Joseph, who stayed at Harvard. They got many letters from their dad. The letters were about the conflict and tension in Europe that everyone feared would end up in a big war. This was when Adolph Hitler ruled Germany and Benito Mussolini ruled Italy. On September 1, 1939, World War two began.
When John was 23 years old he wrote his first book. He wrote a thesis on why England was unprepared for a war with Germany. The thesis was so good that it was published as a book called Why England Slept. John graduated from Harvard in 1940.
In the Navy
Spring, 1941 John and Joseph signed up to join the army, but John was rejected because of his weak back. All summer he did exercises that would make his back stronger, so that he in September could join the navy. John became a Lieutenant on a boat in the South Pacific and Joseph was sent to Europe as a pilot. John had a crew of twelve men and their job was to prevent the Japanese delivering supplies to their soldiers.
On August 2nd, 1943 a Japanese warship came at full speed towards Kennedy’s torpedo boat. He tried to turn around, but didn’t succeed. Two of his men were killed, and Kennedy injured his back once more. Kennedy swam with his men to an island that was three miles away from where the boat sank. Six days later they came to the island where they got help from the natives.
When Kennedy came home again he was honoured with the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine medal. But, he got big problems with his back again, and had to leave the navy.
John F. Kennedy as a young man out at seas
The Start of his Political Career
Because of his back, John ended his career in the navy, and started looking for a new job. At first he wanted to be a writer, but ended up in the politics. He decided that he wanted to run for a seat in the Massachusetts’ eleventh congressional district. The reason why he wanted to do this was to honour his family and older brother Joseph, who was killed in the war. He won the election in 1946, and was now 29 years old. This was when his political career started. He served three terms, which is the same as six years, in the House of Representatives.
Senate and Family Life
He ran for senate in April 1952 and won the election over Lodge in November. On September 12, 1953, a year after he had become senate, he married Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis. Jacqueline was a writer for the Washington Times-Herald. John was at the time 36 old and Jacqueline 24. They got two children, Caroline in 1957 and John Jr. in 1960. They got a third child, Patrick, in 1963. But, he died two days after his birth.
In 1953 John got big troubles with his back again, and this time he had to go through two operations. One in November, 1953 and one in February, 1954. During the recovery he wrote a second book, Profiles in Courage. This book is about U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for things they believed in. The book was so good that it got a Pulitzer Prize in 1957.
Because he was such a popular politician, he was almost picked out to run as Vice President in 1956. It was now he figured out that he wanted to run for President in the next election, which was in 1960. On July 13th, 1960, he was selected out to represent the democrats and run for President. He asked the senate in Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson, to run with him as Vice President. Johnson accepted and was happy to run with Kennedy as Vice President.
He won the election in 1960, and became the 35th President. In his inaugural speech (opening speech/ first speech he made as a President) he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. This sentence is very famous now. He also asked countries around the world to help him and the USA to fight what he referred to as “The common enemies of the world; tyranny, poverty, diseases and war itself” in one of his speeches.
Youthful Spirit to the White House
John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever to be elected for President, only 43 years old, and the first Roman Catholic. As all the other President’s, he and his wife and their two children moved in to the White House. Both John and Jacqueline meant that the White House should be a house that represented the American history and culture. So Jacqueline started redecorating. When she was finished, a lot of people appreciated what she had done and agreed with them about that the White House should represent the American culture.
The USA and the Soviet Union
One of the things that bothered Kennedy was the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was afraid that Soviet was producing nuclear weapons. Neither of the countries trusted each other, and Kennedy knew that if there ever would brake out a war between them, millions of people would die. So, because both of the countries were afraid that the other one would start a war, they both produced nuclear weapons. This started after the world war two, when there was a lot of anger and suspicion between the United States and the Soviet.
The Berlin Issue
One example on the tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union was between spring 1961 and fall 1962. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened to sign a peace treaty with the East Germany government. Kennedy then had a meeting with the Soviet leader and said that he did not accept a peace treaty between the Soviet Union and East Germany. The reason why Kennedy didn’t want Khrushchev to sign the treaty was because that would give the Soviet Union a lot of power and would be a big threat against the western parts of Europe. The Soviet Union would then have their base in East Germany and be able to take over Europe. And if The Soviet took over Europe, it would mean that NATO (Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation) would be interrupted, which then again would threaten the USA. So, in this meeting Kennedy made it clear that if Khrushchev signed the treaty, Kennedy and the USA would strike back. Khrushchev didn’t sign the treaty after this.
The Cuban Crises
Another example on tensions between the Soviet and the USA was in October 1962. Kennedy was shown pictures of Soviet missiles, placed in Cuba. This was a big threat towards the USA, and Kennedy kept his armed forces ready at combat, encase of crises. He moved the armed forces up to DEFCON 2, which in those days was the level before they were in war. (They only had three levels at the time, not like now, where they have five levels.) But, after a week the Soviet withdraw the weapons. The USA has never been closer to a nuclear war then what they were at this time. It was only a matter of hours, before the USA lunched a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. After this, Kennedy got a lot of credit from the rest of the world because he had achieved a turning point favourable to the West in the cold war.
One of the cases that Kennedy fought most for was civil rights. He did a lot of work, just like Lincoln, to get rid of racial discrimination. Even though there was made a law against discrimination in public schools in 1954, there was still a lot of racism in the USA. But, he did not want to hold public protests because he thought that that would just anger the white people even more, and make it more difficult to convince the Congress to pass civil rights. Therefore he decided to go on television and ask the Americans to end the racism. He made it clear that every American should have a happy and good life in America; either they were black or white.
It was during the time when Kennedy was President that we started to explore space. And this was, not so surprising, a race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Because the Soviet knew a lot more than the Americans about the space, the Soviet had an advantage and was ahead of the USA. And, since Kennedy wanted the USA to be a leader and a roll model for other countries, he said that they were going to enter the race and win it. Kennedy was also the first President to ask the Congress for 22 billion dollars for the space project “Project Apollo”. The project had one goal, and that was to land an American man on the moon before the end of the decade. On July 20th, 1969 the Americans succeeded, and landed a man on the moon.
In November, 1963 John F. Kennedy and his wife flew to Texas. John was travelling all over the USA giving speeches, and it was now time to visit Texas. He was preparing for the election in 1964. On November 22nd, he and his wife drove in an open car to where he was going to give the speeches. There were many people that had turned up to meet the Kennedy’s, so they drove slowly while they were smiling and waving to the cheering crowd. Suddenly, there were gunshots. Kennedy was shot in the head and neck.
He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, but the injuries were so bad, that they couldn’t save him. He died short time after he arrived at the hospital.
Just a few hours later the police arrested a man called Lee Harvey Oswald, former US Marine, for the shooting. But, on November 24th, two days later, Oswald was killed. He was killed by the nightclub owner Jack Ruby, when he was being transferred from the city to the jail. So, the police never got to ask Oswald why he killed John F. Kennedy. The secret died with him.
John F. Kennedy and his wife in Texas
Suspicion around his Death
A commission was appointed to investigate the death of the president. They said in the report, which was made public in September 1964, that they did not find any evidences that either Oswald or Ruby was part of a conspiracy. However, in 1979 another committee concluded that Oswald was probably a part of a conspiracy that did include members of organized crime. In 1998, it was once again said that Oswald acted alone. So, as you understand, there were a lot of speculations around Kennedy’s death and still are a lot of speculations today.
There has been written a lot of books about the assassination, and there are many stories about who was really behind it all. Some say that it was the Mafia; some say it was the CIA who organized the murder on John F. Kennedy. Some even think that they worked together. But, based on evidence and eyewitnesses from the scene, a lot of people don’t believe the government when they said that Oswald acted alone. The most troubling bit is that there has been such a massive cover-up on this case from the government’s side. It does not make sense with what the eyewitnesses said and saw. Is the government hiding something?
Affair with Marilyn Monroe?
Later, after the President was killed, there were a lot of rumours going around about an affair with Marilyn Monroe. The affair was supposed to have taken place late in 1961. A lot of people saw Kennedy and Marilyn together, and Kennedy’s staff knew that he was seeing her in private chambers in the White House. But, there is no proof that this actually happened, but a lot of people saw them together as I said, when Jacqueline was out of town.
Connections with the Mafia?
The rumours also have it that he did not just have an affair with Marilyn, but a lot of young girls when Jacqueline was out of town. He used to hire them as secretaries, as a cover-up, but the problem was that they didn’t have any calcifications, so that didn’t work as planed. A lot of people knew what was going on. One of his girlfriends was Judith Exner, who was a close friend of the Chicago gangster Sam Giancana. She was later reported to be a connection between the Kennedy family and the Chicago Mafia. Another one of his girlfriends was Mary Pinchot Meyer. She was killed a short time after John was killed. And Marilyn was supposed to have connections with Communists. So, there was a dark side to the perfect president. The reason why a lot of people thought, and still think, that he had connections with the mafia was because everyone that seemed to know something (or to much) about what was going on, was mysterious killed. And, some of his friends, like Judith Exner, were close friends of the mafia.
Admired by a lot of People
When John F. Kennedy was killed, it caused an enormous sadness among the American people. He was admired and loved by many, because he was always an optimist. Many people followed the President’s funeral, and millions followed the funeral on television. President John F. Kennedy was buried on a slope at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife lighted an eternal flame at his grave. A lot of people remember Kennedy as a great man and a President that did a lot for his country.
A final farewell with a beloved husband and a loving father
John F. Kennedy is probably one of the most famous American Presidents. And he is famous for many reasons. He, as Lincoln, fought a lot for civil rights. He did a lot to end racism and make the USA a good place to live; either you were black or white. But, he also prevented a lot of what could have been big conflicts between the USA and the Soviet Union. For example the Cuban crises, when the Soviet had missiles on Cuba. And the way he died did not exactly make him less famous. To this day forward, it’s still unclear who killed him, which again has put Kennedy in the spotlight and naturally has made him famous.
A lot of rumours started when someone suggested that he and his family had connections with the mafia. After his death there was a lot that came up in the media about his health, affairs and connections with for example the Chicago Mafia. But, the reason why a lot of the rumours started was because so much was, and still is, kept a secret when it comes to JFK. But, besides from his dark sides, he did a lot of good things for his country and was loved by a lot of people.
- MEDIA Cappelens Leksikon 3, Cappelens Forlag AS, 1978