The Life and Death of a Fallen Commander in Chief
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was born May 29, 1917 to Rose and Joseph Kennedy. He was the second eldest out of nine children. As a young child JFK was not particularly healthy. He had many ailments growing up including whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, and the most severely, scarlet fever at aged three. Joseph feared for his life and spent every day with him at the hospital until he took a turn for the better and recovered.
JFK spent his formative years at the Choate boarding school for boys, and though he wasn’t the best of students he did enjoy history and english. He was a popular boy and played many school sports including football which he continued playing in college at Harvard. He joined his older brother Joe Jr. there upon graduation in 1936. In a football game JFK ruptured a disk in his spine and the injury never fully recovered which cause him pain the rest of his life.
World War II was on the horizon as the Kennedy boys graduated from Harvard and both Joe and JFK joined the Navy. Joe became a flyer sent to Europe and JFK became a Lieutenant sent to the South Pacific as commander of a patrol torpedo ship, PT-109. He was in charge of a crew of 12 men. While on patrol for Japanese ships on August 2, 1943 JFK spotted a Japanese destroyer going full speed at the PT-109. At the wheel JFK tried to steer the ship out of the way but to no avail. The Japanese destroyer split the PT-109 in half killing two of JFK’s men. The rest of the crew abandoned ship as it went down. They ended up floating on a piece of the ship’s wreckage except for Patrick McMahon who had severe burns to his face and hands and was ready to give up. JFK brought McMahon to the rest of the group and they waited until sunrise. JFK lead his men several miles to an island while dragging McMahon by the life vest straps using his teeth because he had hit his already weak back during the crash. After returning from WWII JFK was awarded a Navy and Marine Corp
Medal for his leadership and courage. Unfortunately for the Kennedy family Joe did not return from battle. He was killed in a plane explosion during a top secret mission in Europe.
JFK never thought about going into politics. The dream of Presidency had been Joe Jr.’s before he died. JFK had thought about being a writer or teacher as his future but after Joe’s death Joseph Sr. convinced JFK to run for Congress of Massachusetts. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 1946 starting his political career. He served three terms as a representative for Massachusetts. In 1952 he was elected as the United States Senator of Massachusetts. Soon after being elected senator, at age 36, he married Jacqueline Bouvier.
November 8, 1960 JFK was elected President of the United States. He beat the then Vice President Richard Nixon by a very slim amount. President John F. Kennedy was the first and so far the only Catholic President and he is also known as the youngest President to date. He was just 43 years old. Just before his inauguration on January 20,1961 JFK’s son John Jr. was born. JFK faced many very stressful events during his short presidency including but not limited to: the Cold War with Russia, the 1962 Missile Crisis, the Space Race and asking Congress to allot 22 billion dollars for the Apollo Missions to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade, and the Civil Rights issues and his proposed law. He also created the Peace Corp for Americans to volunteer to help in other countries.
John F. Kennedy met his untimely demise on November 22, 1963. While in Dallas, Texas for some speeches he was giving JFK was in his convertible motorcade waving to the crowds of people when shots rang out. The President had been shot by Lee Harvey Oswald who was in the upstairs portion of a warehouse overlooking the motorcade route. President Kennedy was rushed to the hospital nearby but he passed about an hour after the shooting.
Two days later a funeral was held at Arlington National Cemetery. JFK was buried on the bottom of the hillside that Arlington House sits upon. His burial plot overlooks Washington D.C. and as Jackie Kennedy said “He belongs to the people.” His gravesite was so heavily visited that the original 20ft by 30ft plot with a white picket fence surrounding it wasn’t enough to handle the masses. In 1965 construction on a new burial and memorial site began. The 3.2 acre memorial if just feet away from the original and incorporates his inauguration speech and the eternal flame that Jackie had included at the original funeral. The site now has JFK, two of his children both infants who predeceased him, and when Jackie passed in 1994 though she had remarried she was laid to rest next to President Kennedy.
President Kennedy’s tomb is one of the most visited sites in Arlington National Cemetery. He truly was a man of the people and visiting his burial site to honor his memory is a treat for any group.