Americas,  Phoebe,  United States

John F Kennedy

John and Jackie taken in late 1962/ early 1963 with John Jr and Caroline.
John and Jackie taken in late 1962/ early 1963 with John Jr and Caroline.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born May 29th 1917, the second son of Businessman and politician Joseph Kennedy and his wife Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald. He had an older brother, Joe Jr and two younger brothers, Robert (Bobby) and Edward (Ted) and five younger sisters, Rose, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia (Pat) and Jean.

The family moved a number of times in John’s early years, leading to his frequent changes of school, until he settled at the Choate School in Wallingford Connecticut, following a bout of appendicitis in 1931. Joe Jr had already attended the school for two years before John arrived, playing football. Whilst Joe was a talented student, John was somewhat in his brother’s shadow. Coming from a family with a heavy political inclination, it was felt that Joe Jr would eventually follow his father in to politics and was being groomed as a future senator and Presidential candidate. Sadly this dream was cut short with the advent of World War 2, when pilot Joe was enlisted as a Naval aviator flying top secret missions as part of Operations Aphrodite and Anvil, carrying a large amount of explosives on board his adapted Liberator, when it was detonated prematurely over Suffolk near the Coast of the English Channel.

John and Joe had undertaken a tour to London with their father during his role as US Ambassador for the Court of St James, prior to the outbreak of war, during which he travelled to the Soviet Union, the Balkans, the Middle East before returning via Czechoslovakia and Germany, arriving back in London. The next day Germany invaded Poland and war was declared. During the war, JFK saw his own action during which he was injured and received amongst others, the Purple Heart and the Naval and Marine Corps Medal, for saving the lives of a number of the crew on board his patrol torpedo boat PT-109 when it was rammed during a night-patrol off New Georgia in the Solomon Islands area. He was later asked what he had done to receive his award, to which he replied “It was easy, they cut my boat in half!”
During the incident, JFK had offered his men the choice of fight or surrender. In the end the survivors had decided to swim for it. Despite injuring his back, (further to a pre-existing complaint, John towed an injured man while he swam, by a lifebelt strap hooked in his teeth, until they reached an island. When they made the choice to head for a second land, he repeated the exercise. The group were later rescued. Alas the repeat strain on his back eventually led to further treatment and convalescence culminating in an Honourable discharge shortly before Japan’s surrender.

John worked as a specialist correspondent under William Randolph Hearst for a number of years following his military career, which tied in with his Graduation as a specialist in political affairs, his thesis on the Munich Agreement later being published under the title “Why England slept”. He also later helped his father write his own memoirs. John’s career in politics was starting to take off and in 1952 following six years as Congressman in Massachusetts, he was elected to US Senate. In 1953 after a courtship lasting approximately a year, John married Jacqueline Bouvier, a French Literature Graduate, working as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald.

Following their marriage, John and Jackie moved into a house at Hickory Hill. They had a miscarriage in 1954 followed by four children, Arabella in 1955 who was stillborn, and sold their house to Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel, whose family were growing quite rapidly. John and Jackie moved to a townhouse in Georgetown. Their first daughter Caroline was born in 1957, followed by their son John Jr in 1960, and Patrick in 1963 who was born prematurely and died of respiratory distress two days later.

Jackie was not initially a major player in her husband’s political career, but as a result of the time they spent apart in the first few years of the marriage, following Caroline’s birth, Jackie agreed to accompany him on parts of his re-election tour. It was noted that at every event Jackie attended, the crowd was always much bigger. She may have been a reluctant campaigner but she was popular with the public, which did nothing to hinder his career.

In January 1960 he announced plans to run for Presidency, shortly afterwards Jackie found she was pregnant. In response to previous problems her doctor advised her to rest. She accompanied her husband on occasion, and spent the rest of her time at home organising his administration, answering letters, arranging interviews and so on. Her pregnancy was announced in the July, and in November shortly after John won the Presidential election, she gave birth to John Jr.

Jackie and John, Dallas. Moments before his assassination.
Jackie and John, Dallas. Moments before his assassination.

His Presidential career though short-lived was filled with memorable events, from the slide into the Cold War when USSR premier Nikita Khrushchev announced plans to sign a treaty with East Berlin, causing strain in the West, and mass upheaval for the residents of Germany as many fled to the American controlled West in response to statements made by the USSR which concerned them greatly. It wasn’t long before the infamous Berlin wall was built in an effort to prevent any more East German residents migrating to the West. Khrushchev claimed to like Kennedy but found him weak as a political opponent. To Jackie, he gifted a puppy.

This was followed up with the problems faced in Vietnam between the Us Supported South Vietnamese, and the Communist Viet Cong in the North led by Ho Chi Minh. Despite attempts to resettle many peasants and thus remove them from the communist threat they faced, the efforts lost momentum only to resurface two years later.

This tense time continued very rapidly with the Cuban crisis, inherited from the tenure of his predecessor Dwight D Eisenhower. Plans had been drawn up in Eisenhower’s term by the CIA for an invasion of Cuba to oust Communist Dictator Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs Invasion took place in April 1961when 1500 Cubans trained by US Forces landed on the beach with the instructions to overthrow Castro. It was a poorly organised invasion and Castro’s forces were given ample warning of the attack. Nearly 400 of the invading force were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner. It took nearly two years of negotiations before the hostages were released.

Matters were to get worse when surveillance footage revealed Soviet missiles being assembled and stockpiled in Cuba the following year. Fearing a downward slide into nuclear war, Kennedy implemented a stop and search policy on Soviet ships in the area. After UN involvement and the exchange of letters between the two leaders, agreement was reached where the Soviets were to dismantle the missiles, in return Kennedy agree to remove similar (but now obsolete) weapons he had in Turkey and promised not to invade Cuba again. Crisis was averted.

In August 1963, Jackie gave birth to their second son Patrick by emergency caesarean at Otis Air Force Base. The baby was diagnosed with respiratory distress and transferred to Boston. Kennedy went with his son whilst Jackie remained at Otis to recover. Two days later their son died. Devastated, Jackie removed herself from public life and went for a quiet vacation with her friend Aristotle Onassis on board his yacht suffering from depression. She returned in October.
At the beginning of November the situation in Vietnam was descending into outright conflict. Kennedy’s administration had agreed on supporting the South through covert means, which cut everybody but the President and his closest advisors out of the situation and left no traceable paper-trail. Just a few days into November, Big Minh made contact through the private channels to notify the CIA that he was about to overthrow the Diem government, and had taken Diem and Nhu prisoner. He asked for passage out of Vietnam for his two prisoners, but the CIA stalled saying they couldn’t organise transport for 24 hours. Big Minh stated he didn’t have that long, and instead killed the two men.

Kennedy had been undergoing a process of change in US policy through the summer of 1963 whereby withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam was discreetly scheduled for the end of the year, and negotiations with USSR were ongoing for the mutual nuclear disarmament would remove the threat of Nuclear war between the two superpowers. It was also felt that Kennedy’s continued involvement with US interests in West Berlin would help appease the ongoing situation there. In June 1963, Kennedy travelled to Berlin and delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, reaffirming his criticism of Communism, using the Berlin Wall as his example of why Democracy isn’t perfect but it allows freedom.

John Jr saluting at the funeral of his father
John Jr saluting at the funeral of his father

Earlier in the year he had backed the coup against the leader of Iraq, Abd Al-Karim Qasim by Ba’ath leader President Abdul Salam Arif. Qasim had himself assumed power just five years previously with his own coup which had removed the Iraqi monarchy who were allied with the West. Further in the Middle East, Kennedy continued to support the Israeli government, but the situation was deteriorating as Israel were surreptitiously trying to manufacture their own nuclear arms despite treaty dictating otherwise. When pushed, Ben-Gurion repeatedly claimed that their experiments were purely for peaceful reasons, Kennedy pushed for UN inspections of the facilities in Tel-Aviv. Kennedy was well aware Israel were blatantly trying to mislead the Americans, by temporarily shutting down developmental units of the facility prior to inspection, but Kennedy was also focused on his own agenda of not finding a reason to press the issue into a public show of taking action against the Israeli weapons program.

On November 22nd 1963, Kennedy was travelling through Texas to attend a meeting between the Democrat candidates, two (unrelated) liberals, Ralph and Don Yarborough and their Conservative rival, John Connally who were squabbling over points. At 12.30 the Presidential motorcade drove through Dallas, they passed the Texas Book Depository, where employee Lee Harvey Oswald fired shots which hit Kennedy in the neck and head. Following the first shot Jackie, who was sitting next to her husband stood and turned, reaching back for the security detail, when the second shot hit John blowing a huge hole in the back of his skull close to his ear.

His bodyguards put their foot down and sped the fatally wounded President to Parkland hospital where he was pronounced dead an hour later. An hour after the shooting, and following a radio description of the suspect, Police Officer J D Tippit spotted a man matching the descripton and hailed him from his car. Following a brief exchange through the car window, Tippit opened the door and climbed out to detain the man further. At this point, Lee Harvey Oswald drew a gun from his coat and fired three shots in rapid succession into the policeman’s chest. As he slumped to the ground, Oswald leaned over him and shot him once more in the head. Tippit died approximately 15 minutes after the President.

Oswald denied any involvement in the Tippit murder. Conspiracy theorists have spent fifty years trying to prove that Officer Tippit played a role in a wider cover-up of this conspiracy, that he was possibly either an accomplice of Oswald’s or that he was part of the plot to later remove Oswald from the picture and that he was tasked with silencing him. Just 36 hours later, Oswald too was dead, shot in the stomach by Nightclub owner Jack Ruby, during the prisoner’s transfer from the city jail to the county jail. He was taken to the same hospital where his own victim has died just two days before. Ruby died from stomach cancer whilst awaiting trial. He too has been linked to the conspiracy.

Kennedy, Tippit and Oswald were all buried on the same day. Oswald’s brother had to ask journalists there to cover the funeral to act as pall-bearers. Attendance was minimal. Kennedy’s funeral was in comparison a huge state affair, made all the more poignant as his young son, three year old John Jr saluted his father’s coffin as it passed. Following his internment in a small plot in Arlington, in 1967 a permanent memorial and grave were constructed and his two children were later re-interred next to him along with Jackie. Kennedy’s two younger brothers are also buried nearby, around fifty and 100 yards away.