The third episode of the podcast - John F. Kennedy, 35th President and name sake of JFK Airport in New York City. Enjoy!
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John Kennedy is arguably one of the most legendary, of all the United States presidents. While not overly popular when elected or in office, or thought to be a particularly great President while he was alive, JFKs legend and charisma have only increased throughout the years since his tragic assassination.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born to the ambitious Irish-Catholic businessman Joseph Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917. Born the second of nine children, four boys and five girls, John, who was soon called Jack, would be both the sickliest and most famous of the Kennedy clan. A sickly child from infancy, often injured and bested by his older brother Joe, Jack Kennedy none-the-less possessed an affability and charm that made him a popular figure throughout his life.
As a boy, Jack went to Choate, a boarding school for boys, where he played tennis, basketball, football and golf. But, that wasn't the thing that made most noticable according to his friend Lem Billings who noted that young Jack had a daily subscription to the New York Times. This thirst for current events knowledge however, dovetailed in beautifully with his two favorite subjects - history and English.
After finishing school at Choate, Jack entered Harvard in 1936 where older brother Joe was already a student. And, like Joe, Jack played football there as well. Unfortunately, Harvard is where Jack ruptured a disk in his spine, an accident that continued to bother him through his Navy career, into politics and through his life.
While everyone remembers President Kennedy's charm, charisma and speaking ability now, it was not young Jack that was the one who was the apple of father Joseph Kennedy's eye. It was oldest brother Joe who was to be the first Catholic to become President - not Jack. Sure, he was handsome and intelligent, but the Jack Kennedy of Harvard was not that ambitious. However, while Kennedy was in college, his father was appointed US Ambassador to England, and that exposure to European politics and world affairs fired the younger Kennedy's interest in government and current events yet again.
Note: During the podcast so far I've mentioned both Joe's, father and son, several times. It is not without purpose. Both older Kennedy's played a pivotal role in Jack's life. One because he was there, the other because of his absence. Of the two, it was his father Joseph that was the driving force. The older Kennedy was born into both politics and money as the son of Patrick Kennedy, but was unhappy with his lot and the role of Irish-Americans in US Politics. No one can begrudge a person for wanting people of his ancestry to be more involved in the country they call home, but for Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. it was not just a wish or a passion - it was an obsession. Throughout his life, the patrician of the Kennedy family craftily and often ruthlessly brought all his money, power and connections to bear on this obsession. Now, back to our story.
After college, both Joe, Jr. and Jack entered the Navy. Joe, a flyer was sent to Europe while Jack was made a Lieutenant, junior grade, and assigned to the now famous patrol torpedo boat, PT-109. Though many of you may know the story, there are few that would deny that any hearing of it brings chills to the spine. Assigned with 12 men to an 80 ft wooden boat, Kennedy was assigned to patrol the waters of the south Pacific to stop Japanese ships from delivering supplies. On the night of August 2, 1943 while on patrol with no running lights, which was a common war time maneuver, PT-109 suddenly saw a Japanese destroyer become visible traveling at full speed and heading straight towards them. With no time to maneuver out of the way, the destroyer crashed directly through PT-109 splitting it in half and killing two of Lt. Kennedy's men. During the collision, Kennedy was slammed hard against the cockpit, once again hurting his already injured back. Amazingly, the rest of his crew escaped and clung to a piece of the boat. At dawn, despite his injuries, Lt. Kennedy led them to an island several miles away - while towing an injured crew member by a strap held in his teeth. Six days later two native islanders found them and went for help, delivering a message Jack had carved into a piece of coconut shell. The next day, the PT-109 crew was rescued. Alas, Jack’s brother Joe was not so lucky. He died a year later when his plane blew up during a dangerous mission in Europe.
When he returned home, Jack was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his leadership and courage. With the war finally coming to an end, it was time to choose the kind of work he wanted to do. Jack had considered becoming a teacher or a writer, but with Joe’s tragic death suddenly everything changed. After serious discussions with Jack about his future, Joseph Kennedy convinced him that he should run for Congress in Massachusetts' eleventh congressional district, where he won in 1946. This was the beginning of Jack’s political career. As the years went on, John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, served three terms (six years) in the House of Representatives, and in 1952 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
On September 12, 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier. Shortly afterwards, his back started to trouble him again, and Senator Kennedy required two serious operations. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize in history.
Note: This event, as well as brother Joe's untimely death in the war were to critical points in Jack Kennedy's life. Because the eldest and favored son Joe had passed away, Joe, Sr. directed all his attention to Jack, including directing him into politics. Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was the reason why Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer. He was relentless in his promotion of the book, and especially at first JFK was reluctant to sign copies and promote the book. However, it was the release of this book that also brought the, then junior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, into prominence on the national stage. Back to our story.
After almost being picked to run for Vice President in 1956, Kennedy decided that he would run for President the next election. He began working long hours and traveling around the US on the weekends. In July of 1960, the Democratic party nominated him as candidate for President.
Many people did not believe that John F. Kennedy could win the Presidential election. He did not have a huge national following and in many ways he was still perceived as sickly. However, the benefit of his inactivity because of his back, was that the Senator gained some weight and took on more robust appearance. That overcame one issue.
The other issue, a national following, was then taken on by the Kennedy patriarch. Joe Kennedy, Sr. worked like a madman BUYING support for his son in the election. Where the Democratic party was week, Joe Sr.'s reserve of US Dollars proved to be the strength that Jack needed in key counties and states. The final piece of the puzzle was the live television debate with Richard Nixon where JFK's charm, newly robust appearance and compelling speech brought in enough voters to clinch the win. On November 8, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, scion of the Kennedy political machine and fortune was elected President of the United States. He was the youngest man elected at 43 years of age and the first Catholic.
John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural speech he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens and delivered the line for which he is most famous: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." His resolve to fight them all was soon sorely tested.
President Kennedy along with his wife Jacqueline brought a new era of youth and vitality to the White House. In the eyes of the nation, this was the age of Camelot in Washington, DC. President Kennedy created the Peace Corps and initiated the age of space travel. It would not be until many years later that many of the rumors about Kennedy's behavior would surface.
While President Kennedy brought youth and vigor to the office, he was also required to present more than image. The early 1960's were also a time of foment in the US. Responding to ever more urgent demands, he took vigorous action in the cause of equal rights, calling for new civil rights legislation. His vision of America extended to the quality of the national culture and the central role of the arts in a vital society.
He wished America to resume its old mission as the first nation dedicated to the revolution of human rights. With the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, he brought American idealism to the aid of developing nations. But the hard reality of the Communist challenge remained.
Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy permitted a band of Cuban exiles, already armed and trained, to invade their homeland. The attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro was a failure. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin. Kennedy replied by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation's military strength. But, instead of Europe, the Russians now sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When this was discovered by air reconnaissance in October 1962, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba. While the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war, the Russians backed down and agreed to take the missiles away. The American response to the Cuban crisis evidently persuaded Moscow of the futility of nuclear blackmail.
On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy flew to Texas to give several political speeches. The next day, as his car drove slowly past cheering crowds in Dallas, shots rang out. Kennedy was seriously wounded and died a short time later. Within a few hours of the shooting, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with the murder. On November 24, another man, Jack Ruby, shot and killed Oswald, thus silencing the only person who could have offered more information about this tragic event. The Warren Commission was organized to investigate the assassination and to clarify the many questions which remained. And thus was one of the events that has spawned almost more conspiracy theories than any other event.
After President Kennedy had been assassinated, the country mourned. This man of such relative youth who was so passionate for our country had been so quickly ripped from our lives, and the nation could not forget him. As the years have gone by and other Presidents have written their chapters in history, John Kennedy's brief time in office stands out in people's memories for his leadership, personality, and accomplishments. Many respect his coolness when faced with difficult decisions, and others admire his ability to inspire people with his eloquent speeches.
Regardless of how or why people remember John F. Kennedy, we all remember his story, his heroics and his passion. In the end, he did what we all wish we could do, he lived his life so that it changed and still changes history.
Well, that's our biography for this week and thanks for joining us. This biography has been interesting for me to do because I'm a native son of New England, born in Rhode Island and now a resident of the Commonwealth of MA. Though I was only 3 at the time and don't remember the original event, I do remember the years following and the sorrow of New Englanders each year when the tragedy would be reviewed.
Next week we'll move back up the coast a bit and look at the person for whom T.F Green airport was named.