|Born||29 May 1917|
|Died||22 Nov 1963|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy was also referred to as John F. Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, or JFK. He was born at Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, United States as the second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald; Rose was the daughter of prominent Boston-based politician John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. In Sep 1927, his family moved to New York, United States. His school-attending years were interrupted often by illnesses, leading to disruptions with his studies at the London School of Economics in London, England, Britain and Princeton University in New Jersey, United States. In Sep 1936, he enrolled in Harvard College. In Jun 1938, he sailed with his father and brother to Europe as his father had just been appointed US Ambassador to London. From Feb through Sep 1939, he toured Europe and the Middle East to gather research material for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He returned to London on 1 Sep 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland and started the European War. He returned to the United States by the end of that month. In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich," about British participation in the Munich Agreement. He initially intended his thesis to be private, but his father encouraged him to publish it as a book. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in Jun 1940, and his thesis was published in the following month under the title Why England Slept, which became a bestseller. Between Sep and Dec 1940, Kennedy attended Stanford Graduate School of Business in California, United States. In early 1941, he helped his father write his memoir. In spring 1941, he volunteered for the United States Army, but was rejected due to his bad back. In May and Jun 1941, he traveled in South America.
ww2dbaseIn Sep 1941, with the influence of Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence Captain Alan Kirk, who was a former colleague of his father's, Kennedy was accepted into the United States Navy despite his physical condition. In Oct 1941, he was commissioned an ensign in the US Naval Reserve. At the Office of Naval Intelligence, he helped preparing intelligence bulletins and briefing information for the Secretary of the Navy in Washington, DC and other top officials. After the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the United States into WW2, he was assigned to an Office of Naval Intelligence field office in Charleston, South Carolina, United States on 15 Jan 1942. After spending most of Apr and May at Naval Hospitals at Charleston and at Chelsea, Massachusetts, he attended Naval Reserve Officers Training School at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, United States from 27 Jul through 27 Sep. Upon completion of the Naval Reserve Officers Training School, he entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island, United States. While at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center, On 10 Oct, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade). He completed his training on 2 Dec and was assigned command of the Higgins-built motor torpedo boat PT-101.
ww2dbasePT-101 was deployed with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Fourteen to Panama. Seeking combat duty, Kennedy requested transfer to the front lines, which was granted on 23 Feb. He was transferred into the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two based on Tulagi Island in the Solomon Islands, arriving on 14 Apr. Nine days later, he took command of PT-109. During the night of 1 to 2 Aug 1943 near New Georgia, PT-109 went out on a night patrol. At 0200, creeping along to keep noise and wake to a minimum, PT-109 was able to successfully avoid detection by Japanese destroyer Amagiri that steamed nearby, but Amagiri unknowingly ran over the torpedo boat at the speed of 40 knots. The boat was split in two in seconds. Kennedy was thrown into the cockpit where he landed on his back, injuring it. Clinging to the floating debris, he called out to his crew members and received responses from seven others, two of whom were injured; two crew members were killed by the collision. The survivors, totaling 11, swam for the small Plum Pudding Island barely visible three miles away. With wounded crew member Patrick Henry McMahon in tow by holding his life jacket strap between his teeth, Kennedy reached the island, but was disappointed to find out that no food or water was available. He concluded that he should swim the route other PT boats might take through the Ferguson Passage so that he could bring help; he made the attempt despite the protest of the other survivors, and failed to sight other boats. The group then swam to another island, Olasana, where they found food in the form of coconuts; again, Kennedy swam with McMahon in tow. On the fourth day since the incident, Kennedy and another survivor Ensign George H. R. Ross swam to Nauru Island, where they found a wreckage of a small Japanese boat containing a crate filled with crackers, candy, and fresh water. Shortly after, Kennedy and Ross went on a patrol of the beach, and quickly came upon two natives. They were convinced the two natives were Japanese soldiers, while the two natives, scouts Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana associated with the Australian military, likewise assumed the two strangers were Japanese. Biuku and Eroni later found the injured crew members of PT-109 on Naru, and informed them that they came across two Japanese soldiers, who were actually Kennedy and Ross. Kennedy and Ross returned to Naru on the next day, finally meeting the two natives. Kennedy cut a message on a coconut that read "NARU ISL/NATIVE KNOWS POSIT/HE CAN PILOT/11 ALIVE/NEED SMALL BOAT/KENNEDY". On the next day, the natives returned with food, supplies, and a letter from the local coast watcher commander, Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans of Australia, who had actually been investigating the wreckage of PT-109 that his men had come across several days ago. The natives led the PT-109 survivors to Evans at the island of Wana Wana. They were rescued by PT-157 on 8 Aug. For the way he handled the situation after the destruction of his boat, Kennedy received the non-combatant Navy and Marine Corps Medal. The citation read as follows:
ww2dbasePrivately, Kennedy did not feel he deserved the honor because the incident had been the result of a failed operation that cost the lives of two members of his crew. He also received the Purple Heart medal for injuries sustained.
ww2dbaseIn Sep 1943, Kennedy went to Tulagi and accepted command of PT-59 which was scheduled to be converted to a gunboat. In Oct 1943, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and continued to command PT-59. On 18 Nov, he was ordered by a doctor to return to the United States, which he complied on 21 Dec. He returned to the United States in early Jan 1944. In Feb and Mar, he attended Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Rhode Island and the Submarine Chaser Training Center in Florida, United States, respectively. In May, he received treatment for his injured back at the Naval Hospital at Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was detached from the Submarine Chaser Training Center in 30 Oct 1944 (although he had not been there since his treatment starting in May), and in Mar 1945 he was discharged on physical disability before the war ended.
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Kennedy considered becoming a journalist, but ultimately ran and won a seat in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress in 1946. In 1952, he defeated incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and became a senator, but was often absent from the senate due to spinal operations. Around this time, he wrote the book Profiles in Courage which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957. On 12 Sep 1953, he married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. In 1956, Kennedy lost an election within the Democratic Party to become presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson's running mate. In Jan 1960, he declared his intent to run for president. In Sep and Oct, Kennedy debated Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon in the first televised US presidential debate. Kennedy narrowly won the presidential election on 8 Nov 1960.
ww2dbasePresident Kennedy was sworn in on 20 Jan 1961, becoming the 35th President of the United States. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country", which he told during his inaugural speech, became one of his most recited quotes. Domestically, he faced racial issues in the country. He was a supporter of de-segregation and intervened on several occasions when regional politicians attempted to block African Americans from public places, namely schools. On 11 Jun 1963, he gave his famous civil rights address on national television, which became the basis for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was drafted by his brother and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
ww2dbaseOn the global front, Kennedy inherited Dwight Eisenhower's plan to overthrow Fidel Castro via the support of a Cuban insurgency movement. On 17 Apr 1961, he launched the Cuban invasion nicknamed the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The invasion consisted of 1,500 US-trained Cuban exiles without air support. Failing to incite a general uprising, the invasion failed, and Kennedy was forced to negotiate with the Cuban government for the release of the 1,189 survivors; the prisoners were released back to the US after 20 months at the cost of US$53,000,000 worth of food and medicine. It was considered a major embarrassment for Kennedy and the United States government. On 14 Oct 1962, trouble with Cuba continued when American U-2 spy planes brought back reconnaissance photographs indicating the construction of Soviet ballistic missile launching sites in Cuba. Kennedy reviewed the photographs two days later. He attempted to avoid military action by only calling for a blockade against Cuba, while he negotiated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. He was able to successfully avoid escalation of the Cold War by reaching an agreement with Khrushchev that the missiles would be removed and the US promised to never invade Cuba.
ww2dbaseKennedy's next major challenge on the global stage came only two years later when he was faced with the unstable Vietnamese situation where 16,000 US military and civilian personnel were present. When South Vietnamese generals overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem, Kennedy supported the coup d'état, fearing that Diem might negotiate for a coalition government that included communists if he was to remain in power. On 11 Oct 1963, Kennedy gave an order to withdraw 1,000 military personnel by the end of that year, which seemed to suggest his unwillingness to escalate US involvement in Vietnam, but as things would turn out, his successor Lyndon Johnson would reverse that order merely days after Kennedy's assassination and eventually deploy more troops into Vietnam.
ww2dbaseWhile tension built up in Vietnam, Kennedy also faced the division of Germany during his presidency. On 26 Jun 1963, he visited West Berlin and gave a public speech criticizing communism. "Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in", he said in response to the construction of the Berlin Wall.
ww2dbase"Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, 'I served in the United States Navy,'" he wrote in Aug 1963.
ww2dbaseWhile on a political trip through Texas, United States, Kennedy traveled through the city of Dallas on 22 Nov 1963. At 1230, he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. He was permanently buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, United States on 14 Mar 1967.
ww2dbaseThrough his tenure at the White House, he kept the famous coconut from Naru Island on his desk at the Oval office.
ww2dbaseSources: Armchair Reader World War II, United States Navy Naval Historical Center, Wikipedia.
Last Major Revision: Dec 2007
John Kennedy Timeline
|29 May 1917||John Kennedy was born.|
|25 Sep 1941||John Kennedy enlisted in the US Navy.|
|2 Aug 1943||US Navy torpedo boat PT-109, commanded by Lieutenant (jg) John F. Kennedy, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the Blackett Strait between Kolombangara and Arundel in the Solomon Islands.|
|3 Jan 1947||John Kennedy began his tenure in the United States House of Representatives for the 11th District in the state of Massachusetts.|
|3 Jan 1953||John Kennedy began his tenure as a United States Senator for the state of Massachusetts and ended his tenure in the United States House of Representatives.|
|22 Dec 1960||John Kennedy's tenure in the United States Senate ended.|
|20 Jan 1961||John Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States.|
|22 Nov 1963||John Kennedy passed away.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939