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John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States (1961-1963), was born May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He grew up in privileged surroundings, attending private schools, sailing, and traveling extensively.

As a member of a wealthy, politically active family, Kennedy seemed destined to have a career in politics. He was the grandson of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald who served as mayor of Boston and was a three term member of Congress. Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was named chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and afterwards, was named Ambassador to Great Britain.

Kennedy attended Harvard University and graduated with a degree in science in 1940. His first book, Why England Slept, a examination of Great Britain's foreign policy, was published later the same year.

In 1941, Kennedy joined the United States Navy as an intelligence officer. After the United States entered World War II in 1943, he was stationed in the South Pacific and given command of a PT boat. His boat was hit and sunk by a Japanese destroyer and two of his crew were killed. Although Kennedy suffered a severe back injury, he and six of men managed to swim to an island about five miles from where the incident took place.

After being rescued, Kennedy was sent back to the United States to recuperate from his injuries. He was then sent to Florida as a PT boat instructor. After having another operation on his back, he was discharged and returned to civilian life. In 1945 he went to work as a journalist in San Francisco covering the United Nations Conference.

In 1946, Kennedy ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won. He was elected to the Senate in 1952. As a Democrat, he supported the policies of President Harry S. Truman. He advocated social welfare programs, civil rights legislation, low cost public housing, progressive taxation, and increased aid to developing countries.

Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953 and together, they had four children, but only two, John and Caroline, survived infancy. It was Mrs. Kennedy who coined the phrase "Camelot" to her husbands presidency.

In 1956, while recovering from an operation on his back, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage in which he won a Pulitzer Prize. The book was about politicians who put their political careers in jeopardy to take a stand on issues that they knew were right, but not popular with their constituents.

In 1960, Kennedy won the presidential election against then Vice President Richard M. Nixon who was running as the Republican candidate for president. Kennedy was the youngest person, age 43, to be elected to the office of the presidency and the only Catholic to be elected.

  • Note: Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest person to serve as President of the United States but he was not elected. Roosevelt was Vice President during the administration of President William McKinley and took office at the age of 43 after McKinley was assassinated.

The Kennedy administration oversaw an escalation of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Some important events included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the growing Civil Rights Movement in America, and the Vietnam War.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Although the FBI and the Warren Commission concluded that the lone assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald, many questions still remain and many people believe that there was a conspiracy perpetrated by the mafia or other parties.

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