Monday, May 24, 2010
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), usually known as Jack Kennedy or JFK, at age 43 was the youngest man ever elected President of the United States. He was also the youngest to die in office. He was shot on November 22, 1963, after being president two years and ten months. The world mourned his death, and presidents, premiers, and members of royalty came to his funeral. Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of President. He was also the first President to be born in the 1900's. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy made a statement that has become famous, "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." [This statement doesn't mesh well with the Democrat message today that tells Americans "The government should take care of you from cradle to grave.] Kennedy won the respect of the world as leader of the Free World. He turned aside the threat of atomic war with the Soviet Union while forcing the Soviets to withdraw missiles from Communist Cuba - and greatly increased the prestige of the United States in 1962. During the Kennedy years, the United States enjoyed its greatest prosperity in history after he signed a tax cut bill. [Can you believe that a Democrat as President cut taxes? He did!] The United States made its first manned space flights and prepared to send man to the moon. Blacks made greater progress in their quest for equal rights than at any time since the Civil War. Kennedy was the second son of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. His ancestors were Irish farmers in southeastern Ireland, and his great-grandfather left Ireland to settle in Boston during the great potato famine of the 1840's. JFK's grandfather was a state senator and political "boss" of a ward in Boston. Kennedy's mother, Rose, was from a political family also. Her father was a colorful politician who served in the state senate, the United States House of Representatives, and two terms as mayor of Boston. JFK's father, Joseph, was a self-made millionaire. He served as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a United States ambassador to Great Britain. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, on May 29, 1917. He was the second son and second child in a family of four boys and five girls. Jack attended elementary school in Brookline and Riverdale. At 13 he attended Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. The next year he transferred to Choate Academy in Wallingford, Connecticut. When he graduated from Choate at age 18 in 1935, his classmates voted him "most likely to succeed." He enrolled at Princeton University but dropped out with jaundice at Christmas break. He entered Harvard University in 1936 where he majored in government and international relations. He graduated cum laude in 1940. He enrolled at Stanford University business school but dropped out six months later to enlist as a seaman in the U.S. Navy. JFK applied for sea duty after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to a PT boat squadron in 1942 and later, after being trained as commander of the small craft, was commissioned as an ensign. He became a war hero after a Japanese destroyer cut his boat in two in the South Pacific. Two of the twelve men were killed, and the other men swam to a small island. For his heroism JFK received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Because he was wounded in combat, he was awarded the Purple Heart. He suffered with a bad back for the rest of his life. Kennedy was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1946 and then to the United States Senate in 1952. He married Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier on September 12, 1953. they were blessed with four children: a stillborn daughter (1956), Caroline (1957), John F., Jr. (John-John) (1960), and Patrick Bouvier who was born prematurely and died soon after birth (1963). Five years after Kennedy's assassination, Jackie married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek millionaire. JFK started working for the 1960 Democratic nomination for President soon after the 1956 convention. He was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 but continued to campaign for President. Democratic leaders though JFK had several disadvantages as a presidential candidate. The first "problem" was his religion: no Roman Catholic had previously been President. [I remember hearing adults say that he would never be elected because he was Catholic.] Other "problems" were his youth, his wealthy family, his inexperience in international affairs. Some Democrats even thought that JFK was too conservative. [Even though he was a Democrat, JFK was actually more conservative than many Republicans today.] He was nominated on the first vote, chose Lyndon B. Johnson to be Vice President, and won the election against the sitting Vice President Richard Nixon. Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1961. His Administration was often called "Camelot." There was a young handsome President, a beautiful and stylish First Lady, and two beautiful children who were dearly loved by Americans. The Kennedy's brought youth and informality to the White House. Caroline and John-John were the first children of a President to live in the White House for more than 60 years. The nation loved the Kennedy family. Women in many nations around the world adopted the hairdo and clothing styles worn by Jackie. When Jackie accompanied Kennedy to Europe, huge crowds gathered wherever Jackie went. President Kennedy presented himself to a Paris luncheon by saying, "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris…." Mrs. Kennedy toured Pakistan and India without the President. She won much praise for her redecoration of the White House. She gathered furnishings of past Presidents and made the mansion ma historic showplace and a tourist attraction. One of the most successful of Kennedy's programs was the U.S. Peace Corps. It was first launched by executive order in March 1961, and then it was later authorized by Congress. The corps sent thousands of Americans abroad to help people in developing nations raise their standards of living. The Peace Corps was often called the "Kennedy Corps" by people of other countries because it seemed to carry the Kennedy enthusiasm to the world. Kennedy wanted to be prepared for non-nuclear wars and made every effort to avoid using nuclear weapons. He reorganized America's defense policies by increasing conventional weapons. Kennedy helped businesses by increasing tax benefits for companies investing in new equipment. He proposed a $10 billion tax cut in 1963; this cut lowered corporate taxes. He thought that the American people would have more money to spend if taxes were cut. The increased spending generated new business, and the taxes from the expanded economy economy more than made up revenue lost in the tax cut. Today this sounds like a strange idea to be coming from a Democrat! A major domestic issue during the Kennedy years was the demands for equal rights for blacks. A group of black and white freedom riders entered Montgomery, Alabama, by bus in 1961 to test local segregation laws. When rioting broke out, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent U.S. marshals to the city to restore order. Demands by blacks for equal civil and economic rights increased in 1963. There were racial protests and demonstrations in all parts of the nation. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people staged a Freedom March in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate their demands for equal rights for blacks. Kennedy asked Congress to pass legislation to require hotels, motels, and restaurants to admit customers regardless of race. He also asked that authority be given to the attorney general to begin court suits to desegregate schools. In requesting this legislation, the President said, "The time has come for the Congress of the United States to join with the executive and judicial branches in making it clear to all that race has no place in American life or law." Even though I lived in areas with few Blacks, I remember the tenseness of the civil rights movement. The Cold War caused many problems in foreign affairs. An invasion by Cuban rebels into their homeland was attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro, the Communist-supported dictator. Kennedy was forced to accept blame for the ill-fated invasion because it had been planned by the United States. Another Cuban crises happened in October 1962 when the United States learned that the Soviet Union had installed missiles in Cuba, which were capable of hitting U.S. cities. Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to quarantine or blockade Cuba. Navy ships were ordered to turn back any ships carrying Soviet missiles to Cuba. He also called about 14,000 Air Force reservists to active duty. War seemed likely for about a week before Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev ordered all Soviet offensive missiles removed. Kennedy then lifted the quarantine. Cuba was not the only place where Communists were threatening. At the end of World War II, Berlin was controlled by America, Britain, France, and U.S.S.R. Any threat to the freedom of West Berlin was opposed by the Western nations. In 1961, the Soviet Union issued a threat that Communist East Germany would have control over the West's air and land supply routes to Berlin. This was all part of a plan to get the Western nations out of Berlin and Germany. Nothing was settled after Kennedy and Khrushchev met in Vienna, Austria, in June 1961. The East Germans began building a wall between East and West Berlin in August 1961 to keep people from fleeing to freedom in the West. Kennedy called up about 145,000 members of the National Guard and reservists to strengthen American defenses. They served about ten months before being released. Kennedy traveled to Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Mrs. Johnson in attempt to heal a split in the Texas Democratic Party before the 1964 Presidential campaign. The party left Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 21 and flew to San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth. They arrived in Dallas the next day at 11:37 a.m. after a short flight from Fort Worth. They planned to travel in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas to the Dallas Trade Mart where Kennedy was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. President and Mrs. Kennedy rode in an open limousine for the trip to the Trade Mart. The Kennedy's sat in the rear seat with the President on the right side of the car and his wife on the left. Texas Governor John B. Connally sat in a "jump" seat in front of the President with Mrs. Connally beside her husband. A limousine carrying Secret Service agents was behind the President's car with the Vice President and Mrs. Johnson in a third car accompanied by Secret Service men. Special security precautions had been taken because Dallas had a reputation as a center for people who strongly opposed Kennedy. Friendly, cheering crowds lined the streets. At 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963, as the cars approached an expressway for the last leg of the trip, three shots suddenly rang out. The President was hit in the neck and slumped down with his head in Mrs. Kennedy's lap. Governor Connally received a bullet in the back. The limousine raced to a nearby Parkland Hospital. Doctors worked desperately to save Kennedy's life, but he died at 1:00 p.m. without regaining consciousness. Doctors said that the President had no chance of survival when he arrived at the hospital. Governor Connally was seriously wounded but later recovered. News flashes of the event were on television and radio, telling the world that President Kennedy had been killed. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. We were all shocked that such a thing would happen in our modern age. Vice President Johnson raced to the hospital and remained until Kennedy died. He then went to the airport where the presidential plane waited. Mrs. Kennedy arrived later with the coffin holding her husband's body. At 2:39 p.m., U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath of office to Johnson who became the 37th President of the United States. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Kennedy were there as he took the oath of office. Witnesses reported that the shots came from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. Police raced to the building but couldn't find the killer. Then they searched for an employee of the building who left the scene a few minutes after the shooting. About 1:15 p.m. the employee, Lee Harvey Oswald, is said to have shot and killed a Dallas policeman, J. D. Tippit, while resisting arrest. Oswald was arrested a short time later in a theater and charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Tippit. Oswald was an admitted Marxist who had a Soviet wife and had once tried to become a Soviet citizen. He was active in a group that supported Cuba's Communist dictator Fidel Castro. He was questioned for two days by police, but he denied both murders. An Italian rifle with a telescopic sight which had been purchased by Oswald from a mail-order firm for $12.78 was found hidden in the School Book Depository. Oswald's palm prints were found on the weapon. Two days after the assassination, Oswald was being led to an armored car to be taken from the Dallas city jail to the county jail. A Dallas nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, stepped out of the crowd and shot Oswald to death. The nationwide television audience witnessed the shooting. Oswald was taken to the same hospital where Kennedy died and passed away at 1:07 p.m., about 48 hours after the President died. The world mourned the death of Kennedy. Over 90 countries sent representatives to attend the funeral on November 25. Kennedy was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. At the close of the ceremony, Mrs. Kennedy lighted an "eternal flame" which still burns over the President's grave. In one of his first acts, President Johnson named the National Aeronautics and Space Administration installation in Florida The John F. Kennedy Space Center. Other public building and geographical sites throughout the world were named for Kennedy. Congress voted funds for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. D.C. Great Britain made 1 acre of ground permanent United States territory as part of a Kennedy memorial. The John F. Kennedy Library open in Boston in 1979. The assassination of President Kennedy was investigated by the Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The commission reported in 1964 that Oswald had acted alone. Many people believed that Oswald was part of a group who wanted Kennedy dead. Other investigations have taken place, but there are still questions about the assassination of Kennedy. Interesting historical events during the Kennedy presidency are: 1) Amendment 23 to the Constitution was adopted in 1961 giving residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections. 2) Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth. 3) Adolf Eichmann, a top Nazi war criminal, was hanged in Israel in 1962 for his part in the massacre of Jews in Europe during World War II. 4) The Supreme Court ruled in 1962-1963 that official prayers and Bible reading in public schools were unconstitutional. Facts for this post came from an article by Eric Sevareid in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, pp 260-269.