Of Irish descent, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917 to wealthy parents Rose and Joe Kennedy. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of his mother Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack. On February 20, 1920 when Jack was not yet three years old, he became sick with scarlet fever, a highly contagious and then potentially life-threatening disease. His father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, was terrified that little Jack would die. Mr. Kennedy went to the hospital every day to be by his son’s side, and about a month later Jack took a turn for the better and recovered. But Jack was never very healthy, and because he was always suffering from one ailment or another his family used to joke about the great risk a mosquito took in biting him – with some of his blood the mosquito was almost sure to die!
When Jack was three, the Kennedys moved to a new home
a few blocks away from their old house in Brookline, a
neighborhood just outside of Boston. It was a lovely
house with twelve rooms, turreted windows, and a big
porch. Full of energy and ambition, Jack’s father worked
very hard at becoming a successful businessman. When he
was a student at Harvard College and having a difficult
time fitting in as an Irish Catholic, he swore to
himself he would make a million dollars by the age of
35. There was a lot of prejudice against Irish Catholics
in Boston at that time, but Joseph Kennedy was
determined to succeed. Jack’s great-grandparents had
come from Ireland and managed to provide for their
families, despite many hardships. Jack’s grandfathers
did even better for themselves, both becoming prominent
Boston politicians. Jack, because of all his family had
done, could enjoy a very comfortable life. The Kennedys
had everything they needed and more.
Jack graduated from Choate and entered Harvard in 1936, where Joe was already a student. Like his brother Joe, Jack played football. He was not as good an athlete as Joe but he had a lot of determination and perseverance. Unfortunately, one day while playing he ruptured a disk in his spine. Jack never really recovered from this accident and his back continued to bother him for the rest of his life.
Late in 1937, Mr. Kennedy was appointed United States Ambassador to England and moved there with his whole family, with the exception of Joe and Jack who were at Harvard. Because of his father’s job, Jack became very interested in European politics and world affairs. After a summer visit to England and other countries in Europe, Jack returned to Harvard more eager to learn about history and government and to keep up with current events.
After Kennedy graduated from Harvard, the United States entered World War II. John F Kennedy's efforts to join the U.S. Navy were initially thwarted by his ill-health, but through the intervention of his father, he was eventually admitted and assigned to serve in the South Pacific, commanding a small motor-torpedo boat, or "PT boat." Kennedy and his crew participated in the campaign to wrest thousands of islands from Japanese control. In August 1943, as the sailors were sleeping without posting a watch (in violation of naval regulations), his boat, PT 109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Towing a badly burned crewmate by a life-jacket strap clenched in his teeth, Kennedy led the crew's ten survivors on a three-mile swim to refuge on a tiny island. The crew hid on the island from the enemy for days until Kennedy managed to summon help. Widely credited with the rescue of his crew, Kennedy received the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Valor, and a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained.
After a short stint as a journalist, Kennedy entered politics, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1952. The following year he married Jacqueline Bouvier, the daughter of a New York City financier. Over the next few years four children were born but only two, Caroline and John, survived infancy. Kennedy continued to suffer from back problems and had two operations in October 1954 and February 1955. While recovering in hospital he wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Profiles in Courage (1956).Kennedy was a strong advocate of social welfare and civil rights legislation in the Senate. Kennedy also sponsored bills for providing Federal financial aid to education, liberalizing United States immigration laws and a measure that required full disclosure of all employee pension and welfare funds.
In 1956 Kennedy almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President, and four years later was a first-ballot nominee for President. Millions watched his television debates with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. Winning by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President.
His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." As President, he set out to redeem his campaign pledge to get America moving again. His economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II; before his death, he laid plans for a massive assault on persisting pockets of privation and poverty. 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, including new efforts in outer space. Confronted by this reaction, Moscow, after the erection of the Berlin Wall, relaxed its pressure in central Europe.
Instead, 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.
Kennedy now contended that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and slowing the arms race--a contention which led to the test ban treaty of 1963. The months after the Cuban crisis showed significant progress toward his goal of "a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion." His administration thus saw the beginning of new hope for both the equal rights of Americans and the peace of the world.
On November 22, 1963, when he was hardly past his first thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President; he was the youngest to die.
Elaine Fried de Kooning's most famous series of portraits, painted on commission from the White House, is of U.S. President John F. Kennedy (shown above). Elaine Fried de Kooning followed the President, observing him from various standpoints. President Kennedy’s young daughter, Caroline, copied de Kooning by making her her own small paintings as Elaine was painting the portraits. Elaine Fried de Kooning traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida, to make painted sketches of Kennedy and spent much of 1963 working on a presidential portrait of him for the Truman Library. Kennedy was assassinated during the creation of this work. His murder impacted her to such a degree that she stopped painting for nearly a year.