- NAME: John F. Kennedy
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, U.S. President, U.S. Representative
- BIRTH DATE: May 29, 1917
- DEATH DATE: November 22, 1963
- EDUCATION: The Choate School, Harvard College
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Brookline, Massachusetts
- PLACE OF DEATH: Dallas, Texas
- Full Name: John Fitzgerald Kennedy
- AKA: JFK
- AKA: John F. Kennedy
- Nickname: "Jack"
- AKA: Jack Kennedy
Best Known For
John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, negotiated the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and initiated the Alliance for Progress. He was assassinated in 1963.
John F. Kennedy - Full Biography (44:08)
John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the second child of Joseph Patrick and Rose Kennedy. Rose Kennedy taught her son a love of American history and politics.
Considered an underdog candidate, John F. Kennedy decided to focus on looking and acting presidential. When he faced Richard Nixon in America's first televised debates, he won over the public with his confidence and charm.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
John F. Kennedy is remembered for challenging the American people: to put a man on the moon, to put aside racial prejudices, to join a volunteer corps. This special explores the life and legacy of the 35th President.
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Although he was obviously brilliant -- evidenced by the extraordinary thoughtfulness and nuance of his work on the rare occasions when he applied himself -- Kennedy remained at best a mediocre student, preferring sports, girls and practical jokes to coursework.
His father wrote to him by way of encouragement, "If I didn't really feel you had the goods I would be most charitable in my attitude toward your failings ... I am not expecting too much,
and I will not be disappointed if you don't turn out to be a real genius, but I think you can be a really worthwhile citizen with good judgment and understanding." Kennedy was in fact very bookish in high school, reading ceaselessly but not the books his teachers assigned. He was also chronically ill during his childhood and adolescence; he suffered from severe colds, the flu, scarlet fever and even more severe, undiagnosed diseases that forced him to miss months of school at a time and occasionally brought him to the brink of death.
After graduating from Choate and spending one semester at Princeton, Kennedy transferred to Harvard University in 1936. There, he repeated his by then well-established academic pattern, excelling occasionally in the classes he enjoyed, but proving only an average student due to the omnipresent diversions of sports and women. Handsome, charming and blessed with a radiant smile, Kennedy was incredibly popular with his Harvard classmates. His friend Lem Billings recalled, "Jack was more fun than anyone I've ever known, and I think most people who knew him felt the same way about him." Kennedy was also an incorrigible womanizer. He wrote to Billings during his sophomore year, "I can now get tail as often and as free as I want which is a step in the right direction."
Nevertheless, as an upperclassman, Kennedy finally grew serious about his studies and began to realize his potential. His father had been appointed Ambassador to Great Britain, and on an extended visit in 1939, Kennedy decided to research and write a senior thesis on why Britain was so unprepared to fight Germany in World War II. An incisive analysis of Britain's failures to meet the Nazi challenge, the paper was so well-received that upon Kennedy's graduation in 1940 it was published as book, Why England Slept, selling more than 80,000 copies. Kennedy's father sent him a cablegram in the aftermath of the book's publication: "Two things I always knew about you one that you are smart two that you are a swell guy love dad."
Shortly after graduating from Harvard, Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to command a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. On August 2, 1943 his boat, PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese warship and split in two. Two sailors died and Kennedy badly injured his back. Hauling another wounded sailor by the strap of his life vest, Kennedy led the survivors to a nearby island, where they were rescued six days later. The incident earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for "extremely heroic conduct" and a Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered.
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There's no such thing as royalty in the United States, but if anyone has ever come close to that level, it's the Kennedy family. For 64 years, Washington had at least one Kennedy in public office. Descended from Irish Catholics who fled the potato famine, the family has a strong tradition in the Democratic party, the most prominent member being President John F. Kennedy. In addition to fame and political power, the Kennedy clan has had more than its fair share of tragedy—several members of the family have died in accidents and assassinations, in what's been called the "Kennedy curse."
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