Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Biography

Pilot (1915–1944)
The eldest child in the storied Kennedy family, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.'s destined path to the U.S. presidency was cut short when he was killed in WWII.


Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was born to Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy in 1915 in Massachusetts. As part of the affluent Kennedy family, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. attended Harvard University before joining the U.S. Navy during World War II. While serving in the armed forces, he became one of the most experienced fighter pilots in the navy. Unfortunately his time in the navy brought about Kennedy, Jr.'s demise, as explosives that were carried in his plane denotaned early, killing the pilot on August 12, 1944.

Early Life

Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. was born on July 25, 1915, in a Hull, Massachusetts, in a house his parents had rented for the summer. He was the firstborn child of Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy. His father amassed a large fortune through industries such as real estate and film production. Starting his professional career as a banker, he also made large sums in a then-unregulated stock market.

Joseph Jr. graduated from Choate (now known as Choate Rosemary Hall), a boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1933. After Choate, he headed to the London School of Economics briefly before entering Harvard University. He graduated cum laude in 1934 and began studying at Harvard Law. With World War II underway, Kennedy left law school and joined the U.S. Navy in June 1941 and was awarded his aviator wings a year later.

World War II

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. began flying Caribbean patrols soon after, until he was sent overseas to England in September 1943 to join a B-24 squadron. Within the British Naval Command, he would be among the first pilots to fly B-24s, which were large bombers. As the war went on, Kennedy became one of the most experienced combat fighters in the ranks of the navy, and the sheer amount of missions he had flown gave him the chance to return to the United States.

Kennedy refused to go back, instead persuading his crew to stay on and fly more bombing missions. June and July of 1944 found Kennedy continually in the air, running bombing strikes against the Axis forces, and as August approached he was given the opportunity to head home once again. This time, he decided to stay but told his crew to head back to the States. This would prove to be a fateful decision for the young aviator.

Operation Aphrodite

Kennedy opted to remain in Europe so that he could volunteer for a dangerous, top-secret bombing mission, called Operation Aphrodite, over Normandy, France. On the night of August 12, 1944, he and his crew flew a drone loaded with 21,170 pounds of explosives into the skies over a German V-2 rocket-launching site. At some point, Kennedy and the crew would bail out once two "mother" planes had taken control of the drone via remote control. They would then fly the drone into the German launch site and Kennedy would parachute to safety.

However, the explosives in the Kennedy-piloted drone detonated prematurely in flight, and the aircraft exploded, killing all aboard instantly.

After his death, Kennedy was awarded the Air Medal and Navy Cross for heroism. In December 1945, the navy commissioned a destroyer and named it the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. A year later, Kennedy's younger brother Robert briefly served aboard the ship.

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