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John F Kennedy

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Born in 1917, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the second son of a millionaire Democrat power-broker, Joseph P Kennedy.

Jack graduated from Harvard in 1940 and saw service with the Marines during WWII, winning the Navy and Marine Corps medal and the Purple Heart when he was wounded when his boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer.

In 1947 Kennedy entered the house of representatives as a Democrat, and in 1952 was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts, defeating Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr, one of Eisenhower‘s leading supporters.

In 1953 he married socialite Jacqueline Lee Bouvier.

His father’s wealth helped secure his election as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1960, and at 43 years of age, he defeated Richard Nixon in the presidential election and became the youngest (and first-ever Roman Catholic) US president.


On 20 January 1961, in a biting wind on a snow-covered Capitol Hill, power passed from the oldest-ever US President to the youngest as Kennedy took the oath as 35th President on the family Douai Bible. General Eisenhower, aged 70, now a plain citizen, was the first to rise and shake his hand.

Kennedy’s ten-minute inaugural address set a high literary tone. He said “now the trumpet summons us again . . . against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself”.

He also appealed to the Soviets that both sides renew their quest for peace, warning “Let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain master of its own house”.

In conclusion, the young president announced; “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

Handsome and intelligent, he and his wife Jackie seemed to signal a fresh start in politics, but his “new frontier” program of radical Civil Rights and social reform was stalled by Congress.

Other initiatives included the establishment of the Alliance for Progress between the US and several Latin American countries, and of the Peace Corps, through which volunteers supplied Third World counties with skilled labour.

In 1961, JFK authorised the US-backed Bay Of Pigs invasion of Cuba, planned during the previous administration, accepting responsibility when it went disastrously wrong.

The following year, the Cuban missile crisis saw Kennedy demand the removal of Soviet nuclear bases from Cuba and order a US Naval blockade.

For 13 days the world seemed close to nuclear war until the Soviet Union agreed to remove the weapons in return for a US assurance that Cuban territorial integrity would be respected.

Relations between the two superpowers improved, and in 1963 the US, the Soviet Union and Britain signed a limited nuclear test ban treaty prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and underwater.

On 22 November 1963, while on a campaigning tour of Texas, Kennedy was shot while being driven in an open car in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. He died shortly afterwards.

“When the president was assassinated,” said Don Hewitt, executive producer of America’s 60 Minutes, who spent his life in TV news, “people did not go to church or meetings. They came to their televisions, and everybody who was watching was, in a sense, holding hands”.

Kennedy’s death caused worldwide grief and his funeral was attended by heads of state and their representatives from all over the world. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His “New Frontier” program was executed posthumously by President Lyndon B Johnson.

The gunman was identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, a former marine who had served in the American forces and then lived in the USSR for some time until he was refused Soviet citizenship.

On 24 November, Jack Ruby (a Dallas nightclub owner associated with both the underworld and the police) killed Oswald, live on television while millions of viewers watched.

In the 30 years following JFK’s assassination, more than 2,000 books were published about his death and a number of conspiracy theories put forward, mostly involving the KGB, FBI, or CIA.

The case was investigated by a special commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The commission determined that Oswald acted alone, although a later congressional committee re-examined the evidence and determined that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”.

The US government was ordered in August 1999, to pay $16 million to the family of Abraham Zapruder for his colour film of President Kennedy’s assassination. Zapruder – who died in 1970 – shot the film which became major evidence in the investigation of the assassination.

The US government will now own the historical film, which can be used for research purposes.

In January 2000 the heirs of Zapruder donated the rights to the film, and a copy of the film, to the Sixth Floor Museum on the site of the assassination in Dallas, Texas.