The Prince of Camelot

As the Cold War peaked in the 1960s, the charismatic president John F Kennedy led America amidst escalating tensions in Vietnam and Cuba. His presidency was cut short when he was assassinated, yet he ranks highly among all presidents.

Published Categorized as Biography
Official portrait of John F Kennedy. He is smiling.
John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Oval Office. Cecil Stoughton, White House, 11 July 1963

A John F Kennedy biography

John F Kennedy (1917-1963) – American President

The word Camelot evokes a feeling of hope. A feeling of society in harmony. Camelot, of course, is the fictional village that King Arthur resided in. When King Arthur met with his knights at the round table, it symbolized a time of happiness. Idyllic happiness.

Just days after the assignation of JFK, his widow Jackie invited a reporter from Time magazine to her home for an interview. Jackie quoted from her JFK’s favorite musical, Camelot,

Don’t let it be forgotten, that for one brief, shining moment, there was Camelot.

Jackie wanted the world to remember her husband’s presidency with pride. She wanted people to remember that feeling of hope they had during her husband’s 1000 days in office.

The truth is, JFK was not King Arthur, a mythical hero. He was a human with many flaws. Even with those flaws, JFK managed to earn the title of one of the greatest presidents of all time.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917. He was the second-born son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy. He was affectionately called “Jack” by his friends and family. He was one of eight children. Joseph Kennedy Jr, Joe, was Jack’s older brother. Jack would spend his life living in his brother’s shadow. No matter how great Jack did anything, Joe always did it better. Jack’s younger siblings were Rosemary, Kathleen, Jean, Eunice, Pat, Bobby, and Ted.

Jack was very sick since birth. When he was three, he was diagnosed with scarlet fever, a highly contagious illness. Jack was sent to recover with nurses because his parents were busy. Rose was preoccupied with taking care of her children. If she wasn’t pregnant, she was caring for her daughter Rosemary.

Rosemary was born deranged. She required all of Rose’s attention, and Jack was neglected a lot because of this. Joseph Sr was preoccupied with his numerous affairs. He was a notorious womanizer. He once had a high-profile relationship with Hollywood starlet Gloria Swanson. Since he lacked discreteness, Rose knew all about Gloria Swanson. She held on tight to her faith. She refused to divorce Joseph because she believed in the Catholic religion.

Joseph Kennedy, the father, was known to be domineering. When Rosemary was a teenager, Joseph took her for a lobotomy because of her violent mood swings. He never consulted Rose, his wife, and Rosemary’s mother, about the operation. After the procedure, Rosemary went to live in a Catholic home in Wisconsin.

Jack’s constant sickness had him out of school most of the time. He wasn’t very studious and was known as the class clown. While he recovered in his bed, he enjoyed reading. He was very intellectual. Jack would eventually join his brother Joe at Choate school and their rivalry would be reignited.

Joe was a great football player and won many Harvard prizes. After graduating from Choate, Jack traveled the world with friends before returning in the fall of 1935 to go to Harvard. To make up for his lack of athletic ability, Jack made up for it with his sexual prowess. He was a lady’s man while in school, and he was known to sneak women into the restricted dorms.

A young John F Kennedy
John F. Kennedy in his Dexter School (Massachusetts) football uniform, ca. 1926

He left Harvard early and moved to London to attend the London School of Economics. After getting sick, Jack moved back stateside to go to Princeton but he quickly realized he didn’t like the atmosphere. He then went back to Harvard. Jack’s “Why England Slept” – England’s reaction to WWII, was published. It was poorly written but well researched.

The draft lottery was reinstated during WWII and, unfortunately, Jack’s birthday was called. His poor health kept him from the military, and he failed the army physical. Thanks to Joseph Kennedy, the exam was rigged, and Jack was able to join the Naval services.

While in the services Jack was dating a beautiful Danish immigrant named Inga Arva. Rumors were running rampant in Washington that Inga was a Russian spy and there was no way the son of Joseph Kennedy was going to be conspiring with a presumed spy. Jack’s father quickly had him transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, far away from Inga.  

Jack got over the loss of his love fast because the PT (patrol torpedo) duty had ­­­­recruited him. PT duty was a prime job for the ivy league educated Naval sailors because of their experience with sailboats and yachts. On August 2, 1943, while out in the Pacific Ocean, JFK’s PT boat was floating when a Japanese torpedo split it in two causing an explosion. Eleven of the thirteen men on board that night survived. Kennedy was scared upon his return. He thought he was going to get in trouble for destroying a boat. Instead, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome.

POF/PSF/PT109-1 Lt.(jg) John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109 in the South Pacific, 1943. Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109, 1943

Joe Kennedy, JFK’s brother, and long-time rival died in a plane crash in Europe during WWII on August 13, 1944. The explosion was so intense no trace of Joe or his co-pilot were ever recovered. Shortly after this, the family traced another tragedy when Jack’s brother-in-law, Kathleen’s husband was killed. It was during this dreadful time that Joseph Kennedy told his son he needed to pick up where Joe left off, he needed to be the one to pick the political mantle.

In 1945 Jack was in Boston and was looking into running for congress but was afraid he would face Catholic backlash. In 1947 Jack was elected to the Congressional District, having won the race against Lester Bowen at 29 years old. JFK was in favor of social security expansion and an increase in the minimum wage. In an act of foreshadowing, JFK’s first assignment would have him butting heads with Richard Nixon. Even though the two were on different sides of the political coin, the two still had a respectful relationship.

Although he would later deny it, it was during this time that Jack was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, an illness in which your body doesn’t produce enough of a certain hormone. He was led to believe he would die in his forties due to this disease. In another tragic event, Kathleen, Jack’s sister died in a plane crash in May of 1948.

Jack had pale skin. It was a side effect of his Addison’s Disease. Thus, he spent most of his time in his family’s Palm Harbor, Florida, home to work on his tan to cover up his illness. He was re-elected twice and, in 1952, he ran for senate. His father controlled his entire campaign.

Jack knew if he was going to run for president, he would have to find himself a wife soon. Luckily through family friends, he met Jaqueline Bouvier. Jackie had a rough start with the Kennedy clan. Even though she had a good relationship with her overbearing father-in-law, she struggled to bond with her sisters-in-law.

John F Kennedy with his wife and daughter relaxing in the garden
John F. Kennedy, wife Jacqueline and daughter Caroline.

On September 12, 1953, Jack and Jackie got married but that didn’t stop Jack from having many girlfriends. In 1956 he narrowly lost the nomination for vice president. After Jackie suffered a miscarriage, she gave birth to a daughter in 1959. They named her Caroline.

On January 2, 1960, JFK announced his candidacy for the presidency. He asked fellow Democratic nominee Lyndon B. Johnson to be his vice president. Jackie was pregnant with their son, John, during this time and, when she finally gave birth, just three weeks after election day, the baby was a month premature.

Jack’s friendly relationship with Richard Nixon deteriorated during the election. Their debates were the first ones to be aired on live television. Nixon lost to JFK in a very close race. 49.7 percent of the popular vote went to JFK, while 49.6 went to Richard Nixon. On January 26, 1961, it was out with the old and in the with new.

Oath taking ceremony of President John F Kennedy.
Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961

During the election, Jack took a hard stance on foreign relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was beating the United States in the space race. When JFK entered office, he was briefed on a plan to train 1500 Cuban refugees as a military. The plan was to send them into Cuba and plan for an uprising. The issue was Castro’s regime had started to spread its influence and their chance of an uprising was low. Still, in what is known in history as The Bay of Pigs, Cuban paramilitary troops were sent into combat, but American troops were not allowed to go in for assistance. This ended with 114 men from the refugee army being killed and 1189 were taken.

Just after this East Germany began to build a wall to try and force West Germany into following their Communist ways. Things were not looking good for the Kennedy administration. To top things off, Jack’s father had a stroke, and he became bed bound.

In 1962 a young black man named Meredith Martin tried to enter a university and a racial conflict ensued resulting in the death of a reporter and civilian. Jack sent the army in for assistance, but they were too slow to get there.

Maybe the most memorable part of JFK’s presidency, after his assassination, was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fight against communism was a theme for this presidency. Cuba wasn’t through with the JFK administration yet. In 1962, The Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba, to match the missiles the United States had in Turkey. Nikita Khrushchev, secretary of the Soviet Union, placed the missiles in Cuba after the Cuban leader Fidel Castro asked them to defer America from invading again. After thirteen days of standing off and testing each other, the two countries agreed to move the missiles.

John F. Kennedy was facing problems on the home front as well. Racial tensions were high in the early 1960s. Riots were breaking out all over the country, especially in the south. Sit-ins were happening at diners in the south that were becoming very violent, like the riots in Birmingham, Alabama. The president would meet with southern business owners and would try to negotiate with them to allow people of all races into their establishments but to no avail. After a school prohibited two black students from entering, John F. Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1963.

The 20000 people march on Washington in August of 1963 ended with Martin Luther King Jr having lunch with JFK.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy traveled to Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Jackie Kennedy. The president was in Dallas that day to begin his journey of reelection. He also wanted to raise funds for the Democratic party. The Governor of Texas John Connally and his wife Nellie Connally rode with the president and first lady in the convertible presidential limousine in the presidential cavalcade.

Also in the presidential limousine are Jackie Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie.
Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination.

The last words the president ever heard were those of Nellie Connally as she turned to him and said, “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!” The president smiled and said, “No, you certainly can’t.” Within seconds of the president’s response, three loud gunshots rang in the air. The shots hit the president and the governor. The president’s shot was fatal. His blood and brain matter covered the first lady’s pink dress suit.

Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot JFK, was a former marine and an angry man who idolized Fidel Castro. Castro once referred to Kennedy as a “cretin” and Oswald’s hate grew from there. He set himself up in Texas School Book Depository on the day of the assassination. While he was up there, he took his shot at the president. He was arrested later. A man named Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald while he was in custody. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in with the first lady by his side, the president’s blood still on her pink jacket. She said her first reaction was to pick up her husband’s skull from the back of the car. 2.5 million people watched the funeral of the 35th president of the United States.

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