John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States, serving from 1961 to 1963. Born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kennedy was the second of nine children of Rose andJoseph P. Kennedy, Sr. The Kennedy family had long been active in local and national politics: his maternal grandfather was a mayor of Boston, and his father was an ambassador to Great Britain.
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.
Raised in a staunch Catholic family, Kennedy was educated in both public and private prep schools. At age 10, his family moved to the New York City area. Kennedy's youth -- and much of his adult life -- was marked by health problems, including scarlet fever, an appendectomy, and colitis. Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College in the fall of 1936; while playing football for the college team he ruptured a disk in his back, an injury that affected him the rest of his life.
Kennedy's senior thesis at Harvard detailed Great Britain's lack of preparedness for war with Germany; it was later published as Why England Slept. He graduated in 1940 and joined the U.S. Navy the following year. As a lieutenant during World War II, he was placed in command of a patrol torpedo boat, PT-109. In 1943, while participating in a patrol near the Solomon Islands, PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was able to save most of his crew and several sailors from a nearby boat. For his efforts, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, as well as the Purple Heart.
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.