It is fifty years to the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, but his life – and death – continue to fascinate. He was certainly one of America’s most charismatic Presidents. But how much do you know about him?
1. He was a sickly child, often bed-ridden
He was hospitalized more than thirty times in his life. He had suffered from colitis since his late teens as well as a duodenal ulcer, Addison’s disease, frequent UTI’s, and hyperthyroidism. His medical records were largely kept hidden from the American public.
2. He flirted with death all his life
The first occasion was on the ocean liner ‘Queen Mary’ in 1947 after becoming gravely ill in England; in 1951 while stricken with a high fever in Japan; and in 1954 after a urinary tract infection following spinal surgery.
The last time, of course, was on November 22 1963, in Dallas.
3. He was no coward
He could have avoided combat legitimately but chose not to. At the start of World War Two he tried to enlist but the Army disqualified him on medical grounds because of his intestinal and back problems. He used his father’s considerable connections to get accepted.
4. He was a genuine war hero.
When the PT-109 that he was commanding was sunk by a Japanese destroyer, he towed a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth. He later received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for extreme heroism.
5. He carved a rescue message on a coconut
After the sinking he and his crew were stranded on an island. He carved a message onto the husk of a coconut shell and gave it to two natives to deliver to the PT base at Rendova so he and his men could be rescued. He later had it encased in wood and plastic and used it as a paperweight in the Oval Office. It is now in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
6. He was not supposed to go into politics
His older brother Joe Junior was supposed to carry the family’s standard into the political arena but he was killed while serving the USAF during World War Two.
7. He won a Pulitzer Prize.
It was awarded in 1957 for his second book “Profiles in Courage,” although there is considerable debate about how much was written by his aide Theodore Sorensen.
8. He was beyond rich.
In fact, Kennedy was the richest man ever to take the oath of office and gave his entire $100,000-a-year White House salary to charity.
9. He is still the only President to ever receive a Purple Heart.
10. He was the first President to dance with a black woman at an inaugural ball.
11. He also bugged the White House.
Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the Oval office before Nixon did.
It recorded many historical discussions between JFK and his staff, including conversations during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
12. He bought 1,200 high-grade Cuban cigars the day before he ordered a ban on Cuban imports.
13. He wanted to share the moon with the Russians.
In September 1963, alarmed at the cost of NASA’s space program, he proposed partnering the Soviet Union on a joint expedition to the moon.
14. He thought Vietnam was an unwinnable war.
He escalated the Vietnam conflict even though he thought America could not win. In April,1963 he said, supposedly off the record: “We don’t have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our butts out of there.” But he went ahead anyway, rather than risk electoral backlash.
15. He shared a mistress with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.
Sleeping with Monroe upset his wife. Sleeping with Exner severely compromised his government.
16. He smoked marijuana with mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer in the White House.
17. His back condition was so severe he was forced to wear a back brace.
On November 22, it kept him erect after the first bullet went through his neck so that he was unable to fall forwards. This would have prevented a second and fatal bullet from hitting him in the head.
18. He was the target of four assassination attempts prior to Dallas.
Just a month after he was elected President a retired postal worker named Richard Pavlick followed the president-elect from Hyannis Port to Palm Beach. His car was loaded with dynamite and he intended to ram the president’s vehicle and blow it up. He was foiled by a routine traffic stop.
Two more assassination plots were uncovered, one in Chicago on the 2nd November 1963 and another in Tampa four days before Dallas.
19. The first physician to see Kennedy at Parkland had delivered Lee Harvey Oswald’s baby one month before.
20. The police captain who led the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald had been with the Dallas Police Department for so long he had been part of the team that hunted down Bonnie and Clyde.
21. Some of the men in his cortege had just been in a fight.
Jackie Kennedy asked the Scottish Black Watch pipers to march in front of his funeral cortege. Some had cuts and bruises from a bar brawl in Kentucky where they had defended Jack’s name and reputation on the night of the assassination.
22. Kennedy was the only U.S. president whose grandmother lived longer than he did.
Having read through the list perhaps you came to the same conclusion that I did; beyond the gloss lay a man full of contradictions.
He may have been a legend. He was also very human …