John F. Kennedy, more commonly known as ‘JFK’, served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination on 22 November 1963.
Regarded as a youthful representation of a new generation of Americans, JFK championed the world-leading US space program, navigated the country out of a recession and supported the American Civil Rights movement. He also led America through the Cuban Missile Crisis, ultimately avoiding war, and was respected around the globe for encouraging peace and supporting less economically developed countries.
JFK still consistently ranks as one of the most popular presidents in US history, but his life was not without scandal. Behind closed doors, he suffered from an array of medical conditions and pursued extramarital affairs, while his wider family suffered untold tragedies and controversies throughout the 20th century.
Here are 10 facts about John F. Kennedy.
1. He remains the youngest elected president in US history
JFK still holds the record for being America’s youngest elected president. He was 43 when he was elected, which was 12 years below the median age of an elected American president. He also holds the record of being the youngest president at the end of his tenure, at the age of 46.
2. He was the first Catholic president
When elected, JFK became the first Catholic president. This was seen as a triumph amongst the Catholic community, as there was marked prejudice towards Catholicism in the US at the time.
To achieve this feat, JFK first had to enter the state primaries to prove to sceptical party leaders that he was a viable national candidate. Later in his presidential campaign, JFK established an informal network of advisers on the religious issue, including speechwriter Ted Sorensen, Dean Francis Bowes Sayre Jr. of the National Cathedral and several journalists.
3. He was president during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Upon taking office, JFK was immediately faced with many challenges. One of the darkest moments of his presidency was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, a conflict between the US and the Soviet Union over the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.
Though the crisis placed the world on the brink of nuclear war, a US-Soviet agreement was eventually reached and Cuba was disarmed. As such, JFK is generally regarded as having handled the situation well, ultimately preventing a war from breaking out between the two countries.
4. His marital life was marred by controversy
JFK famously had several affairs during his marriage to Jackie Kennedy. Despite JFK’s infidelity, he and Jackie remained married for 10 years, until he died. His most famous affair was alleged to have been with movie star Marilyn Monroe. He is also believed to have engaged in affairs with the actresses Gene Tierney and Anita Ekberg.
5. Jackie was slow to accept JFK’s marriage proposal
Jackie was a successful editor. She took some time to accept JFK’s proposal because she had been assigned to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London for The Washington Times-Herald. After taking some time to consider, she accepted. JFK and Jackie married on 12 September 1953 in Newport, Rhode Island.
6. He served in the Navy during World War Two
JFK served in the Navy during World War Two and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for efforts during his military service. He was awarded the latter for helping to rescue his crew after their vessel, PT-109, was destroyed near the Solomon Islands.
JFK was honourably discharged from active duty on 1 October 1944.
7. He came from a large family
JFK was the second of 9 children born to Joseph Patrick ‘Joe’ Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald. His older brother, Joe Jr., died during World War Two when JFK was just 29. He also had two sisters: Margaret, who became a nun, and Eunice, who founded Special Olympics, a sports organisation for people with disabilities.
JFK grew up in a number of homes across the United States. His father pushed JFK and his younger brother Robert into politics despite their initial lack of interest.
8. He was an award-winning author
JFK wrote two books about World War Two. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the category of Biography or Autobiography for his book Profiles in Courage (1956), a volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by 8 United States Senators. He wrote the book while recovering from a difficult surgical operation on his back.
9. He suffered from various medical problems
Although closely guarded during his presidency, it is now known that JFK suffered from a plethora of medical issues. As a child, he spent a significant amount of time in hospital with ulcers, colitis and various other medical problems.
He also endured crippling lower back pain throughout his life (for which he had 4 unsuccessful surgeries) and was also afflicted with Addison’s disease, a life-threatening condition which required a plethora of treatments to manage.
10. He was assassinated on 22 November 1963
Traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas, JFK was shot once in the back, with the bullet exiting via his throat, and once in the head. Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee at a warehouse, is officially reported to have shot him, but was himself shot and killed before he could be tried.
JFK’s last words were addressed to Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas. She remarked, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” Kennedy replied, “no, you certainly can’t.”