Monday, May 29, 2017

JFK's 100th: Sinner, Saint, Stormbraver


     Today marks the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. Born in 1917 in the middle of WWI, John or Jack as he was known by his family and friends would became a naval war hero in WWII and it seemed like Jack would always be made for war. He was the second oldest of nine children and born into a prominently wealthy family from Brookline, Massachusetts. His father, Joseph Kennedy, was the son of Irish immigrants and was intensely ambitious to make the name Kennedy respectful and legendary. Jack's mother, Rose Fitzgerald, was a devout Catholic who loved her children dearly, but silently suffered from her husbands public marital indiscretions. A lifestyle that Jack himself would inhabit for the rest of his life.  
     
A young...and very handsome Jack Kennedy
     Jack graduated from Harvard in 1940 and a year later he would enlist in the Navy. During his service, In 1943 Jack's ship crashed in the pacific and they were missing in action for almost a week. They were eventually recovered and Jack was honored with the Purple Heart for his service (there was severe damage done to his back). Jack's older brother, Joe Jr., an Air Force pilot, however did not survive the war and was killed in 1944. For years, Joe Jr. had been tapped and trained by his father to become the political prince, but now Jack would take that position...whether he wanted it or not. 

     The young Kennedy served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953; he primarily worked in education and military veterans affairs as well immigrant registration. On September 12, 1953 (shortly after becoming senator of Massachusetts) he married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, a wealthy socialite from New York. They had two children, Caroline (1957) and John Jr. (1960). They also had a miscarried daughter, Arabella, and son, Patrick Bouvier who did several days after birth in 1963.

Jack and Jackie
Jack and Caroline
Jack and John Jr.
     Jack and Jackie's marriage was far from perfect and idyllic. Jack's affairs with numerous woman caused a great deal of stress. Jackie's reserved nature (that could border on coldness) and inability to connect with the lively Kennedys was also a source of contention. However they adored their children, who were their saving grace when they entered the White House in 1960. Jackie was fiercely private, but grew into her role as First Lady with her elegant style and grace as well as her restoration of the White House, allowing the American people to see the President's home for the first time.

    The new president was busy during his time in office. A few months after being sworn into the presidency JFK was hit with the Bay of Pigs crisis, which turned out to be a disaster and several American soldiers were killed. Yet, Jack persevered and fought hard and long on Civil Rights, relations with Israel, Communism and eventually his crowning glory in the Cuban Missile Crisis where he narrowly averted a possible WWIII.

The president in his famous rocking chair which
helped with his intense Addison's Disease.
     Overtime, the handsome and hardworking president and his young, lovely family endeared themselves to the American people, especially among the youth of America. Suddenly politics wasn't stuffy and boring and with Kennedy's creation of the Peace Corps, young adults were able to employ their own talents and gifts to benefit America and the rest of the world.

     Jack and his younger brother, Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, the Attorney General, work tirelessly in the Oval Office, but they were oftentimes met with hostility by the President's cabinet. Yet, the two of them were an indomitable force of nature and much of Jack's success was due to Bobby Kennedy's integrity and fierceness of character.

A sweet moment between the President and First Lady.
     Jackie Kennedy once said that her time as First Lady was her happiest time. In spite of their difficulties in their marriage, Jack and Jackie did genuinely love each other. Although Jackie almost left him early on in their marriage, she soon came to believe that she was a great asset to Jack's presidency and loved him for all his faults and flaws. After Patrick's death in the summer of 1963, there was a shift in Jack's values and priorities. He became more attentive to his wife and was open to public affection and attention toward her. 

     However those moments would remain only moments. On November 22, 1963, while campaigning for his second term in office, President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, a deranged American Communist. The whole nation was shocked beyond belief and the world mourned the loss of a man who had so much ahead of him. On November 25, (John Jr's. 3rd birthday), John "Jack" Fitzgerald Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington cemetery.  


     What is the allure of JFK? Why does he still evoke so much respect and dignity for generations that didn't even know him as their president? He was by no means a perfect man or for that matter a perfect President. He was born both sinner and saint, but a stormbraver he became. It was the hard decisions that he made that forged him into a legend. Bay of Pigs almost ruined him, but the Cuban Missile Crisis made him a hero. His fight for Civil Rights made him loved all over the racial board and his dealings with the Soviet Union could have ended the Cold War sooner.

      JFK believed in young people; he believed that everyone had potential to better themselves if they were working at bettering their world. In his inaugural speech he urged people to to devote themselves to their country, to do the hard things that others wouldn't. Even if JFK was America's Commander In Chief for only a 1,000 days, there were days filled with hope that conquered fear and words that spoke to humanity's heart.

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