Broadcast: November 16, 2003
Welcome to People in America from VOA Special English. Today, Steve Ember and Sarah Long tell the story of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
On November twenty-second, Nineteen-Sixty-Three, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. He was riding in an open car through the streets of Dallas, Texas.
His death ended the time in American politics that has been known ever since as ”Camelot.” Jacqueline Kennedy named the years of her husband’s presidency after the imaginary time of peace and good will in ancient Britain. She said her husband liked the song from the musical play called “Camelot”:
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in the northeastern city of Brookline, Massachusetts on May twenty-ninth, Nineteen-Seventeen. He was the second son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. John had eight brothers and sisters. The family moved often to bigger houses as Joseph Kennedy became richer.
John Kennedy graduated from Harvard University in Nineteen-Forty. His final paper became the best selling book, “Why England Slept.” He joined the United States Navy during World War Two and was commander of a small attack boat in the South Pacific Ocean. A Japanese ship destroyed the boat. Two of the men were killed. The others swam to a nearby island, where John Kennedy spent the next four days searching for help. The crew was rescued. Later, Kennedy was honored for saving the life of one of his crewmen.
The Kennedy family always explained John’s poor health at times on the back injury he suffered during the war. But that was not the whole truth. John Kennedy had been a very sick child. He almost died more than once of fevers and other mysterious sicknesses.
In Nineteen-Forty-Seven, he found out that he had Addison’s disease, a condition affecting the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands of a healthy person produce hormones that help fight infection and provide extra strength when necessary. Addison’s Disease damages the adrenal glands, causing weight loss, tiredness, stomach problems and yellow skin. If the condition is not treated, the body has no resistance to infection, and death can result. After the disease was discovered, John Kennedy was treated with a medicine that he continued to take the rest of his life. No one outside the family and closest friends knew about his medical secret.
John Kennedy survived World War Two and returned home to Massachusetts. His older brother did not. Joseph Kennedy Junior was killed in the war. The Kennedy family had always believed Joe Junior would someday become President of the United States. After his death, that goal fell to his younger brother. In Nineteen-Forty-Six, John Kennedy was elected to the United States House of Representatives, and served until Nineteen-Fifty-Two. Then he was elected senator from Massachusetts. He served in the Senate until Nineteen-Sixty when he was elected President.
John Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in Nineteen-Fifty-Three. Not long after their marriage, Senator Kennedy had two operations on his spine to correct back problems suffered during the war. While recovering, he wrote about a series of acts of political courage by eight United States senators. The reports became the book “Profiles in Courage.” It received the Pulitzer Prize in Nineteen-Fifty-Seven.
The Kennedys had two children. Caroline Bouvier was born in Nineteen-Fifty-Seven. John Fitzgerald Kennedy Junior was born in November, Nineteen-Sixty, after his father was elected President, but before he was sworn in to office.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy became America’s thirty-fifth President on January twentieth, Nineteen-Sixty-One. It was an important day for millions of Americans, who saw John Kennedy as a new beginning for the country.
Not everyone liked the new President, however. He had won the election over the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, by fewer than one-hundred-twenty-thousand popular votes. Many people thought he was too young to be President. He was the youngest man ever elected, only forty-three. Many people opposed him because he belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. A majority of Christians in America were Protestant. The United States had never had a Roman Catholic president.
President Kennedy’s speech the day he was sworn in is considered among the best speeches in American history. He spoke about a light of leadership being passed from older Americans to younger ones. He urged the young to take the light and accept responsibility for the future. And he urged other countries to work with the United States to create a better world:
(SOUND: KENNEDY INAUGURAL SPEECH)
“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
A few weeks after he took office, President Kennedy announced the creation of the Peace Corps. It has sent thousands of Americans to developing countries to provide help. He also announced a program called the Alliance for Progress to provide economic aid to Latin American nations.
The worst failure of Kennedy’s administration came early in his presidency. On April seventeenth, Nineteen-Sixty-One, more than one-thousand Cuban exiles landed in western Cuba, in a place called the Bay of Pigs. They had received training and equipment from the United States. They were to lead a revolution to overthrow the communist government of Cuba. The plan failed. Most of the exiles were killed or captured.
It had not been John Kennedy’s idea to start a revolution against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Officials in the former administration had planned it. But Kennedy approved it. The public considered him responsible for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. His popularity rating dropped.
President Kennedy soon regained some public approval when he visited Europe, and met with French leader Charles DeGaulle in Paris. Later, the East Germans, with support from the Soviet Union, built a wall to separate the eastern and western parts of Berlin. President Kennedy quickly announced a large increase in the number of American military forces in Germany. He said the United States would not permit freedom to end in Berlin.
Then in October, Nineteen-Sixty-Two, the United States discovered the Soviets were putting nuclear missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy immediately sent American ships to the area. They were to prevent Soviet ships from taking missile parts and other supplies to Cuba. War seemed likely.
Then the Soviet ships carrying missile parts to Cuba turned back. President Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba if the Soviet Union removed its missiles and stopped building new ones there.
The United States and the Soviet Union did make progress on arms control in Nineteen-Sixty-Three. They reached a major agreement to ban tests of nuclear weapons above ground, under water and in space. The treaty did not ban nuclear tests under ground.
On national issues, President Kennedy began the American space effort to land a man on the moon by the end of the Nineteen-Sixties. He also supported efforts to provide a better life for African-Americans. He proposed a new civil rights law that would guarantee equal treatment for blacks in public places and jobs. It would speed the work of ending racial separation in schools. But Congress delayed action on the bill. It did not approve a civil rights law until after John Kennedy was killed and Lyndon Johnson took office.
President John F. Kennedy was buried on his son’s third birthday, November twenty-fifth, Nineteen-Sixty-Three. Millions of people around the world watched on television. They mourned along with the Kennedy family. Many people loved President Kennedy, his wife and young children. They felt the family represented a new, bright future for the United States and the world. With his death, they felt that hope disappearing.
This program was written by Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by Paul Thompson. Your narrators were Steve Ember and Sarah Long. I’m Faith Lapidus. Listen again next week for People in America from VOA Special English.