Fifty years later we remember the tragic assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. For reasons in addition to what he did in office, Americans remember Kennedy’s legacy as one that challenged America, helping shape what our nation has become today. Personally, Kennedy has always been my favourite President in the United States’ history, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
But what you may not know is some background on Kennedy and his achievements prior to his presidency. Kennedy grew up in a wealthy family, attending prestigious private schools and graduating cum lade from Harvard. He served in World War II as a lieutenant in the Navy, receiving the Purple Heart award and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in saving his crewmen aboard the PT-109 (the boat which he was commander of) when they were attacked by a Japanese destroyer. He also wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book titled Profiles in Courage, which told accounts of bravery and integrity of eight US Senators.
Kennedy defeated Nixon in the 1960 election, in which he won by selling his youthful and encouraging idea of the “New Frontier.” As quoted in Forbes magazine, Kennedy was an “eloquent speaker who consistently challenged the nation to do better.” With an approval rating of 70.1%, Kennedy was admired by citizens of the world for what he stood for, and how he related the message across to Americans. Besides his extreme optimism and encouraging speeches, challenging America to reach it’s full potential, below are just some of his achievements while in office:
- Increased minimum wage
- Post-war optimism
- Created the Peace Corps
- Aided Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement
- Diverted the USSR nuclear missile plan under Khrushchev by quarantining Cuba
- Signed onto the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty alongside Britain and the USSR
- Sent the first American, Alan Shepard, Jr., to Space
Looking back today, in my opinion, I think that as Americans, we owe it in respect to the former President to look back on his accomplishments and contributions to our nation, and embrace their true value. After reading articles on end about his time as President, and going through the pictures from the day of his assassination, I can’t help but get goosebumps from it all.
If you want to look at some more images, flip through this CNN article. It’s truly chilling to see the response and transparent interaction between the President and First Lady with the common Americans. I can’t even begin to think about the state of America when news broke of the President’s assassination. It pulls me into a trance. Imagine the shock, heartbreak, and aching morale of the American people during that time. Imagine the doctors who had to tell First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy the tragic news of her husband’s death. He was more than a President. He was a hero to people just like him. He was a powerful speaker. He had a vision of an America striving for peace, coexistence, and prosperity. I encourage you to read more about the President and reflect on his lifetime.
I can’t even begin to imagine Washington D.C. on the day of his funeral. Heartache across the nation, as time didn’t stop and Johnson was sworn into Presidency immediately following Kennedy’s death. The picture above is the funeral procession at Arlington Cemetery. I was fortunate enough to visit President Kennedy’s grave when I visited D.C. with my school in the eight grade.
And the last picture I’m going to leave you with is the legacy Kennedy left behind. He wasn’t just the President of the United States. He was a friend, a role model, and lastly, a father to his two children. He was a common man with an independent vision and made his short lifetime worth it’s while, creating a lasting legacy in the history of the United States, forever.
Header image courtesy of Time.