The world recognizes him as the charismatic young American president struck down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet, but the early chapters of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s life are often overlooked. In particular, the courage — what Hemingway famously characterized as “grace under pressure” — that kennedy exhibited more than once while serving in World War II is especially worth remembering. Considering the perils he faced during his naval service in the Pacific, in many ways JFK was lucky to have lived as long as he did. Above: JFK on board the torpedo boat he commanded in the Pacific in 1943.
Brothers in Arms
Both John and his older brother Joseph (right) joined the Navy — John had back problems and needed to use family connections and appeal to the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence in order to enlist — but otherwise their experiences could hardly be more dissimilar. John eventually served on an 80-foot, 56-ton torpedo boat in the Pacific, while Joseph became an aviator based in Britain. Above: The two brothers in their naval uniforms, circa 1942.
The Kennedy Curse
As John was hailed as a hero, his older brother continued to risk death. Even though Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. completed his designated number of B-24 missions, he declined leave and instead volunteered for more missions involving aircrafts laden with explosives, from which the pilot would parachute before detonation. A premature explosion killed him and his co-pilot. He posthumously received the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. The death had implications beyond being a family tragedy, as his brother John suddenly replaced him as the focus of their father’s political ambitions. John and their younger brother Robert would also die violent deaths, while sister Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish would perish in a plane crash. Above: A photo taken not long before Joseph’s death at 29 on August 12, 1944.