John F. Kennedy was an interesting president. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, commonly known as JFK, was born on this day in history, May 29th in 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was elected president and ultimately was assassinated while in office on November 22, 1963. He spent the majority of his life as a public figure, as his family was constantly in the spotlight. After his tragic death, JFK was remembered fondly by American citizens. There is a vast number of books and publications about him, but there are a few little-known facts about him that stand out. Here are 10 interesting facts about the 35th president.
John F. Kennedy suffered with health issues for the majority of his life. Even from a young age, JFK battled varying health problems that proved to be quite extreme and life-threatening. His issues with his health resulted in him receiving last rites a total of four times: “first in 1947, when he became sick while traveling in England and was diagnosed with Addison’s disease; a second time in 1951, when he was suffering from an extremely high fever while in Japan; the third time in 1954, when he slipped into a coma following back surgery; and a final time on the day of his assassination, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas” (Wood).
Kennedy wrote his first book, “Why England Slept,” at age the age of only 22. “In 1945, he worked briefly as a newspaper correspondent for William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers covering the United Nations conference in San Francisco and the aftermath of World War II in Europe. In 1957, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in biography for “Profiles in Courage,” although there has since been controversy as to how much of the book was ghostwritten by his aide Theodore Sorensen” (Klein).
Kennedy’s choice of running mate came down to the wire. According to PBS, “At around 11 a.m. on the day a nominee was to be presented, John Kennedy visited Johnson in his hotel suite and offered him the job” (Wood). Supposedly, Kennedy was only extending the job to Johnson as a courtesy, and he felt trapped when Johnson did indeed accept the role. However, Kennedy soon came around to the idea of LBJ as his running mate and their relationship was resolved.
Kennedy’s family was very rich, as his father was heavily involved in Wall Street. When JFK entered into Congress, he was given a substantial salary, which he ended up donating to various charities. Kennedy kept up with the donations through his presidency, after becoming the richest man to ever become president (Klein). Kennedy’s net worth, in today’s dollar conversion, was close to $1 billion. That title was later awarded to Donald Trump when he took office in 2017, with a net worth of about $3.5 billion.
Kennedy was awarded the Purple Heart for his service in the Pacific during World War II. While other presidential candidates were recipients of the award, Kennedy was the only president to have claimed the honor.
In 1955, Kennedy was given a copy of Ian Fleming’s James Bond book Casino Royale. He was immediately taken with the story and character. In 1962, Kennedy even hosted a private screening of the newly released movie Dr. No at the White House. When asked to name his top ten favorite books, he placed From Russia With Love on the list, which gave Ian Fleming a tremendous bump to his career.
From Russia, With Love by Ian Fleming, First Edition, 1957
In 1962, Kennedy had Secret Service agent Robert Bouck install secret recording devices in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room of the White House. Though it was never explained why he did so, Kennedy recorded his own conversations in the White House with officials and visiting dignitaries. He recorded over 260 hours of conversations. It was the belief of Kennedy’s secretary that he did so to record his time at the White House after he left (Wood).
Kennedy owned a stunning black alligator Hermès briefcase, which he carried with him everywhere. Kennedy had the briefcase with him even on the morning of his assassination. “In 1998, the briefcase was among the president’s personal possessions that were being included in a highly anticipated auction of his personal memorabilia. The item became one of a number of items that Kennedy’s children fought to have taken off the auction block, but they eventually relented. The briefcase sold for more than $700,000” (Wood).
In the months before the United States entered World War II, Kennedy attempted to enlist in the military. However, his extreme health issues including intestinal and back problems caused him to fail the physical exams for both the Army and the Navy. However, using his father’s connections, Kennedy was admitted to the Navy in October 1941 despite his failure of the physical tests. “As a commanding officer of PT-109, he became a wartime hero after helping his crewmates survive the gunboat’s 1943 sinking” (Klein).
Following his untimely and tragic death, it was reported that Kennedy’s last words were “My God, I’ve been hit.” However, his last words were instead exclaimed just before his shot in response to Nellie Connally, the wife of Governor John Connally. Nellie remarked that “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.” He answered to the comment with his final words: “No, you certainly can’t” (Wood).
Wood, Jennifer M., 25 Fascinating Facts About John F. Kennedy. MF, Nov. 22, 2018.