13 Interesting Facts About John F. Kennedy You Probably Didn’t Know About
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John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was one of the most famous and respected presidents in the country’s history. His life story, however, had a happy beginning and a sad ending. On November 22, 1963, JFK’s life was cut short after being shot twice; once in the back and once in the head, by a gunman who was later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald.
Prior to his death, President Kennedy was a darling to the media, fellow politicians, and the majority of the American public. In his prime, he was considered more popular than most pop singers and movie stars thanks to his charisma, bravery, and high sense of fashion. Even though so much has been said and documented about his life and death, here are some insightful facts about John F. Kennedy.
1. His family was extremely wealthy
JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., was a wealthy businessman, investor, and politician. By 1935, his wealth was believed to be around $180 million, which translates to approximately $3.36 billion today. His wealth mainly derived from the real estate industry during the Great Depression and several partnerships with Hollywood film studios. (1)
2. JFK donated his entire presidential salary to charity
By virtue of being one of the richest presidents in US history, and the richest by the time he took office, JFK donated his entire presidential salary to charity. At the time, his yearly presidential salary was around $100,000 and he received an additional $50,000 a year for his expenses as president. According to an article published by the United Press International in 1962, he also donated the entirety of the salary he earned in the House and Senate during his 14-year tenure. (2)
3. One of his legs was shorter than the other
During his time as Senator, Kennedy had several health-related complications, and regularly consulted many great physicians. One of them was Dr. Travell, who worked with him in the spring of 1955. According to Travell’s medical analysis of the Senator, she discovered that part of the reason he was experiencing muscle spasms in his left lower back was because one of his legs was shorter than the other. As a result, she made heel lifts for all of his left shoes to relieve the pressure on his back. (3)
4. He had a fender-bender incident with Larry King
Another interesting facts about John F. Kennedy that many people do not know about. In 1958, he got into a car accident with popular American TV and radio host Larry King. Speaking about the incident in 2010, King told Jimmy Kimmel that he was driving to Palm Beach for the first time, alongside three of his friends. Attracted by the beauty of the surroundings, King lost his focus on the road and rammed into a car at a red light. The driver of the car King had rammed into was Senator John F. Kennedy.
Assessing the damages, King reportedly offered Kennedy his insurance information but the Senator refused, and asked King and his friends to raise their hands and swear that they would vote for Kennedy when he announced his bid for the presidency. In the interview with Kimmel, King admitted to voting for Kennedy’s presidential bid months later. (4)
5. He was denied admission to military service due to medical reasons
After graduating from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts in government and international affairs at the age of 23, Kennedy was disqualified from joining the Army Officer Candidate School due problems with his lower back. Determined to serve his country, he took a year off to exercise and strengthen his back, and then returned to join the United States Naval Reserve on September 24, 1941. A month later, he became a member of the Office of Naval Intelligence based in Washington, D.C. (5)
6. He survived death four times before his actual death
It is nearly impossible to outline facts about John F. Kennedy without mentioning his near-death experiences; he had his last rites read to him at least four times prior to his actual death. In the catholic faith, a death rite is a ceremony performed for the dead, or those who are considering to be on the verge of dying. The first incident was on February 20, 1920 when he contracted scarlet fever at the age of two. At the time, this type of fever had a high death rate among children, and Kennedy’s family feared the worst. A priest was summoned to his room and delivered his last rites moment before Kennedy was transferred to Boston City Hospital. He spent six weeks at the hospital and another six weeks in quarantine at a hotel in Poland Spring, Maine. (6)
The second incident happened when he was the Navy officer in charge of the PT-109, a patrol boat based in the South Pacific during World War II. According to JFK Library, the boat split into two after being rammed by a speeding Japanese destroyer that they had planned to attack. However, despite his back problems that originated from his football career in high school, he swam for hours to the nearest island and finally got rescued a couple of days later.
Four years after World War II, Kennedy was admitted to hospital in London and diagnosed with a critical adrenal disorder known as Adisson’s disease. According to multiple accounts, the then Senator was given last rites when it became apparent that his situation was critical. He eventually recovered but the same sickness recurred during a trip to Asia. According to his brother, Kennedy was given his last rites – again.
In 1954, Kennedy had a back surgery to add a metal plate to his spinal disks to relieve him from constant back pain and avoid being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After the surgery, he contracted a urinary tract infection, which worsened because of his Addison’s disease. He fell into a comma after experiencing a high fever and for the umpteenth time, a priest was summoned, and last rites were delivered.
7. No other US president has won the Purple Heart
Following his heroic actions aboard the PT-109 from August 1 to August 2, 1943, JFK was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal a year later. He then spent three months at Castle Hot Springs recovering from his back injury. In the spring of 1945, he officially retired from the Navy Reserve due to physical disability. (7)
8. He had a coconut shell as a paperweight on his Oval Office desk
When the Japanese ship rammed into the PT-109 with Kennedy and the rest of the crew on board, he swam for hours to the nearest island, and survived feeding on coconut for days. At the island, originally known as Plum Pudding Island but later renamed to Kennedy Island, he etched a message on a coconut shell and then sent two islanders to deliver the message to the Allied forces at the nearby Tulagi Island. (8)
“NAURO ISL… COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT… HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT …KENNEDY.”
The message was delivered, and Kennedy was rescued. After becoming president, he used the same coconut shell as a paperweight at his Oval Office.
9. Kennedy was the youngest president in US history
JFK officially became the 35th president of the United States at midday on January 20, 1961. At the time, he was 43 years and 236 days, the youngest president in the country’s history. (9)
10. He was also the youngest US president to die in office
At the time of his assassination, Kennedy was 46 years and 177 days old, the country’s shortest-lived president. However, it is important to bear in mind that at just 53 years old, James J. Polk was the youngest US president to die of natural causes. (9)
11. The only US president to have won the Pulitzer Prize
Kennedy had a strong background in writing; he wrote his first book ‘Why England Slept’ at the age of 22. He also worked as a newspaper correspondent for the Hearst’s newspapers, mostly covering the United Nations Conference held in San Francisco, California, and post-World War II events in Europe. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his short biographies ‘Profiles in Courage.’ Since then, no other US president has won the award. (9)
12. The first Catholic president of the United States
When Kennedy decided to run for president in 1960, anti-Catholic prejudice was rampant across the United States. He however did not shy away from the issue of his religious beliefs on his course to winning the presidency. As his opponents slammed him for being Catholic, he explained that he was running on a Democratic Party’s ticket, but not as a presidential candidate for Catholics. (10)
13. He was obsessed with his weight
Another fascinating fact about JFK is that despite not being overweight, he seemed to be obsessed with his weight to the point of travelling with his bathroom scale, according to ‘JFK’s Last Hundred Days,’ a book by Thurston Clarke. This was quite surprising considering that he was a darling of the media and a fashion icon to many. The book reveals deeper details about his presidency particularly his refusal to swim in public because, apparently, he felt sensitive about his ‘Fitzgerald breasts.’ (11) Other bonus facts about John F. Kennedy worth mentioning include: he was a baseball pitcher in high school, a Boy Scout in Bronxville, New York, and smoked at least five cigars a day as president. (12)
These are some of the most fascinating facts about John F. Kennedy that you probably didn’t know about. It is evident that he was not only a man of the people, but also a patriot, and a natural leader. Even though his life was tragically ended at a young age, his impact on American politics is still acknowledged and celebrated decades later.
For more on the 35th President (In his own words!) check out our 50 must see John F Kennedy quotes !
- Larry King accidentally rear-ended JFK (thevintagenews.com)