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John F. Kennedy – Maverick President (1917-1963)

Privileged son of a New England tycoon, Kennedy was an unlikely person to survive to adulthood, much less become the youngest president in American history. In his landmark JFK and the Unspeakable, author James W. Douglass summarized the many infirmities that beset Kennedy:

“He saw death approach repeatedly—from scarlet fever when he was two and three years old, from a succession of childhood and teen illnesses, from a chronic blood condition in boarding school, from what doctors thought was a combination of colitis and ulcers, from intestinal ailments during his years at Harvard, from osteoporosis and crippling back problems intensified by war injuries that plagued him the rest of his life, from the adrenal insufficiency of Addison’s disease.”

Though his powerful father arranged a desk job for him during World War II, Kennedy enlisted in the Navy. He rose to command of PT-109, a lethal fast attack craft that the Japanese called “devil boats.”

Kennedy’s legend began to grow when an enemy destroyer tore his boat in half in a Solomon Islands night battle. Some crewmen died and Kennedy led the survivors to the closest island. He saved his bloodied engineer by swimming for four hours, gripping a strap from the man’s life preserver in his teeth to tug his body. He nearly died in swimming and canoeing attempts into the sea for help before rescue came.