John F. Kennedy graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs in 1940. When the United States entered the second world war, he served in the Navy, where he was the commander of Motor Torpedo Boats PT-109 in the South Pacific. PT-109 was split in half and sunk by a Japanese destroyer and Kennedy and the survivors from his ship survived by swimming to nearby islands.
Returning home from the war, Kennedy represented Massachusetts's 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960, when he successfully won his party's nomination for President. In 1956 he placed second in the vote for his party's candidate for Vice-President, but four years later, in a close election, Kennedy defeated incumbent Vice-President and future President Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election.
At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest person to have ever been elected to the office, and the second-youngest person to become president. (Theodore Roosevelt became president at a younger age upon the death of William McKinley, but was not elected to the office until he was older than Kennedy). Kennedy was also the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. He was the first Roman Catholic president (Joe Biden is the second) and the only president ever to have won a Pulitzer Prize.
Events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Kennedy opposed segregation and supported increased civil rights of African Americans, but he originally believed in a more gradual approach to legislation, acknowledging the political realities he faced in Congress, especially with the Southern Conservatives. But the civil rights demonstrations of Martin Luther King, and the atrocious treatment of African-Americans in the south compelled Kennedy to propose legislative action. In a radio and TV address to the nation in June 1963, Kennedy became the first president to call on all Americans to denounce racism. His civil rights proposals led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. His assassination continues to be the subject of controversy and debate. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon and charged with the crime that night. Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald two days later, before a trial could take place. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald acted alone as the assassin. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed with the conclusion that Oswald fired the shots which killed the president, but also concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.
Kennedy's private life has been the subject of much discussion, especially as new facts have come to light after his death. He suffered from a number of health problems, including Addison's Disease. Reports of his numerous extra-marital affairs have also been revealed, although some of his biographers assert that, towards the end of his life, Kennedy became more committed to his marriage.
He is buried at Arlington Cemetery, where his final resting place is marked by what is known as "the Eternal Flame".