September 01, 1944

Early John F. Kennedy Letter About the Death of His Brother, Joe - the Event Which Would Propel Him into Politics

Typed Letter Signed
2 pages
SMC 524
John F. Kennedy, born to wealth and privilege, did not want to go into politics, but the choice was never his. This seminal letter explains why...

On August 12, 1944, Kennedy's older brother, pilot Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was killed over England when, on a secret and dangerous mission, his plane suddenly exploded. He was, as Jack Kennedy was the first to acknowledge, smarter, handsomer, healthier, and much more popular than, in fact, almost anyone. And not only was he the family star: he was being groomed by his father to be the President of the United States. So when Joe Jr. died, Joe Sr. said “all my plans … were tied up with young Joe… that has gone smash.”

But it didn't take him long to draft his second son - messy, irreverent, fun-loving and chronically unhealthy Jack – as Joe’s replacement. “My father wanted his eldest son in politics,” Kennedy explained, though "‘wanted" isn’t the right word. He demanded it. Which is how Jack Kennedy, who thought he’d like to be a reporter, landed up being President of the United States. "I went into politics because Joe died,” he said, adding "if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run… And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.” This early letter marks the beginning of the Kennedy dynasty, then, with its first, life-changing loss.

Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness in sending me those prayers at the time of my brothers death. They were a great help, and I want you to know how much I appreciated it.

Joe Jr. had been dead a little more than two weeks when Jack Kennedy wrote this letter. As a result of his heroism on PT-109, Jack was an invalid at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, and soon would be out of the Navy on a Medical Discharge. But a year later, Jack Kennedy was up in Boston, introducing himself to the voters of the Eleventh Congressional District. His life in politics, born of his brother’s death, had begun.
Typed Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, Hyannisport, Massachusetts, September 1, no year [1944]. To Miss Bernice Forbush in Hartford, Connecticut. With transmittal envelope bearing return address “Lt. JF Kennedy, U.S. Naval Hospital, Chelsea, Mass.” Extremely scarce of this early date.
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