JFK's Older Brother

One final installment in this brief series of stories that were not included in our latest book - Cape Cod Harvest.

In the last chapter of the book - about Cape Cod during the 20th century - we include a few short stories on the Kennedys. The first points out how Nixon won the Town of Barnstable during the 1960 presidential election by a count of 4,515 votes to JFK's 2,783, gaining nearly 62% of the vote (even the south precinct, which included Hyannis Port, went to Nixon 1,024 to 733). The second looks at local press accounts of the Camelot summers here on Cape from 1961-63, while a third story examines how the news of JFK's assassination was felt in his summer hometown. Yet, one story that did not make the cut was the following about Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., JFK's brother, as presented below. In the photograph below, from left,  Joe Jr., his father and brother Jack.

JFK's Older Brother

Joe Jr., Joseph and Jack KennedyFor the Kennedy family, success and tragedy have gone hand in hand. And for the past half century or more those successes and tragedies have played out on the world stage for all to see. Shadowed behind these events is the ghost of what might have been had JFK's older brother Joseph survived World War II and pursued, and fulfilled, the political aspirations that seemed his birthright.

Instead of JFK, it might have been Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. to become the country's first Roman Catholic president. He might have been the president to face the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis, to race for the moon and to establish the Peace Corps. He might have been the one to say "Ich bein ein Berliner" before the Berlin Wall.

Joseph, Jr., the first child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, was born on July 28, 1915. To the parents, the boy showed a great deal of promise, always seeming wiser than his years and succeeding at most everything he attempted. In many ways he served as a second father to his younger siblings (Joe was 17 years old when the youngest child, Teddy, was born) as he attempted to live up to his parents' expectations of how he should carry himself in both public and private life. The older brother would have a strong influence on the younger Kennedy children, particularly on the boys - Jack, Bobby, and Teddy.

Graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1938, where he played rugby and football, Joe traveled to England that summer to spend time with his father, who was then US Ambassador to Great Britain. Accompanying Joe was younger brother Jack. Their father put the two boys to work, with Joe spending a year in the Ambassador's London office as a secretary. It was a one-of-a-kind educational experience for the young man during a time that saw Europe heading toward war.

Back in the States during the summer of 1940, Joe took his first steps toward a political future by serving as a delegate at the Democratic convention in Chicago. That fall he began his studies at Harvard Law School. The following spring he reported to Squantum Naval Air Station in Quincy for aviation training, and was later sent on to Jacksonville, Florida for further training. He received his gold wings in May 1942 at a graduation ceremony that saw his Ambassador father make the keynote address.

Joe participated in further training in Florida, and in September 1943 reported to British Naval Command in England to fly B-24s Liberator bombers. (Earlier that year, brother Jack survived the famous PT-109 ordeal on which the young Lt. Kennedy served as commander.) Joe's mission overseas involved searching for German submarines in the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. His squadron endured heavy losses and though he had earned his points, he remained on through D-Day. Into July and August of 1944 he accepted further assignments, increasing his number of missions and thus emerging as one of the most experienced bomber pilots in the squadron.

His final mission came on August 12, 1944 when he was chosen to fly a B-24 with a drone in tow over Normandy to destroy a V-2 rocket launch site. Kennedy's plane suddenly and inexplicably exploded in mid-air. His body was never recovered.

Joe had spent many summer days with his family in Hyannis Port. In 1940, he was here to celebrate Jack's graduation from Harvard. In 1943, he took his leave at Hyannis Port to celebrate his father's 55th birthday. But, like so many young men from that era, his days ended much too early. And with a change of Fate on that August day in 1944, who can say if Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. would have eventually reached the nation's highest office, as his brother did in his stead. He will forever be remembered as the President Kennedy that might have been.

Jack Sheedy

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