Few individuals in the world hold the kind of power that the President of the United States wields.  Many people, however, fail to look to those individuals and events that shaped the lives of the men who lead the United States of America.  They were not born with an innate talent for politics, they had to learn the mechanics of it.  A person is not born with charisma or a sense of purpose, a true personality; no, the events of a lifetime bring these things into being.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson were not born grown men, ready to run for the highest office in the nation.  These two memorable leaders were shaped by the people they knew, the things they did, and the events they experienced.

            Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in Stonewall, Texas, the eldest of several children.[1]  His parents, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr. and his wife, Rebekah, were Baptists, and both of their families had rich political histories.  In fact, Johnson’s father was a member of the Texas Legislature, and a very staunch opponent of discrimination.  Sam Johnson, Junior was quoted as once saying “All this anti-German talk is a lot of hogwash.  They are red-blooded Americans of German stock...They are one of the best elements in this grand state.”[2]  Neither did he like the KKK, despite his family’s deep running Southern roots.  Lyndon Johnson started out his life not in politics, but as a teacher, although he was elected to the Texas State Legislature at the age of twenty-seven.  But before he was elected, Johnson attended the Southwest State Teacher’s College and in 1930 graduated with a bachelor’s degree.[3]  Through his years of schooling, Johnson proved to be a good student as well as found time for work and extracurricular activities.  In fact, he worked his way though college, was the school’s star debater, editor of the school newspaper, and organized a political group “The White Stars”[4]  Not too many years later, Johnson accepted a position as Congressman Richard Kleberg’s secretary.  While in Washington, he became speaker of the “Little Congress,” which was made up of the staff of Congressmen.[5]  He became very good friends with President Franklin Roosevelt after his election to Congress.  While in Congress, he joined the Naval Reserves as war loomed on the horizon.  When war broke out, he was the first Congressman to enlist in the armed services, a mere hour after he signed the declaration of war.[6]  He chose the Navy, accepting the rank of lieutenant commander.  Assigned to the Office of the Chief of the United States-New Zealand Navy Command, Johnson was originally stationed in San Francisco, later he entered combat zones in the Pacific.  He was awarded the Silver Star for valor by General Douglas MacArthur.  He returned to the States in 1942.[7]  Later, his world was rocked by the death of his “second daddy,” Franklin Roosevelt, and the loss moved him to tears.  Later, he served as John F. Kennedy’s vice president, and then as president after Kennedy’s death.

            John F. Kennedy was born near Boston on May 29, 1917, to Joe and Rose Kennedy, the second of nine children in the Catholic family.[8]  His family had an illustrious political history and was famous even before his presidency.  His father was the youngest bank president in the history of the United States at the time of Kennedy’s birth.[9]  John, called “Jack” was often sick as a child, but he eventually attended Princeton and Harvard, graduating from the latter in 1940 with honors.  Later, he attended Yale.[10]  By this time, his father had been appointed Ambassador to Britain and the war had begun.  His father resigned in fall of 1940.  John and his older brother, Joe Jr., both entered the Navy after war broke out.  Joe Jr. became an aviator while John was, at first, assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence, which he hated.  In 1942, with the help of his father’s influence, John went from Washington DC to Chicago and the midshipmen’s school there.  Eventually, John became the pilot of a PT boat and went to the Pacific.  He was a lieutenant by then and captain of PT 109.[11]  One night, his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and split in two.  John and his crew narrowly survived.  He dragged one of his crewmates to shore by holding the man’s lifejacket strap in his teeth and swimming the breaststroke.  Eventually, they were rescued by the British, and Kennedy won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.  That year turned out to be terrible for him.  His brother was killed on a voluntary mission over France.  He was regarded in the United States, however, as a hero.  He once said, showing his infallible sense of humor, “It was involuntary.  They sank my boat.”[12]  Later, during his political career, he lost his sister, Kathleen, in a plane crash.  The Kennedy family was long surrounded by tragedy.  Out of the nine Kennedy children, Joe Jr., John, Kathleen, and Robert were all tragically lost.[13]

            There are many similarities and differences in the backgrounds of Johnson and Kennedy that may have had an influence on the presidents they became.  Both men were from heavily political and large families.  During World War II, both served in the Pacific, in the Navy, and won awards for valor.  However, there were several differences between them.  Kennedy was from the North, Johnson from the South.  Kennedy was part of a very affluent crowd, Johnson was a simple Texan.  Johnson spent his whole childhood in Texas, while Kennedy traveled throughout his life due to his father’s Ambassadorial assignments and his many jobs.  They were similar, and yet different.

            The USA’s 35th and 36th presidents were shaped by the events and encounters of full lives.  Kennedy was elected to office first, and was killed by an assassin in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.  Johnson stepped into his place and won the election again in 1964, taking 44 of 50 states.[14]  The era was impacted greatly by these two men, their administrations, and their lives.  Everyone remember the names of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, although for a multitude of reasons.

Denenburg, Barry John Fitzgerald Kennedy:  America’s 35th President  Scholastic

Inc. 1988


Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. ed.  Running For President:  The Candidates and Their

Images  Simon and Schuster 1994


Singer, Kurt and Jane Sherrod  Lyndon Baines Johnson, Man of Reason

Minneapolis: T.S. Penison & Company Inc. 1964

[1] Singer, Kurt and Jane Sherrod  Lyndon Baines Johnson, Man of Reason  Minneapolis: T.S. Penison & Company Inc. 1964

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Denenburg, Barry John Fitzgerald Kennedy:  America’s 35th President  Scholastic Inc. 1988

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. ed.  Running For President:  The Candidates and Their Images  Simon and Schuster 1994