John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was the youngest man ever elected to the office, and the first Roman Catholic. Born into one of America’s richest and most politically influential families, “Jack” Kennedy was a sickly young boy who battled frequent serious illnesses. He became a war hero for his bravery in the aftermath of the sinking of his boat, PT-109, by a Japanese destroyer. The incident would result in several dangerous back surgeries and pain that would be with him for the rest of his life. Kennedy’s brief presidency was characterized by a renewed sense of American idealism, unprecedented advancements in the area of civil rights and a commitment to America’s space program. It was also characterized by significant international turmoil, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which saw the world closer than ever to the brink of nuclear war. The presidency, and the life, of John F. Kennedy came to a tragic end with his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Born Oct. 18, 1939, in New Orleans, La., Oswald had a tumultuous childhood characterized by frequent moves, a difficult home life and, by most accounts, an increasing sense of alienation. He was a U.S. Marine, earning a rating as sharpshooter and twice being court-martialed before defecting to the Soviet Union. While in Minsk, where he worked at a television and radio factory, Oswald met his future wife, Marina. In 1961 Oswald petitioned for, and later in 1962 received, permission for the couple to return to the United States. Back in America, he drew the attention of the FBI in New Orleans and in Texas for his active participation in causes supporting Cuba and Communist leader Fidel Castro. He travelled to Mexico City in late September 1963 in a failed attempt to defect to Cuba. He is linked to an April 1963 assassination attempt on ex-U.S. Army General Edwin A. Walker, just months before allegedly firing the shots that killed Kennedy. On Nov. 24, 1963, Oswald himself was shot and killed before a national television audience by Jack Ruby while being transferred from the Dallas City Jail.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier first met John F. Kennedy while working on an assignment as a photographer at a Washington, D.C., newspaper. They were married on Sept. 12, 1953. One of the most popular first ladies in American history, she charmed everyday Americans and world leaders alike with a unique combination of grace and style. She and her husband had two children, Caroline and John, Jr., who were frequently seen cavorting around the White House grounds and, famously, under the president’s desk. While first lady, she also suffered the loss of infant son Patrick, who died just two days after his birth. Jackie will be forever immortalized by the still-shocking images of her in the midst of, and following, her husband’s murder — and for her role in leading the nation in mourning its lost leader.
Nineteen-year-old Marina Prusakova met Lee Harvey Oswald at a union trade dance in Minsk in her native Belorussian SSR in March 1961. The couple married just six weeks later. In June 1962, she accompanied Lee back to the United States with their infant daughter, June Lee. The couple moved between Texas and Louisiana, and Marina and daughter June would move in with friend Ruth Paine, where Marina was living when she had the couple’s second child, Rachel. During this time Lee lived apart from the family and visited only on weekends. He would make a surprise visit on Thursday, Nov. 21, 1963, Marina would tell investigators, and he left behind his wedding ring and some money before leaving for work early the next morning. Marina would see Lee for the last time the next day at the Dallas City Jail.
Robert F. Kennedy
The younger brother of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy would become perhaps his closest confidant and staunchest defender. Known for his trademark mix of toughness and idealism, Robert served as attorney general, playing a key advisory role throughout his brother’s brief administration, including during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He would also famously clash with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover over his ardent pursuit of some of the nation’s reputed organized crime leaders. Robert was on the brink of the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in June 1968 when he too was gunned down by an assassin.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office to become America’s 36th president alongside a blood-stained Jackie Kennedy aboard Air Force One on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. Chosen as Kennedy’s vice-presidential candidate largely for his ability to deliver the crucial Southern vote in the 1960 election, the Texan was in frequent conflict with Robert Kennedy and was never considered to be in the president’s inner circle when it came to important decisions.
Kenneth O’Donnell was the special assistant and appointments secretary to President Kennedy. A Harvard College roommate and football teammate of Robert Kennedy’s, O’Donnell was a close advisor to the president and a trusted member of his inner circle, which would become known around the White House as the “Irish Mafia.”
Born in Chicago as Jacob Leon Rubenstein in 1911, Jack Ruby would go on to become a Dallas nightclub owner who would burst onto the national scene on the morning of Nov. 24, 1963. In a chaotic scene witnessed live by millions of Americans, Ruby would lunge toward Lee Harvey Oswald as the accused assassin was being transferred from the Dallas City Jail, and fire a single, fatal shot into his midsection. Ruby was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, and died of a pulmonary embolism while awaiting an appeal in 1967.
Ruth Paine was a close friend of Marina Oswald. She was a Russian speaker who first met Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald at a party given by members of the local Russian ex-pat community. Ruth drove Marina and June to New Orleans after Lee moved there in April 1963 and back to Dallas when they returned in September of that year. Marina and her children were living with Ruth at the time of the assassination, and Lee had, without her knowledge, used her garage to hide the rifle he would allegedly use to shoot President Kennedy.