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First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Kennedy

Birthplace: Brookline, MA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Patrick

Date of Birth: 15 July 1915

Date of Death: 12 August 1944

Rank or Rate: Lieutenant

Years Served: 1942 - 1944
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy

Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. was born on 15 July 1915 in Brookline, MA, the eldest of nine children born to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Elizabeth (née Fitzgerald) Kennedy.

Early Life and Education

Kennedy first attended the Dexter School in Brookline, MA, with his brother, John. Joseph graduated in 1933 from The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, CT. He then entered Harvard College in Cambridge, MA, graduating in 1938. Kennedy participated in football, rugby, and crew, and he served on the student council. Before he went away to war, Joe became engaged to Athalia Fetter, a model and actress. Joseph then spent a year studying under the tutelage of Harold Laski at the London School of Economics before enrolling in Harvard Law School. Kennedy made his first political step as a delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.

World War II Service

During World War II, Kennedy left before his final year of law school to begin officer training and flight training in the U.S. Navy. He earned his wings as a Naval Aviator in May 1942 and was sent to Britain in September 1943. He piloted land-based PB4Y Liberator patrol bombers on anti-submarine details during two tours of duty in the winter of 1943-44. Kennedy had completed 25 combat missions and was eligible to return home. He instead volunteered for an Operation Aphrodite mission.

Operation Aphrodite made use of unmanned, explosive-laden Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers, that were deliberately crashed into their targets under radio control. These aircraft could not take off safely on their own, so a crew of two would perform the take-off and fly to 2,000 feet before activating the remote control system, arming the detonators and parachuting from the aircraft.

After U.S. Army Air Forces Operation missions were drawn up on 23 July 1944, Kennedy and Lieutenant Wilford John Willy were designated as the first Navy flight crew. Willy had pulled rank over Ensign "FNU" Simpson (who was Kennedy's regular co-pilot) to be on the mission. They flew a BQ-8 "robot" aircraft (a converted B-24 Liberator) for the U.S. Navy's first Aphrodite mission. Two Lockheed Ventura mother planes and a navigation plane took off from RAF Fersfield. Next, the BQ-8 aircraft loaded with 21,170 pounds of Torpex took off. It was to be used against the Fortress of Mimoyecques and its V-3 cannons, in northern France.

Following 300 feet behind them, in a de Havilland Mosquito to film the mission, was Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, son of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kennedy and Willy were aboard as the BQ-8 completed its first remote-control turn. Two minutes later and ten minutes before the planned crew bailout, the Torpex detonated prematurely and destroyed the Liberator, vaporizing Kennedy and Willy. Wreckage landed near the village of Blythburgh in Suffolk, England.

Roosevelt's damaged Mosquito was able to limp home, the crewmen injured. A total of 59 buildings were damaged in a nearby coastal town. The Navy's informal board of review rejected the possibility of the pilot erroneously arming the circuitry early and suspected jamming or a stray signal could have armed and detonated the explosives. An electronics officer had warned Kennedy of this possibility the day before the mission. Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal.

Willy was also posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. The names of both men are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, a cemetery and chapel near the village of Madingley in Cambridgeshire, Britain, that commemorates American servicemen who died in World War II.


● In 1946, the U.S. Navy named a destroyer for Kennedy, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., aboard which his younger brother (future U.S. Senator) Robert F. Kennedy briefly served. Among the highlights of its service are the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the afloat recovery teams for Gemini 6 and Gemini 7, both 1965 manned spaceflight in NASA's Gemini program. It is now a floating museum in Battleship Cove, Fall River, MA.

● In 1947, the Kennedys established the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and funded the construction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Hall at Boston College, now a part of Campion Hall and home to the college's Lynch School of Education. The foundation was led by his youngest brother, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, until his death in 2009.

● In 1952, Robert F. Kennedy named his eldest son Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, in memory of his brother Joseph, Jr.

● In 1957, the Lieutenant Joseph Patrick Kennedy Junior Memorial Skating Rink was opened in Hyannis, MA, with funds from the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.

● In 1969, Hank Searls wrote the most comprehensive biography of Joe Jr. entitled: The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy.


Lieutenant Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. died on 12 August 1944 when his plane exploded over the English Channel. His remains were never recovered. His name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England.

Honoree ID: 2699   Created by: MHOH




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