While the nation remembers the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy today, the story of the death of his older brother, is perhaps the least told story in the “Kennedy Curse.”
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., a lieutenant in the Navy, died in 1944 testing a very rudimentary drone program called Operation Aphrodite.
Here’s how it worked: the Navy would load up B-17’s or B-24’s with a ton of explosives, and then control them via radio from a trailing aircraft and steer them into targets kamikaze-style.
There was just one issue, the technology did not exist for these remotely-piloted aircraft to take off. So a crew had to take off the aircraft, get it to a safe altitude, and then parachute from the vessel.
Operation Aphrodite was combat tested program, meaning they tested the development of this new weapon by simply trying to make it happen in actual combat scenarios.
That’s how, on August 12, 1944, Joseph P. Kennedy, a 29-year-old Navy Aviator, found himself aboard a B-24 Liberator laden with 20,000 pounds of explosives.
The aircraft unexpectedly detonated in midair over the English Channel with Kennedy and others on board.
A formerly classified telegraph captures what happened:
TOP SECRET[DECLASSIFIED]:: ATTEMPTED FIRST APHRODITE ATTACK TWELVE AUGUST WITH ROBOT TAKING OFF FROM FERSFIELD AT ONE EIGHT ZERO FIVE HOURS PD ROBOT EXPLODED IN THE AIR AT APPROXIMATELY TWO THOUSAND FEET EIGHT MILES SOUTHEAST OF HALESWORTH AT ONE EIGHT TWO ZERO HOURS PD WILFORD J. WILLY CMA SR GRADE LIEUTENANT AND JOSEPH P. KENNEDY SR GRADE LIEUTENANT CMA BOTH USNR CMA WERE KILLED PD COMMANDER SMITH CMA IN COMMAND OF THIS UNIT CMA IS MAKING FULL REPORT TO US NAVAL OPERATIONS PD A MORE DETAILED REPORT WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU WHEN INTERROGATION IS COMPLETED :: TOP SECRET[DECLASSIFIED]
Operation Aphrodite was a huge failure. It killed more American service members than Nazis. Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor in combat.
His little brother John went on to execute the political legacy that had been planned for Joseph, heading all the way to the White House. 20 years after Joseph died, and 50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was killed by a sniper’s bullet, while his motorcade drove the streets of Dallas.
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