John F. Kennedy, our nation's youngest president, had a host of medical conditions that plagued him since childhood. Here, Kennedy entertains Alberto Franco Nogueira, the foreign minister of Portugal, while sitting in the rocking chair his doctor ordered to support his excruciatingly painful lower back. The photo was taken November 7, 1963, just two weeks before he was assassinated.
Despite being turned down by both the Army and Navy due to his bad back and other medical issues, Kennedy was able to get into the Navy with the help of his father, Joe Kennedy. In June 1944, he received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery rescuing his men when his PT boat was struck by a Japanese destroyer. He towed one sailor for miles through the ocean to safety on land, aggravating a former back injury and setting the stage for a lifetime of back pain and surgeries.
After a trip to visit family in London in 1947, John F. Kennedy became so severely ill that a priest was called to read him his last rites. It was then he was diagnosed with Addison's disease, an adrenal gland disorder causing fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss and abdominal pain.
This photo was taken just before an October 1954 spinal surgery designed to fuse Kennedy's spine and hopefully end his chronic back pain. The operation nearly killed him. After a metal plate was inserted in his lower back, Kennedy developed a urinary tract infection. He was so sick, the family again called a priest to administer last rites.