People I’ve met along the way: John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Mar 30, 2011 by

People I’ve met along the way: John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Thievery is a terrible crime.

When someone steals from you they invade the inner sanctum of your soul. The things you have worked so hard and so long to acquire are the jewels in your crown of existence. I don’t mean to attach too much importance to “things”, but let’s face it most of us strive to enrich ourselves both mentally and physically. Physical enrichment may come in the form of wishing for, saving for and finally purchasing a new home, car, vacation or whatever your imagined need is at the time. I say imagined because none of those things are necessary to sustain life, they just tend to make living life easier.

So when a thief breaks into your new home he steals not only your riches but your feeling of security. Thieves are among the worst criminals in existence.

John F Kennedy at 1960 Democratic ConventionA thief who steals your physical items is bad enough, but one who steals your thoughts is even worse. And stealing the dreams of a majority of a nation’s population is abhorrent. There are few who fit into that category of robbers but, as an American, the ones that come to mind are John Wilkes Booth who reportedly shot Abraham Lincoln while the president was enjoying a play at Ford’s Theater, Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who killed President William McKinley, Charles Guiteau who murdered President John Garfield and perhaps the most notorious of all Lee Harvey Oswald who took the life of John F. Kennedy. Of those four Booth was tracked down and shot to death, Guiteau was hanged, Czolgosz died in the electric chair and Oswald died from gunshot wounds at the hands of Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department as he was being moved to a “safer location”.

So death ruled the day. The presidents died violently, the assassins died violently and the American people saw their dreams and hopes for that period die violently with their president.

The first three were before my time, but the fourth, John F. Kennedy’s assassination came as a deep wound to me personally. I was head of a news team that covered the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and as such I had many personal interviews with the future president and the other Kennedy brothers. If you ever have the chance to see the motion picture “The Making of A President 1960” you’ll see me, microphone in hand, glasses askew, as I cover JFK’s ambitious drive to the White House in almost as many scenes as the candidate himself. At the 1960 Democratic convention, I was the first journalist to get to Adlai Stevenson when he made his dramatic entrance to the convention in a desperate attempt to snatch the nomination from Kennedy. I was at the feet of the future president when he visited the South Dakota Delegation seeking their meager number of votes to add to his total. He was so much bigger than life as I sat listening to him declare how he would lead us out of the doldrums of the Eisenhower years. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the right man for the right time and for all of the right reasons.

John F Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic ConventionI was at my station below the main podium when JFK gave his acceptance speech. Throughout the convention I had access to the Kennedy entourage which included not only Bobby, Ted, Jacqueline and Ethel, but other political giants of the time such as Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, (who was the subject of my first “People I’ve met along the way” series), as well as Adlai Stevenson, and a bevy of other Kingmakers, oh, and throw in a whole lot of U. S. Senators and Congressmen. One of those senators, Alan Bible of Nevada, provided our news team with a suite of rooms at the Biltmore Hotel, convention headquarters for the Kennedys as well as Lyndon Johnson, and Adlai Stevenson. Our rooms were on the third floor, two doors from the Kennedy suite. I stationed myself at their door many times during the convention while heated discussions and arguments went on inside planning the best avenues of attack for the convention floor. I got many a scoop by being there when Bobby or Teddy would come out to give us the latest estimated vote count.

There was such a feeling of renewal and hope among those at the convention and later in the electorate. Even though he won by the slimmest of margins, Jack Kennedy presented a new and exciting kind of leadership for a nation who desperately wanted to shed itself of a “post war” image and lead the world into a new chapter. Few would argue that President Kennedy’s inaugural address was among the most challenging ever given. That was his secret. Kennedy constantly challenged the American public to live up to our vast potential which he saw as nothing less than grand. He was absolutely firm when he had to be as with his handling of the Cuban missile crisis when he faced down not only Fidel Castro, but Nikita Krushchev and the Soviet Union.

John F. Kennedy represented the best of the “Greatest Generation”. Hell, he was the greatest generation! As in any conversation about American politics there are those who will find fault with anything their political nemesis does but few can find fault with Kennedy’s challenge to American ingenuity when he asked us to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of that decade. Throw down the gauntlet to a restless American public and stand back when you wish to see incomparable progress in solving a problem. The results of those solutions are almost always spectacular.

For those challenges and for many other reasons JFK became one of the most popular presidents of all time. His future was bright and those who opposed his ideas were finding it hard to come up with a candidate to even think about running against him in ’64.

John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy DallasAll of that hope, brightness, challenge and pride were snuffed out on November 22nd, 1963 as the president and his wife rode through Dealy Plaza in Dallas. JFK had been able to dodge all of the threats to his presidency but he couldn’t dodge the bullets from a cheap Japanese rifle fired by a thief who robbed us of our future. The only good bit of news on that day when Walter Cronkite came close to breaking down as he announced the president’s death was that the young president had died instantly. Cronkite may have been able to control his emotions but not many others were. I cried unabashedly at the news and went into a deep spiral of depression that lasted beyond the funeral, beyond Jackie’s stoic heroism, beyond John John’s salute to his father’s coffin and the endless line of those viewing the casket in the rotunda of the capitol.

John F Kennedy White House PortraitEven after all of these years, I cannot write about the events of that time without stirring up emotions I would rather not relive. I have lost many friends, as well as a sweet grandson and my father and mother and mother-in-law. Each left a scar on my heart with their passing but also wonderful memories to soften the pain. In the case of John F. Kennedy’s assassination I have yet to find a method of easing the pain of the sword that plunged into my soul that dreadful day.

I later lived through Bobby’s assassination with some of the same pain and soul searching questions I had with JFK’s death. I was even more closely involved with Bobby and his campaign but if I live to be one hundred years old I will never be able to remove the dagger of death that slashed so deeply into my soul that November day in 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald’s theft of a nation’s hope is the greatest crime ever perpetrated on the American people. We have been stumbling around ever since trying to find our way back to greatness and perhaps we are near?

I hope I live long enough to see our beloved country live up to its full potential.

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8 Comments

  1. To all of you who took the time to make a comment on this story, my deepest thanks. It was a very painful article to write as it stirred up memories I would rather not re-live but ‘cei le guerre’, it had to be done. I really appreciate your comments and critiques of my writing, so please keep them coming…JWSIII

  2. I agree with you, Ruth, John Strobel’s writing really takes you there…..

  3. Yes, Lane, I agree very much. It weaves us back into the fabric of the time and the promise of the possibilities that exist.

  4. Lane Aldridge via Facebook

    Great article. Even if it did bring back hard and sad memories….

  5. Lane Aldridge

    Thank you for sharing a well written story of such painful memories. I, as others, remember where I was ‘when’…. I have to admit that I had not voted for JFK; my first election, and I had voted for Nixon–a fact I can barely believe now. It was my junior year, I was in a diner off campus, when the news came over the old radio up on the shelf behind the cash register I was facing. The news reporter spoke. Time stopped. The world stopped. *My* world stopped, that is, until the ring of the cash register–which seemed deafening and far more than simply intrusive–restarted the clock of commerce with a scream: “Life goes on.”

    Really? The President of the United States had been murdered!

    While I had not yet come to understand the vast and important differences between Kennedy and the wimp to whom I had given my vote, I still knew, somewhere deep inside myself, that way more than a man had died that day. I’ve always been convinced that it was a terrible turn-around day for this country–the first of the other backward steps that were to follow with the assassinations of Bobby and Martin–and even Ruby’s killing of Oswald.

    I wish I could be even the least bit convinced we will ever recover who and what we were before that November 22nd and all the thievery that followed….

  6. Eve forcinel

    Could hardly breath while reading this John. I too was terribly affected by this as our entire country mourned. I was waking up after surgery and heard the nurses and staff in a not hospital quiet chatter when the news broke on tv. I guess the only thing close to that horrific feeling was the morning of 9/11 but still I will never forget the day we lost our beloved JFK. Great story again John and I intend to re read it after I catch my breath. Love/Eve

  7. Another great story John. I just love your writing style.

  8. William (Bill) J. Nelson

    Well done, John.

    Bill