A legacy still growing after 50 years
It’s been said that a public figure who dies young leaves a legacy stronger than that of a man who lives out his entire life, regardless of accomplishments.
This is true in entertainment (Elvis Presley, James Dean), civic leaders (Martin Luther King) and others from all walks of life. In politics, nowhere is this more evident than the life of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on Nov, 22 1963 — fifty years ago today.
And none of the conspiracy theories, the stories of womanizing nor anything else that has ever been written about the 35th President of the United States can change one simple fact — that our country has not been the same since that late November day in downtown Dallas in 1963.
When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, he was a symbol of hope across the country. Noticeably younger than any person that had ever held the highest office, he had a charisma that drew people to him. He had charm, good looks, a sharp Boston accent and, of course, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennnedy, the beautiful, eloquent woman who stood by his side.
Along with his two young children, Caroline and John Jr., the family seemed like American royalty. In fact, as anyone who follows history will attest, during the two and a half years the Kennedy family resided in the White House, the administration was known as Camelot.
There’s a line from the movie “Primary Colors,” which was based loosely on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for President, where actress Emma Thompson, who plays the character based on Hillary Clinton asks Adrien Lester, who’s character is alleged to be George Stephanopolous (who helped to run Clinton’s campaign), “Why did he you to get into politics?” And, more specifically, “Why did you choose our campaign?”
“I was a child when John F. Kennedy was president and I don’t remember him. But I remember from what my parents said and the way people responded to him when I’ve seen on television. When he spoke, it didn’t sound like the normal, political BS that you hear from most politicians,” he said.
“And to be frank, maybe it was BS with Kennedy, too. But the point was that people believed. I always wondered what it would be like to work with a candidate where people believed.”
One thing, Kennedy wasn’t was a “yes man.” He made plenty of enemies in the military establishment (which had been embarrassed by the disastrous Bay of Pigs incident) by not supporting a full invasion of Cuba after it was discovered that the Soviet Union was building nuclear bomb sites on the small, Communist island.
After several days of intense negotiation and a naval blockade of Cuba, the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles and the world narrowly averted a potential nuclear disaster.
Kennedy also drew criticism for his support of the Civil Rights movement, his reluctance to send more American troops to Vietnam, his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters and subsequently the mafia and, in what is unheard of today, his being a practicing Catholic.
It was these personal conflicts, aside from a questionable Warren Report and an 8mm film taken by Abraham Zapruder, that have left many people with serious doubts about Kennedy’s death. And with the subsequent death of his suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, the world may never know the truth.
What many do remember is the line from the movie “JFK” which is repeated over and over while Kevin Costner replays the fatal head shot from the Zapruder film: “Back and to the left.” “Back and to the left.” “Back and to the left.”
During his rise through politics, Kennedy befriended a young judge from Crowley named Edmund Reggie. It was Reggie who made Kennedy fulfill his promise to attend the International Rice Festival. When he did so in 1959. an enthusiastic crowd, that was estimated to be over 100,000, was there to hear him speak.
And the thin, charismatic senator may have actually been upstaged by his wife who, upon addressing the throngs of people who had gathered to see the future first couple, cheered uncontrollably when Jacqueline addressed the crowd speaking fluent French.
Sadly, Judge Reggie died on Wednesday. He was one of President Kennedy’s closes friends in Louisiana and ran his presidential campaign in the state. Ironically, his funeral will be on the anniversary of President Kennedy’s death.
In the days following the assassination, the public remained glued to their television sets as they clamored to get every bit of information regarding what transpired in Dallas. Many of the images (Cronkite in a rare moment of emotion, a young John Jr. saluting his father’s coffin) are locked into the minds of the people who lived through that time.
However, perhaps the most shocking event ever caught on live television occurred when Oswald was shot and killed on by a nightclub owner named Jack Ruby, who, during a police interview, claimed he wanted to wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the indignity of having to attend a trial.
Neither Ruby nor Oswald was able to shed any light on what may have happened that day. An neither ever will with Oswald having being killed by Ruby and Ruby dying of cancer just over three years after the assassination.
However, the fact that a man who served as President for only 1,036 days still draws such a vast amount of attention from the U.S. public exhibits just how powerful his ideas were. And several of his most famous quotes are still repeated today in history classes, by politicians of both parties and by those who follow American history.
Everyone, of course, has heard “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
However, among the other notable things said by President Kennedy:
- “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
- “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”
- “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
- Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
When Kennedy left Crowley following the 23rd International Rice Festival, Fred Bandy, a reporter and columnist for Crowley’s The Daily Signal newspaper was obviously more than impressed with the young senator who, according to estimates from State Police flying overhead in a helicopter, may have drawn over 120,000 people to “the largest crowd ever gathered in Louisiana to hear a public speaker.”
“Kennedy’s visit to Louisiana definitely shook the Land of the Bayous from the mouth of the Mississippi to the rice fields of Acadia Parish,” wrote Bandy, father of current Post-Signal Managing Editor Steve Bandy. “His winning smile won the Southland and his wife’s French clinched at least 100,000 votes at the Rice Festival. To emphasize the interest in Jack Kennedy, here’s a prime example:
“Just when Louisiana politics, hot as Tabasco Sauce, are reaching a boiling point throughout the state, no less than five gubernatorial candidates sat down and broke bread together at a luncheon for Kennedy. And for once they were all in accord on one issue — Kennedy.”
Presently, American politics are at boiling point. And it doesn’t seem that there is a leader from either party that could sit with five people with five differing view points and get them to agree on anything.
This young President from Massachusetts possessed this ability and it may have directly led to his assassination.
However, the irony is that his early death may have strengthened the legacy and the memories of John F. Kennedy’s ideas for generations to come.