It had snowed hard the night before, but there were crowds of people there, at the Capitol that day. I watched the proceedings on a small black and white TV at our home outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I was a young mother then, thrilled and excited beyond words as I listened to the new President speaking.
So much had been written about the Kennedy family for years, so we young people knew a lot about them. When Joe, Jr. was killed in the war, many felt the pain of his parents and siblings. When John's PT109 was sliced in half by a Japanese warship, his back sustained additional injury than that already suffered by illnesses in the past. Nonetheless, nobody actually knew about his refusal to leave an injured man behind when the craft started to sink. He secured his buddy with a belted sling which he held with his teeth and swam 3 miles to an island where he promptly collapsed. When I and my peers read about his bravery revealed by reporters, we looked forward to voting for him.
It was an inspired inaugural speech he gave that day; "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," sums it up nicely. Later, we watched as the beautiful couple went from dance to dance at the celebratory evening events. I slept very well that night, knowing that the country was in very good hands.
That he was very witty, came across in the press conferences in the ensuing days. I think he really enjoyed them, especially his trading wits with the feminist journalist, May Craig.
Trouble came on April 17, 1961, with the failed invasion of Cuban exiles who expected to fight a counterrevolution, deposing Castro. The operation had been planned by the CIA before Kennedy became President. It was a humiliating defeat for the President to bear so early in his administration. But since he had given the o.k. to pursue the operation after thorough discussion with his advisors, he took all blame for the failed mission. That he did not blame anyone else, only elevated his standing with the public at large.
Cuban Missile Crisis
More trouble came, known as The Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962. On October 14, photos were taken showing missiles in Cuba pointing toward the United States.The crisis lasted for 13 days, while the world at large held its breath as President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev carried on a battle of words. Those of us who lived through that frightening time well remember the strength and honesty of the President, as he addressed the Nation over the television airwaves. Cowardice was not in his make up; we had known that from the time we were told of his bravery when his P T boat was destroyed during World War II. .
In exchange for a promise by Kennedy that the USA would not invade Cuba and would order the removal of US missiles from Turkey, Khrushchev ordered the missiles removed from Cuba. The world drew a free breath.
When the President spoke to an extremely large audience of Berliners it was apparent to those of us looking in via television that his words transfixed and inspired the free peoples of West Berlin and drew a great contrast between those free members of a democracy and the ones on the other side of the Wall, the East Berliners who suffered cruelly under the iron fist of Russian rule. But while I watched, and however proud I was of our President, a note of fear gave me chills. That he was beloved and adored by free peoples everywhere cannot be denied. But he was also hated by a jealousy that was palpable by those who feared him; feared him because he was not shy in proclaiming his worship of Christ and had already proven that he would fight to the death to defend the peace of his country, come what may. He loved his country, and was proud of her; thought her exceptional and that she was the greatest Nation the world had ever known.
There are still arguments about who killed JFK, but fingers point to a disgruntled Communist named Lee Harvey Oswald. Just who ordered the killing is not clear. We may never know the full story. But my main point about writing about President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is that he was an inspiration to me all those years ago when I sat and watched his inaugural proceedings on television. His voice is still with me as he told us that each one of us could make a difference. His mother was quoted as saying that his favorite book was about King Arthur, the most famous defending warrior in history. Perhaps I thought of this when I chose to seek the real Arthur as one of my subjects when I went to Oxford for the St. Michaelmas Honors Term there in the fall of 200l. At any rate, I always think of JFK as the charismatic Arthur, and not as his detractors would prefer, an imperfect imposter.