Remembering JFK

I have spent the past few days extensively reading more about JFK, from several books borrowed from the UVA library – among them Jack and Lem (about his lifelong friendship with Lemoyne Billings) and JFK: Reckless Youth (a rather long-winded and badly written but compendious account), and got a copy of Counselor, Ted Sorensen’s memoir / autobiography written in his old age, finished a few years before his death at 82 in 2010.

A few things I copied to my journal:

From a letter to Billings describing seeing the Pope in Rome in 1938, showing JFK’s wonderful needling sense of humor: “The pope didn’t actually mention you by name but he gave me the impression that he was thinking of you.” [quoted in Reckless Youth, but I didn’t note the page.]

Billings, retrospectively, on Kennedy and combat: “I always thought that it was kind of interesting that Jack read Hemingway an awful lot, with all those flawed heroes coming on strong; striving, enduring, spoiling for fights and for opportunities to prove themselves. That was Jack.” [Jack and Lem, p. 98]

“A Catholic priest at Buna, New Guinea, wrote home that Jack Kennedy was a `fine, upstanding lad, guts, brains, courage to give away, generous, worshipped by his lads.’” [Reckless Youth, 623]

Jim Reed: “He claimed to me once that he’d never had an unhappy day in his life.” [Reckless Youth, 629]

Torbert Macdonald, visiting Kennedy in the hospital where he lay incapacitated. “`I feel great,’ he said. `Great?’ I echoed? `Well,’ he smiled, `great considering the shape I’m in.’” [Reckless Youth, 655]

Sorensen on Joe Kennedy: “Ultimately, whatever names might have been hurled at him by his critics – bigot, right-winger, isolationist, ruthless capitalist – the fact remains that Joseph P. Kennedy fathered the most idealistic, open-minded, internationalist president since World War II, and he deserves much credit for his family’s many other remarkable accomplishments.” [Counselor, 261] I would include Eisenhower as idealistic, open-minded and internationalist, but in general I agree with Sorensen.

Sorensen quoting his own eulogy for JFK delivered in December, 1963. “`Elders who had scoffed at his youth felt suddenly that they had been orphaned,’ I said. `Youth, who had been impatient with his patience, felt suddenly older and grayer.’” [Counselor, 371]

There is much more, but that’s enough. What a privilege it was to be young and have John F. Kennedy’s star blaze across the landscape! The joy and inspiration he provided outlived the grief and darkness that followed. It seems like it is destined to outlive those of us who still remember him, as the memory of Lincoln endured far beyond his own time and seems likely to endure as long as history itself remains.

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