JFK – 100th birthday today

John F. Kennedy

I can’t imagine comparing President John F. Kennedy with President Trump. Many of us still remember President Kennedy’s immortal words from his inaugural address in 1961 to the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” Richard Reeves, senior lecturer at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, commented in today’s LA Times: Kennedy was “not the greatest president but he was a hell of a politician–candid if not honest, a man who saw greatness and sometimes even touched it.

I was a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia that January and only saw news reports of the momentous event. Televising important  events was not as common then, but ironically, it was President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, which changed TV’s place in history. I was still at William and Mary during that tragedy and remember watching as much as possible as events unfolded on a small TV in my college dormitory lobby.

I was lucky enough to see JFK twice in person. In the summer of 1963, he had initiated a special program for college students working for the government, a sort of introduction to how government works. Kennedy gave an inspiring speech to us on the back lawn at the White House, emphasizing how valuable a career in government could be. “Jump in the stream, it isn’t so cold,” was a remark I wrote in my diary (I still have it!). After the speech, we college kids were tramping around the play area for Caroline and John-John, the Kennedy kids.

US Senate Chamber Pass for July 8, 1959

During the summer of 1959, before my senior year at Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, I had had my first Kennedy sighting in the U.S. Senate. I had no idea at that time who he was.

My friend, Barbara, and I took the bus into Washington, D.C. and decided to see Congress in action. Since she had a boyfriend working as a U.S. Senate page, it was easy to get passes. Pages, who were at least 16 and high school juniors with a good grade average, worked for senators. Although they were mainly “gofers,” they got to witness history in the making. Her boyfriend had told her we could go to the Texas House of Representatives office and get passes for both the House and the Senate.

After getting the passes, we got seats in the Visitor’s Gallery of the Senate, which was in session that day. Lyndon Johnson, the imposing Texas Democrat who was the Senate Majority Leader at that time, was presiding over the Senate while lounging in a chair on the dais in front of the gathered senators.

The feisty senator from Oregon, Wayne Morse, was arguing with Paul Douglas, the soft-spoken senator from Illinois. I don’t believe I was paying attention to the issues because I was enchanted with just being there watching it all.

Both of us were intrigued with a scene on the Senate floor. We noticed an attractive, young-looking man with a nice head of chestnut hair at a table reading a newspaper. He didn’t appear to be paying attention to the discussion. Young pages were scurrying about bringing documents or coffee to this particular senator and others around him.

Next to us in the visitor’s gallery was a young man in a suit avidly studying the scene. “Who’s the cute guy reading the newspaper?” we asked him.

“That’s John Kennedy, haven’t you heard about him?”

2 Comments

  1. Good way of putting it, Heather–Embarrassment! I agree.

  2. Heather Vesterfelt says:

    I do not ever recall feeling embarrassed by Kennedy as President even if I occasionally disagreed with his stance. Today embarrassment by and disagreement with Trump I pretty much consistently experience!

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