JFK

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?”

PRESIDENTS AND BUTLERS IN THE MOVIES

I’ve been around for more than fifty years and looking back into the 1960s is an intriguing exercise lately. I lived in the Northern Virginia-Washington D.C. area off and on for much of the early ‘60s, and when I saw the film “The Butler” this weekend, it reminded me of how much history I had witnessed and read about.

“The Butler” (directed by Lee Daniels) is based on the true story of an African-American who served as a butler in the White House from Presidents Eisenhower through Reagan. It encompasses the struggles of the Civil Rights movement, the protests against the Viet Nam war, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and ends about the time of the sanctions being proposed against South Africa’s own civil rights challenges with apartheid.

 

US White House

US White House

Although time constraints prevented any in-depth explanations of US battles with equal rights, the film hit the high points. It was very entertaining as well as emotionally enlightening. Forest Whitaker, an Oscar winner for his portrayal of Uganda’s dictator, Idi Amin, in “The Last King of Scotland,” magnificently played the butler in this film and Oprah Winfrey, the consummate actor, was his wife, Gloria.

I was fascinated with the choice of actors for the presidential roles and how the scenes captured some facets of  each president’s personality. I had come in contact with several of these presidents and had read a great deal about most of them. The multi-talented Robin Williams was the balding President Eisenhower in 1954 when the butler begins his White House service. He was portrayed as a commanding but very balanced and sympathetic  individual, and there’s also a scene with Vice President Richard Nixon (actor John Cusack) talking to the butlers about their low pay. There’s a hint of the kind of conniving, insecure president he became. I remembered shaking Nixon’s hand in 1956 during his visit to Libya while he was vice president.

President John Kennedy was played by the handsome James Marsden. Scenes portrayed him becoming a converted enthusiast for civil rights and included a scene of First Lady Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit splattered with blood after the assassination. I recalled the summer of 1963 when JFK arranged meetings with government officials for the education of college students working in Washington. I saw him in person when he greeted us students at the White House. I had also seen him in the Senate in 1959 before he even ran for office. I’ve written blogs about these events.

President Lyndon Johnson (Liev Shreiber) added a bit of “bathroom” humor to the film. LBJ was not a modest man and could be fairly crude (I was told by a former Secret Service agent who guarded LBJ that he would think nothing of squatting on the ground in front of newsmen on his Texas ranch when he had to do his “business”). There was a movie scene of Johnson sitting on the “throne” with the door open as he talked political strategy with his aides. I had seen LBJ in the Senate, when he was Majority Leader, the same time I saw Kennedy in 1959.

Nixon was portrayed again when he was President and fighting to keep from resigning. He was passionately telling the butler in this scene that he essentially would never give up.

The film skipped Presidents Ford and Carter, except for film clips, and ended with Ronald Reagan, played by British actor Alan Rickman. It’s difficult to duplicate Reagan’s distinctive accent, but Rickman got the self-assurance right. I kept thinking about my recent visit to the Reagan Library here in Southern California.

During my years around Washington, I had a couple of tours of the White House. They duplicated some areas in the film but nothing very distinctive. The detail that stood out in the movie was the portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, very appropriate for this movie. Of course that brought back strong memories of the wonderful Lincoln exhibit in the Reagan Library I visited just weeks ago.

1959 – US CONGRESS IN ACTION

US Senate Chamber Pass for July 8, 1959

When my family left Tripoli, Libya, my Army Corps of Engineers father  had orders for the Pentagon. He went on to work for the powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff, an honor for his career and a promotion to full Colonel. We lived in a small but homey stone house in Alexandria, Virginia, and I attended the last two years of high school at Francis C. Hammond, now a middle school.

My classmate, Barbara, and I enjoyed exploring the museums and other highlights in our nation’s capitol. We’d take the bus to the Washington Mall area and walk all over the place. On one of these excursions, in 1959, we decided to discover how government worked and visit the Senate.

Barbara had a boyfriend who was working as a US Senate Page. 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. He had told her we could go to the Texas House of Representatives office and get passes for both the House and the Senate.

Neither one of us had ever seen Congress in action, and we were excited about it. I still have the Senate pass, which was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. Far too busy to do these menial tasks, the senator’s signature was a stamp.

We made our way to 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. He was lounging comfortably 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 wasn’t listening to the issues because I was enchanted with just being there.

We took it all in and both of us were intrigued with a scene on the Senate floor. We noticed an attractive, younger looking man with a great head of hair  at a table reading a newspaper. He didn’t appear to be paying attention to the discussion going on. 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 all if it. “Who’s the cute guy reading the newspaper?” we asked him.

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

When he ran for president the next year, we all sat up and took notice.

John F. Kennedy

KENNEDY ASSASSINATION from my diary By Victoria Giraud

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. I started remembering my own experience of that tragedy when I heard about Bill O’Reilly’s new book Killing Kennedy. I was in my last year of college at William and Mary in Virginia when the President died.

As a diary keeper, I had to write down my thoughts about that  heart-breaking time. I have kept most of my diaries and here is what I wrote:

22 November. At 1:50 p.m. today the greatest political as well as human tragedy I have known in my 20 years occurred when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, by an assassin’s bullet. This was such a momentous and horrible tragedy that I must set it down.

It affects me as a human and as an American. One can hardly believe it happened—in fact I can still scarcely take it in, nor for that matter can anyone else on this campus or in these United States or, I doubt, in the world.

The tragedy occurred in Dallas (central time) at 12:30. Twenty minutes later the news came over the radio as I was calmly addressing a letter to Steve [my love interest at the time]. When the radio said a perhaps fatal wound, I couldn’t help hoping that he might live. But little chance with a gunshot wound through the right temple. It was utterly unbelievable.

I went to work this afternoon [I had a part-time job in the Law Library] but could only bear it for a half hour. At this time it wasn’t sure that he would die but then he did while I was there.

Horror & disbelief were the first reactions. About my first words were, “Oh, My God.” On my way to work I had passed Sandy’s room and told her. Her first words, “Oh, My God.” Peter Lawford’s comment: “Oh, My God,” and perhaps countless others said the same.

No one could do anything. No one could think of studying. What could one do? Little groups of students, stricken faces, people saying hi extremely somberly. It was as if the world had fallen on our shoulders and we didn’t know quite what to do with it—rail against it, scream, cry, be disgusted. What the hell was this world coming to when some lunatic shoots the President? What did this damn lunatic expect to accomplish? Kennedy was cut off in the prime of life—he was only 46. Younger even than any other President before him—and two young children.

All we could do was sit around and listen to the radio and discuss the ironies of it all. What would it do to the country, to the whole world? Condolences poured in; important men from everywhere spoke their two words about their grief. The WORLD was shocked—everyone feels a loss. The UN had a minute’s silence; Broadway closed all theaters; parties were canceled.

Coming back to the dorm from the Law Library, it was as if someone had slapped me in the face again. It wasn’t like Towney’s death [a friend who had died earlier that year]—it was more abstract, but I started crying a little. A great hero had died. It was a man I had seen in the Senate chamber during my high school junior year then later during one of my working summers, both in Constitution Hall and on the lawn of the White House. Thus he meant a great deal personally to me. I liked him as a President despite all the criticism everyone else handed me about him. He stood up for what he believed and now he is a martyr.

Now we have President Lyndon Johnson, ironic throwback to Lincoln’s assassination.

Johnson being sworn in as President, Jackie Kennedy by his side.

I wonder what my father thinks and my family. It is interesting to hear various views on his death. The consensus of opinion is much the same however—shock, grief, tragedy for the world, etc.

Dallas, Texas, thou will go down in ignominious history [I must have remembered my Shakespeare – I was an English major, after all].

REMEMBERING JFK – 50 YEARS LATER

John F. Kennedy

Fifty years ago today, January 19, 1961, the Inaugural Gala was held at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., for President-elect John F. Kennedy. The next day, January 20, the new President of the United States was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol.

Many of us remember President Kennedy’s immortal words from his inaugural address to the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”

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. 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 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?”

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