"John Kennedy helped us believe in ourselves, that we, as Americans could do big things. He lifted our spirits and made us proud of ourselves. His youth, his attractiveness, his elegance of phrase. And of course, Jackie. He was Mr. Cool. His self-effacing humor, as demonstrated by this comment when he visited France, `I am the man who escorted Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris and I enjoyed it.'" -- Roger Wilkins
For those of us in the Baby Boom generation it was the seminal event of our lives. The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy would alter the course of history in ways that we still cannot fully comprehend. Now, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of our beloved young President author Dean R. Owen has cobbled together the thoughts and reflections of more than 100 notable men and women who were in one way or another connected to that dreadful day in Dallas. For those over the age of 60, his new book "November 22, 1963: Reflections on the Life, Assassination and Legacy of John F. Kennedy" is sure to bring back a flood of memories about a very dynamic and optimistic time in American history. You will discover that there exists among those interviewed a wide cross-section of opinion about the actual accomplishments and the ultimate legacy of the Kennedy administration. At the same time, it becomes abundantly clear that just about everyone had an enormous amount of love and respect for this man. As former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach remembers it "He was personable, well-mannered. He was intelligent and he was articulate. He got along well with people". A great many others offered similar recollections of the fallen President.
So what do these people recall about Kennedy's brief tenure as President? A number of individuals cited his extremely adept handling of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as his greatest achievement. Many believe to this day that his firm and courageous actions in the heated confrontation with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev helped to avert World War III. A few mentioned his memorable "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963. Still others recall his commitment to exploring outer space. I found the reflections of civil-rights leader Julian Bond to be quite revealing. Bond had not been all that impressed with JFK and believes that at the outset of his Presidency he was simply not all that interested in civil rights. After all, he had not had much opportunity to interact with black folk in his lifetime. But once the President witnessed the violence going down in Birmingham, AL in September 1963 his thinking began to evolve and he soon began advocating for civil rights. Very interesting indeed! Meanwhile, Casey Murrow, son of the legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, remembers John Kennedy's clarion call to public service and how many young people opted to go in that direction. Josiah Bunting III, who met and was inspired by the President while a student at Virginia Military Institute(VMI)recalls "We wanted to be in the Peace Corps. Or in he Marine Corps. Or we wanted to be priests. Or get PhDs. This American fixation on running a hedge fund--we didn't care about that. I'm not sure we'll ever recapture that time or that feeling." JFK convinced the American people that politics and public service were truly honorable professions.
As you might expect some of the most poignant memories presented in "November 22, 1963" are about the assassination and its aftermath. I was very moved by the experience of Nelson C. Pierce who worked as an usher at the White House. In the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy returned to the White House after their long ordeal. Mr. Pierce was on duty and as he recalls "I wondered what I would say to the first lady. As she came around the corner, and of course she was still in her pink suit with bloodstains and I knew immediately. Our eyes met. And we had a rapport and I knew that I didn't need to say a thing. She realized how I felt. We were all silent." Those words nearly brought tears to my eyes. And of course as we all know the national nightmare was not yet over. Lee Harvey Oswald would be shot to death on national television just 30 or so hours later. In the weeks and months that followed a stunned and downcast nation would go into a sort of funk. It was a very human reaction to an unspeakable series of events. As broadcast journalist Sid Davis recalls "You could understand the sadness of the Kennedy people. They had just lost their hero. They campaigned with him. They took him to the presidency. And they had such an exciting future to look forward to in running the country. But it all went away. It was destroyed by one guy with a $14.95 rifle".
There is an awful lot to like about "November 22, 1963: Reflections on the Life, Assassination and Legacy of John F. Kennedy". Dean R. Owen has given us a very nice addition to the historical record. I particularly enjoyed reading about the experiences of the broadcast journalists who covered these historic events all those decades ago. Perhaps the most surprising story of them all appears near the end of the book. A young woman by the name of Priscilla Johnson McMillan knew both John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. Simply amazing! "November 22, 1963" is enhanced with a Forward by the celebrated White House correspondent Helen Thomas along with 16 pages of memorable photographs. This is a pretty easy read so "November 22, 1963" would be a marvelous way for young people to get up to speed on the events that helped to shape the lives of their parents and grandparents. A terrific idea nicely executed. Highly recommended!
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