Out of the Woods / Brushes with John F. Kennedy
When an obscure, frail-looking senator from Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 43, announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States on Jan. 2, 1960 in Washington, D.C., the presidency — the most powerful office in the Free World — seemed like pipe dream for young Kennedy to most American voters — myself included.
The inexperienced, PT-109 hero of World War II was considered a long-shot, at best, by the media, which pictured the handsome, wealthy, boyish Harvard playboy as a political neophyte but backed by the scion of the Kennedy clan, Joseph P. Kennedy, the influential and immensely rich Wall Street financier and political power broker.
“I believe,” Jack Kennedy said in his booming voice with his pronounced Boston Irish accent, “that the Democratic Party has a historic function to perform in the winning of the 1960 election, comparable to its role in 1932. I intend to do my utmost to see that that victory is won.
“For 18 years, I have been in the service of the United States, first as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II and for the past 14 years as a member of the Congress. In the last 20 years, I have traveled in nearly every continent and country — from Leningrad to Saigon, from Bucharest to Lima.
“From all of this, I have developed an image of America as fulfilling a noble and historic role as the defender of freedom in a time of maximum peril—and of the American people as confident, courageous and persevering. It is with this image that I begin this campaign.” Kennedy, who was assassinated at the age of 43 in Dallas, TX. on Nov. 22, 1963, would have celebrated his 100th birthday last Monday, May 30. For this observer, it was an especially sad day, sadder than usual because of the confluence of two events in my personal life that occurred on this date.
First, it was on this same day that my wife and I brought our infant daughter home from the hospital where she had been born on Nov. 17, 1963. Her homecoming was spoiled. Our doorman saw us arriving at the curb of our apartment at the foot of Fifth Avenue. He rushed towards my car shouting some words. As he drew closer and repeated himself, I could make out what he was saying: “Kennedy’s been shot! Kennedy’s been shot!” he repeated.
Then came the last straw—this past Sunday, the day before Kennedy’s 100th birthday on Memorial Day. Early in the morning, I received a call informing me that my sister had died. She was in a hospice in upstate New York. I knew she did not have much time left in her bout with cancer but the news—on top of everything else in the past—was deeply upsetting to me.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His “Out of the Woods” column has been published regularly in the Westport News for the past 49 years. He was assisted in compiling this column by Irakli (known as “Ike” ) Kavzharadze of the Republic of Georgia with research and computer technology expertise.