On JFK’s assassination: ‘Such moments shape us’
Mourners file past the bier of President John F. Kennedy in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 1963. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Nov. 23, 1963 file photo, Lee Harvey Oswald is led down a corridor of the Dallas police station for another round of questioning in connection with the assassination of U.S, President John F. Kennedy. Oswald, who denied any involvement in the shooting, was formally charged with murder. (AP Photo)
This photo released by the National Archives shows the bloodstained interior of President John F. Kennedy's limousine after his assassination, shown May 3, 1994. The photo, taken after the vehicle was returned to Washington from Dallas, was part of nearly 50,000 photos and documents released from the assassination investigation. (AP Photo)
File-In the is Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as President of the United States of America as Jacqueline Kennedy stands at his side in the cabin of the presidential plane on the ground in Dallas. Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a Kennedy appointee to the Federal court, left, administers the oath. In background, from left are, Jack Valenti, administrative assistant to Johnson; Rep. Albert Thomas, D-Texas.; Lady Bird Johnson; and Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas. (AP Photo/White House, Cecil Stoughton, File)
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy stops to say a few words to news and television reporters boarding the familys plane, Caroline, with his mother and sister, Eunice Shriver at Hyannis, Massachusetts on Nov. 23, 1963. Sen. Kennedy, acting as spokesman for the family, thanks the people for their messages after the late President John F. Kennedys death. The family will attended the presidents funeral services in Washington. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
A 76 mm field artillery gun thunders a salute to the late President John F. Kennedy at Fort Myer, Va., at dawn, Nov. 23, 1963. A gun will fire each half hour from dawn to dusk at each Army and Marine Corps base to render honor to the late Commander-in-Chief. A similar ritual will be followed by Navy ships in port. The Washington Monument is silhouetted against the morning sky and the lights of the city of Washington. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
An unidentified Roman Catholic priest kneels in prayer beside a closed, flag-draped coffin bearing the body of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, victim of an assassin, Nov. 23, 1963. The body of the 35th President of the United States lies in repose in the historic East Room of the White House. (AP Photo)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 file photo, a sailor weeps as the caisson bearing the body of President John F. Kennedy travels past him and other mourners in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. on the way to the burial site. (AP Photo/File)
Overhead shot from Nov. 24, 1963 of President John F. Kennedy's casket in Capitol Rotunda, with honor guard as slain President was laying in state. (AP PHOTO) 11/24/1963
Kennedy family members descend steps in Washington, Nov. 25, 1963, at the funeral for President John F. Kennedy. From front to back at left are: Caroline Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and John Kennedy Jr.; behind them, Robert F. Kennedy, Patricia Kennedy Lawford and her husband, Peter Lawford; Little Sydney Lawford is at left of her mother. Behind Mrs. Kennedy are Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband Stephen E. Smith. Near top are President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson. Behind the vice president is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maxwell D. Taylor. (AP Photo)
The funeral procession for the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the nation's youngest president struck down by an assassin's bullets, crosses the bridge leading to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 25, 1963. The procession slowly moves over the Memorial Bridge, with Lincoln Memorial in background, monument to another slain president. (AP Photo)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 file photo, Cardinal Richard Cushing leads the coffin bearing President John F. Kennedy into St. Mathew's Cathedral in Washington. (AP Photo/File)
John F. Kennedy, Jr., is guided to a pew inside St. Matthew's Roman Catholic church in Washington, Nov. 25, 1963 at the start of a funeral Mass for his slain father, President John F. Kennedy. Tt was John, Jr.'s third birthday. (AP Photo)
This diagram shows how Lee Harvey Oswald, suspected assassin of Pres. John F. Kennedy, was slain while being transferred to the county jail, Nov. 24, 1963. He was brought down the elevator en route to an armored car at Commerce Street when gunned down by Jack Ruby. Oswald died a short time later in the hospital. (AP Photo)
Police and reporters react after the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy's assassin, in Dallas, Tex., Nov. 24, 1963. Hat belonging to Oswald's shooter, Jack Ruby, is shown. (AP Photo)
Lee Harvey Oswald, accussed assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is rushed into Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Nov. 24, 1963. Nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as he was being transferred through the city jail's underground garage. Parkland Hospital also treated President Kennedy's fatal wounds two days earlier. (AP Photo/Ted Powers)
Burial of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 25, 1963. His brother Robert F. Kennedy and widow Jacqueline Kennedy arrive with the president's mother, Rose Kennedy behind them as the coffin is placed at the grave. (AP Photo/John Rooney)
Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, holds the American flag that covered the coffin of her husband. She is shown here at Arlington National Cemetery November 25, 1963, after the president was buried. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
Three Roman Catholic nuns pay their final respects at the grave of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 25, 1963. The nuns were among many who paused at the grave in Arlington after the funeral services. President Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic elected to the presidency. (AP Photo)
Detroit Lions' Nick Pietrosante (33), left, and Wayne Walker (55), right, stand during ceremonies honoring slain President John F. Kennedy, before a game between Detroit and the Minnesota Vikings at Metropolitian Stadium in Minneapolis, in this Nov. 24, 1963 photo. (AP Photo)
Servicemen stand guard over the flower-banked grave of the late President John F. Kennedy as dawn breaks at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 26, 1963. A white picket fence encloses the area where the president is buried. (AP Photo)
It is a speech that was never spoken.
“Above all, words alone are not enough,” he was supposed to say. “The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.”
It is the speech President John F. Kennedy was to deliver at the Dallas Trade Center on Nov. 22, 1963 – 50 years ago yesterday.
The unspoken words alone are not enough to know whether the president would have veered from the prepared text he was to share. Those words are of no help in guessing who the young president would have become if he had lived.
But as the world marks the anniversary of his assassination, the legacy of who Kennedy was while he lived remains.
Mary Louise Hancock, a longtime state senator and a figure of Democratic politics in New Hampshire, remembered breaking the news of Kennedy’s death to her mother 50 years ago, holding her while she cried.
“He had dreams, and we all like dreams,” Hancock, 93, said. “Even though he
didn’t live, his dreams did, his hopes and dreams for the American people. . . . I think
it’s good to look in our hearts and see what we have done since his death, and whether his dreams (have been) accomplished and what more we can do. We still have a long way to go.”
On Oct. 14, 1960, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of University of Michigan students, asking them whether they would be willing to serve abroad and work in foreign service. Two weeks later in San Francisco, he proposed “a peace corps of talented men and women” to serve around the world.
On March 1, 1961, just a few months after the beginning of his presidency, Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order. And in the fall of 1961, just a few months after the beginning of the Peace Corps, Stuart Russell began his freshman year at Dartmouth.
“I thought (the Peace Corps) was one of the best things I had ever heard,” Russell said.
Russell graduated from Dartmouth in 1965, and he left the United States in September of that year for a Peace Corps job teaching English in Cameroon.
“Kennedy was idolized by these people, absolutely idolized,” Russell said. “People I met in Cameroon said, ‘Oh, you’re an American. Oh, it’s so sad about Kennedy being shot.’ ”
American agencies at that time were helping to develop roads around the school where Russell worked, he said.
“The big bulldozers, the local population’s nickname for those was ‘Kennedys,’ ” Russell said.
Russell spent two years teaching English to his students as well as to adults in his village. Some volunteers from his group recently returned to find their students again after nearly 50 years.
“What impact did we have? Did we do any good?” Russell said the group wanted to know. “They found out that the students of our generation are doctors, lawyers, policemen. They’re in the military, they’re running small businesses, they’re working for the government, they’re politicians, they’re teaching at the universities. They’re doing all the middle-class jobs, which is what we helped them train for.”
Writing the playbook
During the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy lost in New Hampshire.
But his campaign marked a change in the energy of the state’s Democratic party, which Portsmouth attorney Jack Sanders said was almost nonexistent at that time.
“To spark an interest in the Democratic party in New Hampshire, we frequently relied on office holders coming from out of state because we didn’t have office holders who were Democrats,” Sanders said. “People like the Kennedys, they had a great influence on helping build and shape the Democratic party in New Hampshire.”
Sanders, now 78, was a law student during Kennedy’s campaign in 1960, but he went on to do campaign work in New Hampshire for both Bobby and Ted Kennedy.
“That was the first campaign in the history of the country when (Kennedy) ran for president that really took advantage of the state primary process from New Hampshire across the country,” Sanders said. “That is emulated by successful candidates for president since. He and Bobby Kennedy and his team really wrote the playbook on how to run a successful campaign.”
Kennedy also marked a change for both Republicans and Democrats when it came to campaign fundraising. He had wooed the nation on TV, and he earned an endorsement from Frank Sinatra. Legislators, such as then-U.S. Rep. Perkins Bass, a New Hampshire Republican, began to raise money for re-election campaigns that would have been funded privately in the past. Radio and television ads for political candidates became a necessity and a norm.
“Is Kennedy responsible for that?” said Charlie Bass, son of Perkins Bass and a former U.S. representative for New Hampshire. “No. But he was certainly the first candidate to really utilize modern political techniques.”
Charlie Bass was in sixth grade in 1963, and the weekend following Kennedy’s assassination, he said he remembers that his father, who died in 2011, took the family to a special service in the president’s honor at the Cathedral of the Pines in Jaffrey.
“Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, everybody was just heartbroken by it,” Bass said.
A chance to learn
This fall at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, sociology professor Dennis MacDonald and his students have been picking apart the investigation into Kennedy’s assassination in a course titled “JFK Assassination and the Failure of Institutions.”
When MacDonald was a college student at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1970s, he and some friends organized one of the first major symposiums to analyze the assassination.
“I think it’s important for students to have a chance to look into the record and draw some conclusions,” he said.
The class analyzes the assassination in the context of one of MacDonald’s areas of expertise – the way national institutions such as the federal government and the media work, and what happens when they don’t. And the investigation into Kennedy’s death, MacDonald said, is ripe for those questions.
“Our institutions have to work right, and it’s important that we get them right,” MacDonald said. “We haven’t made a whole lot of progress on that, so if we study them in a particular instance like this and try to figure out where they’re not functioning properly and why, I think that’s an important thing to do.”
An echo of Kennedy
A sophomore in high school in November 1963, Bill Donoghue said he was sitting in the stands at East Boston High School watching a football game when Kennedy’s motorcade pulled out of Logan Airport and drove past the field. The players lined the chain-link fence, Donoghue said, and the whole crowd stared from the bleachers.
Less than one week later, Kennedy was dead. Three years later, Donoghue had graduated high school and was training to be a U.S. Navy corpsman. He spent three years treating wounded Marines coming back from Vietnam, and then in 1970, he went overseas to be part of a very small, obscure Marine advisory unit – similar to the first Army Special Forces groups Kennedy sent to Vietnam while he was president.
“I felt in a way like the small advisory unit I was part of was maybe an echo of what President Kennedy had started,” he said.
It is impossible to know how Kennedy would have shaped the course of that conflict in Vietnam if he had been alive. But for Donoghue it is very possible to see how his work as a corpsman affects his life now. He is now a minister, a pastor at the Canterbury United Community Church.
“I know how to be really quiet and listen in the middle of uncomfortable situations,” Donoghue said. “I think it helped me identify strengths that are helpful to me in life. . . . It makes me the kind of minister I am, but also the kind of father I am.”
It is also possible, Donoghue said, to unite in remembering a tragedy that changed a nation’s life even as it ended a man’s.
“It’s important not to get locked in . . . even though such moments shape us to be who we are,” he said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)