As most of you know this is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy represents a lot of things to me. It was JFK who was the first president I ever saw for real. When I was stationed at Bainbridge, MD I was part of a detachment of sailors who marched in Kennedy’s inauguration day parade in 1961 representing the US Navy.
In 1962 I was assigned to serve on the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850) which had been named after a Kennedy son who had been killed during WWII. In the fall of 62 our ship hosted the president and his guest for the week of the Americas Cup Races off the coast of Newport, RI. So, for a week the president, his wife, and lots of other dignitaries were within a hundred feet or less of me and my shipmates. At the end of the week the president shook our hands and he and Jackie thanked us all for what we’d done to make the ship ready.
A few days later we all were given a memento of the president’s visit, a gold-plated tie clasp in the shape of the PT-109. The patrol boat Kennedy had commanded in WWII.
Kennedy was the Commander-in-Chief during the Cuban Missile Crisis and our ship played an integral part in that event and participated in the only stop and board of a Cuban bound, Soviet chartered vessel. We also tracked and help bring Soviet subs to the surface and escorted US Marines from the Panama Canal to reinforce our base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
In my mind it was Kennedy who kept his cool during the crisis and directly helped avert what could have easily marked nuclear annihilation.
Throughout JFK’s years in office there seemed to be a sense of optimism in America. Everyone has heard his most famous inauguration day speech about asking what you can do for America. Well, most of us bought into that and began thinking about America’s greatness and that we are each responsible for keeping it great. I think we had more of a shared sense of being rather than the me, me, me thinking of today. It wasn’t us against the government, it was more of a feeling of we the people working hand in hand with government to make things even better.
Together we were going to end war, destroy poverty, fight racial segregation, help the people of the world, conquer disease, and put a human being on the moon by 1970.
All that optimism and hope came crushing down on this day, 50 years ago. One son of a bitch with a rifle killed our president and destroyed so much of our dreams and faith.
Unfortunately we never regained what we had back then. The symbolic son of a bitch with a rifle has continued to tear apart the collective fabric that bound us together so tightly in 1963.