JFK at 100: A Personal Reflection

President John F. Kennedy laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 1963. The photo at top is from that day, May 30, 1963. By the end of that year, President Kennedy joined the company of dead service members buried there.

President Kennedy would be 100 today, which coincidentally is this year’s Memorial Day.

I do not know if my family home was more or less Kennedy-saturated than the homes of other American families that were begun in the 1960s like ours: we had three JFK memorial books and one LP recording of the late President delivering his speeches that had a glossy full-color portrait on the front of the sleeve and his inaugural address printed as a long liner note on the back.

There were November 1963 issues of Life magazine boxed up—Life was the newsweekly that people kept and preserved and re-visited as if events had not happened until confirmed on the giant pages of that publication. (The media preferences I was exposed to when I was young stayed with me into adulthood: Life, not Look; Time, not Newsweek, NBC News, not CBS. To younger ears, I suppose all of that is akin to preferring Safari or Chrome to Opera or Tor or perhaps something more arcane.)

In each of those publications—history books and Life magazine alike—color is introduced with photos of the president’s inaugural and presidency, like above. Greens were greener, blues bluer, and, after his murder, Kennedy seemed more like a president than any American could remember. Life (and Life) became less lively after his sudden departure.

My memories of these items, the magazines and memorial books, are from the early 1970s, as I was born in 1968. They were not ancient, dusty history tomes but books which were still in our living room, books whose pages could still bring a tear to my mother’s eyes and catch in my father’s voice.

The fact that John F. Kennedy was shockingly murdered was the reason for each book’s existence and the reason for each magazine’s careful preservation in my family home, so some of the first history lessons I was exposed to were pretty fatalistic. One book’s title, Triumph and Tragedy, from 1968, sums up the nature of almost all of the President Kennedy memorial books. The book presented the history of the entire Kennedy family, and it ended on a note of optimism about the young U.S. Senator from New York, as if tragedy was about to yield to triumph once again. We all knew what the book did not. Its conclusion dated from before Senator Kennedy’s conclusion. Triumph and Tragedy, and triumph and tragedy.

Memorial Day 1963: Camelot was still just a play on Broadway and not yet a metaphor.

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  1. Relax... · May 29, 2017

    I’d much rather hear, “The Beatles? Who are the Beatles?” than hear, “JFK? What’s that?” It was frameworthy in the living rooms of all neighborhoods, that’s what. [Happy Birthday, JFK. ❤ You haven't missed much, but we have.] (Thank you for speaking to the absence, Mark.) ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Martha Kennedy · May 29, 2017

    JFK certainly worked to mixed reviews. For my parents, that election — JFK vs. Nixon — was as choiceless as the one we just went through. My dad saw Nixon as a fascist crook who’d sell his soul to anyone and he saw JFK as the son of an Irish mafia boss who supported Hitler. Having presidential debates on TV was also new. We watched them. My parents commented on how JFK being better looking was going to help him win now that TV was part of the equation. They saw JFK as an amateur and Nixon as too much of a pro. But following on Eisenhower who was not only popular but universally considered a good president, it couldn’t have been easy for anyone.

    Now I’m no one’s kid any more I still see a lot of “pixie dust” around the image of JFK, but I also appreciate a lot of his thinking.


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