This past week I visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library again. It was the third time I have done so.
This visit was no different than the past ones. I found myself welling up several times. From time to time wiping a tear or two from my cheeks.
Why is it such an emotional experience for me, I ask. I am not really sure, but these are some thoughts on why this impacts me so much.
When Kennedy was elected President in 1960 I was 16 years old, an impressionable time in a young man’s life.
His youth, vibrancy, intellect, humor all attracted me. He was only 43 years old when he was elected, some 33-36 years younger than our current and most recent President. Even with a bad back, he played touch football with his family and friends. He had two adorable, very young children. John-John was only 2 months old when he came into the White House. It was the beginning of live TV Presidential press conferences, and JFK was sharp, informed, and quick witted. He had a wonderful wry sense of humor that was refreshing. I guess I miss this more than I realized.
But more than that, he inspired me and millions of young people in this country to give back, to do something to make this country a better place for all, especially those who are poor, elderly or ill. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” For example, he created the Peace Corps which so many of my friends joined.
The domestic issue of the day back then was civil rights. His moral leadership on this issue was really important and had an impact on me. I signed up for the first “Negro History” course that my college ever offered. I spent one of my spring vacations from college driving to Mississippi to help rebuild a Black church that had been burned to the ground. This was a very emotional experience for me.
The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart. Some for it, some against. I knew it was a matter of time before I would have to answer the question of whether to join the war effort or to continue to defer it. Every night on the news the horrors of war were recounted and viewed. Emotionally wrenching.
The 13 days during the Cuban missile crisis brought so starkly home to me the potential danger of nuclear war and the importance of international relations, especially with Russia. Just 90 miles off our Florida coastline we had Russian missiles being installed with a capability of reaching almost all US metropolitan areas.
And of course, the assassination was traumatic. I can still remember vividly exactly where I was when I heard the news about it. I was on the Williams College campus walking from one classroom to another. The scene in Dallas, Walter Cronkite’s announcement on TV, the dramatic footage, the unbelievably moving funeral procession are still very vivid memories. That this could happen in America was shocking to me at the time.
As I reflect on this some 60 plus years later, I am amazed at how many feelings and emotions come up for me when I am reminded of and exposed to the gripping moments of those years in the early 1960s. Whether it be the images of the civil rights marches, the rider less horse at the funeral procession, the young black girl being escorted into a school by security guards, the pictures of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, the many scenes of war in Vietnam, the young Caroline and John-John playing in the Oval office, the President’s speech at his inauguration, to name a few.
Oh my goodness…
7 thoughts on “JFK Library”
Some very powerful memories! Thank you for sharing
JFK’s assignation was so sad… There photos of people mourning across the USA..
I was working in Boston.. a black crow appeared on top of a cross that was on the church steeple … that I could see from my desk, that morning before his death..
Neil, once again you brought back powerful memories my friend. My God we need another JFK in the White House! We certainly do need someone to make Americans great again to make America a place to be proud of again. Thank you for your post. You reminded me why I’m still a democrat.
Thoughtful, emotional and relevant to our current time. Humanity exhibited in the White House. Children as a powerful symbol of the future and growth and the unknowns all young people face. The last photo reaffirms the ageless adage that a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Where are the leaders who have the humanity, authenticity, energy and judgment to lead? Thank you for surfacing this issue.
Brings back memories. I was with First Armored Division that was deployed to Fort Stuart Georgia. When the Cuban missile crises
was resolved, JFK came down to thank us for our service.
Was on my way home to Santa Monica, driving from Fort Hood Texas when he was assassinated. But that is another story. Enjoying your trips.
Such a wonderful, elegantly written blog to reflect, smile, shed a tear and relive those special historic times.
I was eighteen years old and attending Worcester State College in Massachusetts.
That Friday, November 22, 1963,is so so memorable. Sitting glued to the TV, spending time in church, watching Jack
Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television with my family as we walked into our house after attending mass together, my parents, especially, my dad wiping tears as the riderless horse paraded by and little John John saluting.
Neil, you have just added another trip to my bucket list.
I lived in Massachusetts for the first 23 years of my life, but have never visited the JFK Memorial Library.
Thank you for this blog.
I remember the day of the assassination so clearly, walking down the hall in our new school in shock. I happened to be in Dallas in 1994 at a conference and made the trek to Dealey Plaza, to the grassy knoll. It left an uneasy feeling even after all that time. Still not convinced about the findings in the Warren Commission.