President John F. Kennedy: a timeless hero

Thursday, November 27, 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited

IT'S BEEN 40 years since Nov. 22, 1963, the date when Lee Harvey Oswald, a disaffected madman, shot and killed president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I can still remember the infamous day's events as if they happened yesterday.

At noon, after a routine morning, I started a week's vacation. All pumped up, in anticipation of spending an exciting five-day holiday in New York City, I headed for my Dartmouth boarding house at 1 p.m. to meet a friend whose car we would be using for the drive to the United States. When Harold arrived at my digs, he filled me in about the tragic news from Dallas, which was then being broadcast as an assassination attempt. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the president was dead.

In shock because we were both big admirers of his, and knowing that Americans would also be in shock and grieving, we debated whether to go ahead with our plans or cancel. We opted to go.

Before departure, I switched my dress pants for a pair of chinos. Distracted by the day's horrific events, I forgot to transfer my wallet. This omission created a big entertainment problem for me during our stay in New York. Although I was 25, I looked 16 and all but one of the city's nightclubs, a sleaze joint, refused to admit me. The most outstanding thing I remember about the "joint" was a drunk crying at the bar because New York's ailing Cardinal Spellman couldn't go to the president's funeral.

Shortly after the funeral, the righteous right-wing element, with the intent to disparage Kennedy's memory in the public's mind, began an assault on his reputation that has continued non-stop to this day. It's as if they have a paranoid fear that he might arise from the dead and mute their quest to control government on their own self-serving terms. Which, if it were possible, would be a valid fear, because he would vanquish them in an election!

In their zeal to besmirch him, these hateful rumour-mongers have tried everything, including labelling him incompetent, etc. They've even bared every minor detail of dozens of sexual escapades they say he indulged in. If, in fact, he did indulge so wantonly, while running the affairs of state and dealing with the effects of a terrible illness, he deserves admiration for his stamina.

But no matter what his disparagers come up with, to a vast multitude of us, president Kennedy remains a great hero. His challenge to his countrymen, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for country," still resonates.

Without question, his charisma and mystique were enormous influences. There was something about him and his ideas that aroused hope in multitudes around the world. Wherever he went, vast crowds came to hear and cheer him. It was unique. No American president has ever inspired such respect and admiration among the world's masses.

It was a combination of many admirable traits that won him such esteem. High among these was his forthright willingness to accept responsibility for the negative results of his actions. Helen Thomas, longtime White House correspondent, in an article she wrote for the Hearst Newspapers on Nov. 5, entitled "Buck doesn't stop with President Bush," said about Kennedy: "Sometimes presidents have done a mea culpa. In April 1961, President John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attempt by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. It was an operation planned by the Eisenhower administration, but Kennedy adopted it after he became president. However, he had second thoughts and failed to send the promised air cover. The result was a catastrophic defeat for the invaders."

Adding greatly to his outstanding image was the bravery he displayed after PT 109, the craft he captained during the Second World War, was sunk in the Pacific by the enemy. The way he persevered - nine days, I believe - until he managed to make contact with Allied forces, which saved his crew from almost certain death, is legendary.

William Rivers Pitt, managing editor of truthout.org, in an editorial entitled "Assassin's History," said of him: "The murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy 40 years ago has, beyond question, done more damage to this nation and the world than we can possibly imagine. Though Kennedy was a Cold Warrior for the ages, his commitment to radically changing the nature of that conflict would have saved us vast amounts of grief. His commitment to reverse America's course in Vietnam and remove all troops by Dec. 31, 1965 would likewise have avoided the spilling of rivers of blood and tears. Imagine a world where those 58,000 Americans had also been allowed to live out the fullness of their days. Imagine what they, too, could have accomplished."

President Kennedy inspired the world's masses to dream with him of a day when world peace and prosperity would be realized. His presence dispelled much of the gloom that was afflicting humanity at that time and instilled hope. His promise, so prematurely muffled by a madman, is still alive and will one day be fulfilled.

Hats off to a timeless hero! May the Great Spirit keep him in peace and contentment for eternity!

Daniel N. Paul


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