WASHINGTON, DC, November 28, 2012 - Maybe I was out of the room when America took time to remember a president who had miles to go before he slept. But November 22 came and went and there was practically nothing by way of remembrance for John F. Kennedy. That is a shame and it is always a pity when greatness, like beauty, is given no chance to bloom.
JFK will always be a contender, never a champ, and all that because he never got to complete his task. To my eyes, however, he remains magnificent.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, Nov 22, 1963. To those of us who were there, we remember, and we will never forget the sublime youthfulness of that age.
I was there, newly American from the genocide in Europe, and like the rest of the nation I was enlivened by this president’s call to greatness, his summons to join him in ascending a New Frontier. We were a nation on the move. Everything was possible. He promised us the moon, this 35th president of the United States, and he got us there. We arrived in time for ourselves, too late for him.
JFK – our first movie star president, and oh how they sparkled, Jack and Jackie. They lit up the country. They enchanted the world.
Yes, he had his flaws and yes, I know the stories that have come out since his death, tawdry, if even half true, but don’t trouble me with that, because it only proves that even the best of us, like JFK, like King David, are not divinities but still human and lower than the angels.
Besides, JFK was inaugurated as president, at about the same time I was inaugurated as an American, and you can’t take that away from me or any man.
During this time of vigor (or “vigah” as he pronounced it) I knew that some day I would write about this, in part historically, in part personally, and I got it done in The Days of the Bitter End, with a prophetic inscription from King Solomon that still haunts me and runs, “So remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come…”
And so came the breaking news from Walter Cronkite…”There has been an attempt on the life of President Kennedy…” and thus we stayed tuned, stricken in disbelief, in despair, in fear, and finally in grief. The nation shared images of that flag-draped casket moving along Washington D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue, the muffled drums, the riderless horse, Jackie reminding Baby John John to salute his fallen father, and the towering figure of French President Charles de Gaulle leading the procession.
We stayed tuned for all that and we haven’t turned off our televisions since.
But I prefer to go back to the glory that was John F. Kennedy, so this is what came forth for the book: “This was morning in America. America was a nation on the move, happy to leave behind the torpor of the Eisenhower years to heed this new president’s call for sacrifice and greatness.
“Not since Washington and Jefferson had America felt such a surge of renewal as embodied in this president and his even more glamorous First Lady, Jackie. Together they gave us style, romance, adventure, a vision of glittering greatness without end.”
But then this: “Even rational minds presumed that no mere bullet was strong enough to bring down the most powerful man on earth, certainly not this president, so youthful, so handsome, and so virile, for JFK was more than a mortal in terms of America. He was a star! As such he was impregnable and as for power – wasn’t he second only to God!”
If we’ve forgotten to honor him properly, we do honor his message, which is to ask what we can do for our country.
But my favorite JFK quote comes from that day at Amherst when he honored Robert Frost, words to heed as we face encroachments upon our rights of free speech: “It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society – in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves the nation.”
We were young…and we were lucky to have that man at that time.
Jack Engelhard is a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, bring his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe.
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