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Remembering President John F. Kennedy on anniversary of tragedy

On Nov. 22 we marked the 60th anniversary of the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. He was by far my favorite Democrat president. While serving in Congress, I had contact with his brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and I was a friend of his nephew, Congressman Joseph Kennedy.

On Nov. 6, 1960, I had the good fortune of seeing then Sen. John F. Kennedy about 48 hours before Election Day on the downtown Green in Waterbury, Connecticut. It was in the wee hours of the morning when he was on route to Cape Cod in Massachusetts where he was going to await the results of the election.

Like most Americans alive at the time of his assassination in 1963 we all can remember where we were when we heard the news of his death. For me, I was in a music class.

Early in his presidency Kennedy took complete blame for the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. Adopting the plans of former President Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy ordered 1,400 U.S. troops to invade Cuba in an attempt to overthrow

Cuban leader Fidel Castro. We failed. Kennedy admitted it and accepted the blame. In doing so, however, he showed character.

Today politicians are hesitant or simply refuse to admit failure despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We all make mistakes. Politicians like Kennedy were strong enough to admit them and move on.

On the other hand, Kennedy’s adroit handling of the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis saved the world from a nuclear war between communist Soviet Union and the United States.

Kennedy also helped put the civil rights movement on track, leading to the bipartisan historic passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Just prior to the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy’s call to Coretta Scott King in support of her jailed husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., earned Kennedy Mrs. King’s endorsement. That support helped turn the election in his favor as he received a whopping (at the time) 70% of the Black vote. (Today, the GOP would pop bottles of champagne if they would get 30% of the Black vote).

With regard to the ill-fated Vietnam War, Kennedy was not a major protagonist, but he did send 16,000 military advisors to Vietnam. He did not completely buy into the “domino theory” on communism taking over the region, which was promoted by former President Lyndon Johnson and others. That policy led to the deployment of over 500,000 U.S. troops to the region after Kennedy’s death.

With all of those positives still the two most memorable achievements were Kennedy’s Peace Corp and space initiatives. In the latter case, he greatly accelerated funding for our quest of putting astronauts on the moon.

The Peace Corp’s value? Yes, there was a time when America sought to have other nations, especially third world countries, actually “like us.” We sought to help other countries not just with foreign aid, but with the manpower of some of our best and brightest. As a two-sided coin, those American participants in the Peace Corp learned while helping others as well. Today, well, let’s just say it is quite different, due to sanctions and some errant drone attacks.

Eisenhower started the space program by establishing NASA, but Kennedy dramatically accelerated it. Due to our expertise in satellite technology, we now have sophisticated smartphones, GPS, as well as other scientific advancements that have improved our quality of life. The speed of communications and the flow of information have been truly incredible.

Lastly, if we did not compete in this arena when Russia was very active in it, we would be living in a very different world today – minus our military and technological superiority.

JFK – a life cut far too early. We would have been an even greater and stronger America if his leadership had continued. Our loss. The world’s loss. He was a man who was never given his due praise.

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