Remembering John F. Kennedy

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2019 - 12:00am

It was a sunny day in Dallas, Texas 56 years ago when around noon of Nov. 22, the young handsome American president was brutally murdered by a supposedly lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. To this day, people all over the world still mourn the death of John F. Kennedy, considered to be the most famous and most revered of all presidents of the United States.

Many Americans especially those known as the “baby boomers” who were born after World War II still remember the 35th US president, whose charismatic and vibrant personality captivated many. 

The youthful president – who was elected when he was only 43 years old – evoked inspiration among the people who saw in him the advent of new politics in America. His heroism during World War II, when he served as a gunboat pilot which earned for him two medals and a Purple Heart, added to his appeal. JFK raised the bar in American politics especially for the Democratic Party. No one has ever come close to the kind of style, elegance and substance that he displayed when he was president. Though he came from a wealthy family, he connected well with many ordinary young Americans.

JFK belongs to a family that is acknowledged as the most famous in the United States, and some even refer to the Kennedys as the American royal family, having produced a president, congressmen, senators and ambassadors, among many other distinctions.

I was in Massachusetts in March last year on an official visit where I met with Congressman Joseph “Joe” Kennedy III at his office in Newton. Joe is the grandson of the late senator Robert Kennedy and grand-nephew of JFK, and many see in him the continuation of the political legacy of the Kennedy clan. Joe is seeking the Democratic nomination for a US Senate seat and is challenging a fellow Democrat, the 73-year-old Senator Edward Markey, calling it “the fight of my generation” when he announced his intention to run for the US Senate via a post on Facebook. Joseph Kennedy III could potentially be a future presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. 

After my meeting with Congressman Joe Kennedy, I proceeded to the JFK Library where I was ushered in to a small theater to view a short documentary narrated by no less than President Kennedy himself. I happened to be seated beside a lady who kept sobbing almost the whole time as the documentary was being shown. It was simply overwhelming to see that after almost six decades, people still continue to be emotional about the death of JFK, whose presidency promised so much hope for the future of America.

The sobbing lady made me realize that indeed, people who die at a young age will always be remembered, and even more so when their lives held so much promise, like JFK whose presidency only lasted for a little more than a thousand days. This inspired a book titled, “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House” by historian and Harvard professor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. who was handpicked by JFK to serve as his special assistant.

His dreams, his aspirations for America and his support for the civil rights movements inspired a generation to “accept responsibility for its government, and its world, by taking political and social action. As president, he fought to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all Americans. He encouraged Americans to lift up those less fortunate than themselves, both at home and abroad… set new directions for international diplomacy, seeking better relations with Latin America and newly independent nations,” thus read the description on the website that was put up in 2017 to celebrate the 100th birthday or centennial of JFK. 

He was a man of vision who saw space as the new frontier and made a powerful case for sending a man on the moon during his address at Rice University on Sept. 2, 1962 to persuade the American public to support the Apollo program. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he said.

But one of the most lasting legacies of JFK is the Peace Corps, a volunteer program run by the US government which he established through an executive order in March 1961. Today, this initiative continues to reverberate all over the world with so much goodwill generated by the volunteers who are imbued with a passion and dedication to help change lives for the better. They go to different countries, immersing themselves in local communities and working with local leaders to address various challenges.

In fact, a good friend of mine, the former US Consul General in Manila Kevin Herbert, vividly remembers his early days in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer in the ’70s. Kevin looked back at those days as a Peace Corps volunteer, recalling all the good things they did for our country, displaying that the best aid one can extend is that which does not come with strings attached, but given with a genuine desire to help others. 

One of JFK’s profound statements and most powerful of messages was during his inauguration in 1961 when he said, “Fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America can do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” 

John Kennedy believed in those ideals with a vision of establishing better relations with other nations, respecting each other’s sovereignty and working together to strengthen democracy – and not dictating it.

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