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May 3, 2012

“JOHNNY WE HARDLY KNEW YE”: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Getting Into Politics I.

Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today we begin our report on Chapter 2 of the book by Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy.  It is published by Little, Brown & Company.

The title of Chapter 2 is “Getting Into Politics”.

This chapter begins with the widely known account of why JFK decided to make politics his career: Older brother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was the “chosen one” to one day become the 1st Irish Catholic President of the United States but with his death in 1944 that role would shift to Jack Kennedy.

According to O’Donnell & Powers….

“To anybody who knew the Kennedys that tale does not hold water.  Actually, Jack did not finally decide to go into politics…until more than a year after Joe’s death.”

On the other hand, the author’s do agree that the death of Joe Jr. was a key factor because it opened up the opportunity for Jack Kennedy.

As is also widely known today, JFK, in 1946, lacked the political personality of his older brother.  Joe Senior would even say after Jack was elected to Congress: “I never thought Jack had it in him.”

But Jack needed people with political experience with him.  He was advised to get DAVE POWERS because “he knew every voter in Charlestown by his first name.”

On January 21, 1946, a day less than 14 years before he would be sworn in as President of the United States, young Jack Kennedy “climbed….(the) stairs to the top floor of the three-decker at 88 Ferrin Street….& knocked on the front door.”

Dave Powers opened the door & “this tall & thin, handsome young fellow….stuck out his hand & said, ‘My name is Jack Kennedy.  I’m a candidate for Congress.'”

Dave listened to Jack & agreed to go with him to a meeting of “Gold Star Mothers.”  

These were moms who had lost sons in WWII.

This was the same story I told my students for 40 years.  The speech, one of Jack’s first, was short & to the point but at the end he paused & said: 

“I think I know how all you mothers feel because my mother is a gold star mother, too.”

Dave remembers how all the women ran up to Jack to shake his hand & were saying how much he reminded them of their own sons. 

“They all had stars in their eyes.  It took (Jack) a half hour to pull himself away from them.  They didn’t want him to leave.”

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