January 27, 2012
JACK KENNEDY: ELUSIVE HERO, WAR HERO
Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 reports on Chapter 4 of Chris Matthews’ new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, published by Simon & Schuster.
The title of Chapter 4 is WAR HERO.*
“Ahead….loomed new ways for (Jack) to demonstrate the man he was becoming–the leader he would be.”
Mr. Matthews tells us that JFK’s status as a war hero “gave credibility” to the claim that his chronic back problems, as well as other health issues, were the result of his service during WWII.
We know that JFK loved reading poetry, but Chris writes that he was drawn to poems about “dedication, courage & overcoming obstacles.”
Chris debunks the story we have all read or heard that it was JFK’s father who pushed him into politics after the war.
Chris writes that JFK “had his eye on the 11th Congressional seat in Massachusetts.”
In the meantime, JFK represented the Chicago Herald at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.
In one of his newspaper columns, JFK wrote:
“The war makes less sense to me now–& I would really like–as my life’s goal–to do something to help prevent another.”
From San Francisco, JFK was sent to London to cover “the fierce political struggle taking place.”
JFK was shocked that his hero, Winston Churchill, was in political trouble because of the post war economy in Britain.
In London, the British economist Barbara Wood describes JFK as “political to the fingertips” & when he returned home, chum Lem Billings said: “Nothing could have kept Jack out of politics.”
Chris tells us that JFK told his new friend, Charles Bartlett, in Palm Beach, “I’m going into politics & see if you can really do anything.”
So JFK set about becoming a congressman.
Jack “made the rounds of community groups–VFW, American Legion, Lions & Rotary Clubs” but Irishman Dan O’Brien told him that he would be “murdered (because he had) no….experience” & the disadvantage of “his father’s reputation.”
So Jack Kennedy sought help from “pols” from the district.
He hired Billy Sutton “to help him trudge up & down the three deckers of the old neighborhoods.”
And he brought on Dave Powers who was taken by the way Jack charmed the Gold Star mothers (moms whose sons had been killed in WWII) by saying “I think I know how you feel, my mother is a Gold Star mother too.”**
JFK Library Photo
But still, in 1946, Jack was down to 120 pounds & his voting address in the district was at the Bellevue Hotel. He was considered a “carpetbagger” by most local politicians.
While Chris discusses some behind the scenes, or under the table, episodes which helped insure a Kennedy victory, he also says that it was meeting the voters himself that “was his only means” to get to know them.
At one meeting with the other candidates, each one got up & told how difficult their lives had been, so when his turn came, JFK said: “I guess I’m the only one here who didn’t come up the hard way.”
With the June 1946 primary a day away, JFK marched in the annual Bunker Hill parade but collapsed before reaching the finish.
But the next day was his. JACK KENNEDY won the Democratic Primary, which in a strongly Democratic district meant he would be going to Congress.
*When he was President a young boy once asked JFK how he had become a war hero. He answered: “It was easy. They sank my boat.”
**We had the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet David Powers at the Kennedy Library in June 1986.
I had written Dave telling him of my lifelong devotion to JFK & that we were coming to the library & would be honored to meet him.
He wrote back & told us to give our names to the personnel at the library & if he was in, he would be happy to see us.
When we did that, we were sent right up to Dave’s office & could hear him talking down the hall. Many pictures of JFK were hung on the wall & there was a Kennedy rocker sitting in front of Dave’s desk.
When Dave came in, I introduced myself & my wife & he said: “Beverly, won’t you sit down in President Kennedy’s rocker?” (I never even got a chance to sit in it.)
Dave was so personable & so much fun to talk to. He gave us almost an hour of his time. What an absolutely amazing experience.
Two of the highlights of my life are meeting Dave Powers at the JFK Library in 1986 & Caroline Kennedy at Georgetown University in 2010.
Congressman John F. Kennedy
JFK Library Photo (1947)