In November 22, 1963, Dean Owen curates a fascinating collection of interviews and thought-provoking commentaries from notable men and women connected to that notorious Friday afternoon. Those who worked closely with the president, civil rights leaders, celebrities, prominent journalists, and political allies are among the many voices asked to share their reflections on the significance of that day and the legacy of JFK. A few of the names include:
Tom Brokaw, a young reporter in Omaha in 1963
Andy Rooney, veteran television and radio newscaster
Letitia Baldrige, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy
Congressman John Lewis, sole survivor of the Big Six” black leaders who met the president after the March on Washington in August of 1963
Cliff Robertson, Academy Awardwinning actor who portrayed JFK in PT 109
With a compelling foreword from renowned author and journalist Helen Thomas, November 22, 1963 investigates not only where we were that day nearly fifty years ago, but where we have been since. A commemorative and insightful read, this book will unite generations.
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About the Author
Helen Thomas (19202013) was the former chief White House Correspondent for the United Press International. The recipient of more than forty honorary degrees, she was honored in 1998 with the inaugural Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the White House Correspondents' Association. She lived in Washington, D.C., where she wrote a syndicated column for Hearst from 2000 to 2010.
Read an Excerpt
Members of the Kennedy Administration and White House Staff
Letitia Baldrige Hollensteiner
White House Social Secretary, expert on etiquette
"When the president has people sticking to him like parasites and not letting go, I managed to get in there and uproot both of them, and let him escape."
THE first time I met him was on a train going to Newport, Rhode Island for a weekend in the summer. He had been elected to the Senate, and he was already being talked about as a handsome young man. Very, very ambitious. Member of a large political family. I already had heard all the gossip about him. And he personified it all.
He was so good looking and had a great sense of humor. And he had been everywhere in the world. It was an enthusiastic first sighting [laughter].
We were both going to stay at Jackie's mother's house, Hammersmith Farm. I would have loved to have spoken with him more that weekend, but there were too many people at him — or after him. I could hardly get in a word.
When the president has people sticking to him like parasites and not letting go, I managed to get in there and uproot both of them, and let him escape. That's where I was needed and that's one of the things a social secretary does. She watches over the boss, the host, and never lets him out of her sight, and removes anything that's too abrasive, too forceful, too boring. There are so many reasons to get rid of people who are surrounding your president, or your ambassador, whoever it is. You must get rid of those people, and let the ambassador or the president do his job. You take all the criticism and let people hate you. But you're doing it for the boss.
Excerpt from A Lady First: My Life in the Kennedy White House and the American Embassies of Paris and Rome, by Letitia Baldrige © 2001 (Used with permission of author):
I had just sat down to lunch with Town & Country magazine editor-in-chief Henry Sell at the Mid-America Club atop the Prudential skyscraper. In the middle of our chicken crepes, a waiter brought us some more wine and said, 'I can't believe it. Someone has shot the president.'
It was an extraordinary moment in my life. I couldn't believe it. In fact, I'm shaking my head right now as I'm saying this. It shouldn't have happened.
I called the White House and spoke with Clark Clifford. He said, "Get on a plane and come down here."
I arrived in Washington, went to the White House, and stayed there for the next seven or eight days. I was involved in a little bit of everything: protocols, greeting people, calming people down, getting information for people. It was a time none of us will ever forget.
Jackie was completely stunned. She was appreciative of my help later. But while it was going on, she was stunned. And she handled herself with beauty and grace. She knew it was the funeral of the century. Everything was planned. The words she used. It was all carefully thought out. It was a script on how to plan a state funeral. She would think, "This would mean so much to the children" — some particular phrase. She was incredible.
You just adored the man! He would not dwell on anything that was sad or gloomy. He was funny about anything that he could be funny about, and he taught us all how to do that. He would say, "Don't dwell on that, that sad stuff. Start talking about what happened at the such and such."
He taught us public relations in many ways. He knew about public relations and he knew how to use it, how to control it. He was a real teacher. He was so naturally aware of the world. I've never known anyone like that. That was one of his major talents that most people don't think about, because they're so into the one talent or skill being discussed at the moment. But people should look at him with a wide lens. He had a wonderful team of people around him, but he would not have had them if he had not been an extraordinary person. The team devotes loyalty to its leader and grows more loyal when they see it in the leader.
I was in contact with Jackie every once in a while after she left the White House. It was always in conjunction with some meeting. She worked very hard. She always had something on her plate. She would call me and ask me, and I would come spend a few days working with her on the event or activity. She was always grateful.
The main part of his legacy is to reach out to the young — ages eight to eighty. He would have something to say to each group. To motivate them, to make them feel they have a real place in the government, in our country, and in future aspirations of this country. He was always thinking of the future, and how one issue or event would affect another.
Joseph A. Califano Jr.
Senior official in the Pentagon, Carter administration cabinet member
"(Robert Kennedy) whispered to me: 'This is where we'll bury the President.' I will never forget the words."
I first noticed John Kennedy watching the 1956 Democratic convention on television. I was twenty-seven years old and working in the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington. Adlai Stevenson had thrown open the nomination for vice president to the delegates and Kennedy mounted a strong — though ultimately unsuccessful — effort against Estes Kefauver, the Democratic senator from Tennessee.
At that time, Kennedy had little going for him besides the glamour and wealth of his family and his socially prominent wife, Jacqueline Bouvier. But he came astonishingly close and lost to Kefauver by fewer than two hundred votes. I was impressed watching him make a politically adept and gracious appeal to the delegates to unanimously nominate his rival.
Fast-forward three and a half years. I woke up on February 20, 1960 ready to enjoy a long weekend for the George Washington birthday holiday. I had recently purchased James MacGregor Burns's campaign biography, John F. Kennedy: A Political Profile, after seeing so many news stories about John Kennedy's campaign for the presidency — the first Catholic to seek the presidency since Al Smith in 1928. I spent most of the weekend reading that book.
I identified with Kennedy as a strong anti-Communist Catholic, a cold warrior committed to defeating the atheistic Soviet Union — a true struggle of good against evil. He also expressed concern for the poor and underprivileged, which was in line with the commitment to social justice that the Jesuits at Holy Cross and Brooklyn Prep had instilled in me. Burns wrote that Kennedy believed it was essential to "track down the best talent" to lead the United States in this "revolutionary time." As a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, I believed I swam in that talent pool.
A month later, I contacted John Stillman, a college friend of JFK who was chair of a New York area chapter of the Democratic Party, and enclosed my resume, indicating I was "quite anxious to do anything that will further Senator Kennedy's candidacy." He wrote back and we later had lunch in Manhattan. I came away inspired. And three days later, I received a letter stating:
"I am very glad to know that you are in contact with our mutual friend John Stillman and you may be sure that I am most appreciative of your interest and support. I hope you will keep in close touch with John, as he will be aware of our plans in New York."
It was signed "Jack Kennedy." And I immediately felt part of the campaign.
Four days before the election in November, I saw John Kennedy for the first time — standing in the rain at a rally in Manhattan. He was on stage with Lyndon Johnson and Johnson's wife and two daughters. The rain intensified our excitement as it drenched our clothes (and Kennedy's and Johnson's). He gave an ardent and amusing campaign speech: "You have seen these elephants in the circus. They have their heads of ivory, thick skins, no vision, long memory, and when they move around the ring in the circus, they grab the tail of the elephant in front of them. Well, Dick (Nixon) grabbed that tail in 1952 and 1956, but in 1960 he is running, not the president."
Five months later, I took my first steps as a member of Kennedy's "New Frontier." My position? Special assistant to Cyrus Vance, the Defense Department's General Counsel. Over the next two and a half years, I served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army and later General Counsel of the Army.
One of my proudest moments, indeed, one of the greatest moments of Kennedy's presidency, was his televised address to the nation on civil rights in June of 1963. He made an impressive argument: "We are confronted with a moral issue. It is as old as Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans will be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated."
That statement came out of a meeting in the White House at which there was a discussion among several of his advisors, then-Vice President Johnson, and JFK regarding their concern about the politics of the whole civil rights movement, because of the damage it was doing among white voters, including white Democrats. In the course of that meeting, there was a wonderful exchange in which one of Kennedy's political advisors raised all these issues and Lyndon Johnson said, "Wait a minute. This is a moral issue; this is not a political issue." There was silence for a minute. Everyone looked at Kennedy and the president said, "Lyndon's right."
On November 22, 1963, I was in West Virginia inspecting a dam built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. When I heard the tragic news out of Dallas, I flew immediately back to Washington and hurried into Vance's office and promptly informed him I was leaving the administration. He suggested I reconsider and, in the meantime, I had a new and urgent project: locate the burial place for John F. Kennedy.
The next day, I met a devastated, zombie-like Robert F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery. In the pouring rain, we walked the perimeter of a 3.2-acre parcel of land above the Memorial Bridge and below the Lee-Custis Mansion. He whispered to me: "This is where we'll bury the President." I will never forget the words.
John Kennedy inspired me to enter public service. From ringing doorbells in the 1960 campaign to my work today in association with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, I have felt this calling. By playing a role in the struggle against substance abuse, I believe I am fulfilling his admonition, "To those whom much is given, much is expected."
Kennedy's legacy is one of courage, hope, and determination. He was courageous during the Cuban Missile Crisis, standing up not only to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but also to the American generals anxious to launch attacks on Cuba. He inspired hope in millions of young Americans that our nation and the world could flourish by their service to the less fortunate, both here and abroad. And he was determined to expand our exploration of space and land a man on the moon.
Those profound words in his inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country," are still a clarion call a half century later.
Mortimer M. Caplin
Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, founder of Caplin & Drysdale
"He was like a caged lion — walking up and down the room, smoking the small cigarillos he enjoyed so much."
I first met John F. Kennedy in 1958 at the University of Virginia where I was teaching at the law school. JFK was the honored speaker at Memorial Gymnasium celebrating the first "Law Day" set by President Dwight Eisenhower to mark United States' commitment to the rule of law. John S. Battle, former Governor of Virginia, introduced him as, "The next president of the United States!" You could hear the crowd gasp. A Virginia audience. And here, the son of a high Episcopalian minister was presenting a Roman Catholic as the next president of the United States.
We had a small gathering that evening at the home of William C. Battle, who had served in the Navy with JFK during World War II. Bill was the son of the former governor and one of his law partners. It was a great party — hardly more than a dozen guests. Jackie was there, too. She was lovely.
I taught two of JFK's brothers at UVA law, Robert and Edward, and also spent part of my time as counsel to the Battle firm. JFK knew I was teaching and asked about my recent testimony on tax reform before the House Ways and Means Committee. He asked that I send him a copy, which I was very happy to do.
As a professor at a state university, I found it prudent to publicly keep out of the 1960 political campaign, although I did write a brief piece in support of JFK in the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Sure enough, JFK won the election and in early December I received a telephone call from his principal aide, Ted Sorensen, asking me to serve on the President's Task Force on Taxation. The group met over a period of roughly a month, putting together a report on reforming our tax laws and stimulating our economy. On January 9, 1961, we delivered the report to the president-elect at Arthur Schlesinger's home in Cambridge.
The president-elect soon joined us. He was something to see: The pressures and strains of a close campaign had stretched him beyond belief. He just oozed confidence. Now, back from a brief vacation with his father in Florida, he was all tanned and lean. He was like a caged lion — walking up and down the room, smoking the small cigarillos he enjoyed so much. We summarized our report and discussed his reactions and suggestions. He was well aware of our key issues and had already considered them with outside economists and others. We had a lively meeting.
After we finished, JFK took me aside for a moment and said, "Now, I want to talk to you. You'll be hearing from me or from Bobby in a week or so." That's all I wanted to know. While it certainly was on my mind, this was the first meaningful signal I'd had that a presidential appointment might indeed take place.
I'd previously spoken by telephone with Robert Kennedy. He asked me to fly up and visit with him in Washington at the Democratic National Committee headquarters where he was quarterbacking appointments for posts in the new administration. I thought my meeting with Bob would be rather simple — his former professor, brother Ted's professor, Bill Battle's law partner — what could be better! And yet, while Bob was very cordial, he was also very business-like. We went through the interview in some detail and he then asked me to write him a letter on my views on tax administration in general and what I thought it would be like to head the IRS. I later wrote the letter, and it ultimately became my proxy statement and commitment on what I'd emphasize and how I'd run the IRS. It was sent to him December 5, 1960.
Not much later, I received a telephone call from a local IRS revenue agent who said he was coming to my office to audit my tax returns. While the agent was still there, we were interrupted by a telephone call from the White House. It was the president's assistant press secretary, Andy Hatcher, who said, "I'm going to announce this afternoon that you're the president's nominee for commissioner of the IRS."
After the phone call from the White House, I immediately went to Washington and waited for the formal nomination and hearings. Matters moved far more quickly in those days, and the IRS commissioner was given a good deal more attention. In fact, my nomination was referred to the committee on January 30, confirmed by the committee on February l, and confirmed by the Senate itself on February 6. My official certificate of appointment had President Kennedy's signature on it the following day, February 7, 1961. Very hard to believe!
My first meeting with all my regional commissioners and district directors at the IRS was set for May 1, 1961. In making arrangements in March, someone in my office suggested, "Wouldn't it be great if the president could come?" I hadn't fully taken into account the magnitude of what was said. But I did call Kenny O'Donnell, the de facto chief of staff at the White House. I told him how important this would be to the IRS and to me. Kenny immediately replied, "Are you kidding? Come on, there are no votes at the IRS!" I called Bob Kennedy after that and raised the same question. He said he didn't know but would see. A week or so later, we were talking about something else and at the close he said, "Oh, incidentally, Jack will be over."
That was the last time I heard him say, "Jack." It was all so new. After that, it was always, "the president."
The president did come over on May 1, 1961. It is the only time in history — to this very day — that any president has ever visited the IRS. The president's visit had me walking on water with the whole organization.
President Kennedy was very supportive of the IRS, but totally hands off. All the way. There were very few times he called for any special treatment. On one occasion very early in the administration, he called to talk about some IRS related matter and then asked, "Have you found a house yet, commissioner?" I had been out house-hunting. You could see the smile on his face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "November 22, 1963"
Copyright © 2013 Dean R. Owen.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Section One Members of the Kennedy Administration and White House staff,
Section Two Civil Rights Leaders,
Section Three Children of Kennedy Advisors and Others,
Section Four Celebrities,
Section Five Family and Friends,
Section Six Journalists and Commentators,
Section Seven Political Figures,
Section Eight Those with Humorous, Poignant, Quirky, and Tragic Encounters and Connections,