Posts Tagged ‘Bay of Pigs’

Happy Birthday to Me, Dylan and JFK

Monday, May 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he’s literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it’s not the sound of Dylan’s unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.

That would be Kennedy’s, with his distinct Boston accent. I’ve been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I’ve known the Dylan connection. That’s because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.

That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.

Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.

If Dylan’s message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy’s was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.

Four years ago in this blog, writing “The Measure of the Man II,” I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, “The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?’’ That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.

I also wrote, “I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin’. I’ll meet you at 100.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Measure of the Man, II

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.”

Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.

As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.

That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions.

Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

“He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t.

I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success. I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles.

Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud.

And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues. So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza?

Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning.

For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.

bob@zestoforange.com