Tag Archives: JFK

Camelot’s Protector: Book Review of Jacqueline Kennedy’s interviews with Arthur Schlesinger.

For those that lived during the early 1960’s, Jacqueline Kennedy had become more than just the First Lady of the United States, she had become a star. The star of the show that was played out before the nation, with the young president at her side, and a nation that wanted to copy everything that she was doing. Jacqueline Kennedy only wanted a few things in life, and none of it included becoming this type of figure. However, on November 22nd, 1963, fate would take over and put her in a place only a few First Ladies before her had to endure, that of becoming a widow. Every move that she would make in those moments after the gunshots took the life of her husband, would be etched into the minds of millions of Americans for decades to come. The stained pink dress, watching her husband’s successor take the oath of office, finding the right burial spot, and ensuring the nation would never forget this time in history.

It is with history in mind that Jacqueline Kennedy sat down with famed historian and Kennedy advisor, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. for a series of interviews just months after the events in Dallas. The interviews were recorded by Schlesinger and the agreement would be that they would be sealed for 50 years. According to her daughter Caroline Kennedy, the interviews were unlocked just weeks after her mother’s death so that the family could decide if it was time for them to be released. Caroline had decided that it was not the right time, and it would be another 17 years before the public could hear the voice that had been so strong during such a tragic time.

Over the course of the next seven conversations that spanned months during 1964, Jackie Kennedy shed light on many topics regarding her husband. Some of those topics included his presidential aspirations, what he liked to read, his relationship with his brother Bobby, and his plans for after the presidency. The book features a written form of the interviews and it also includes the recordings themselves. I have found myself listening to these conversations on my way to work, and actually hearing her voice, gives the conversation some life. Mr. Schlesinger is careful to avoid many of the controversial topics that have been printed in the years after. Instead, in these early months after JFK’s death, Jackie is painting the image of JFK that she thought he deserved. Asked at one point in the conversation as to how her husband would have described himself, she states, “An idealist without illusions”. A true statement for a man that had so many visions for the country, but were left unfinished by a life cut short.

Some of the other interesting topics that are brought up by Schlesinger, is the relationship that JFK had with the FBI, and the CIA. When asked about the situation, Jackie states, “I know he was going to get rid of J. Edgar Hoover and he always said that those were the two things he did first- you know, Hoover and Allen Dulles, which I guess he had to do at the time”. There are those that believe that individuals such as Hoover and Dulles had something to do with the assassination, and this statement by JFK’s wife, shows the indifference he had with these two men.

Another person of interest in the interviews that came up, was the name Lyndon Johnson. Jackie felt that her husband tried many times over the course of his administration to involve Johnson with decisions, but that Johnson simply just agreed with everything that was being said. So instead of having a “yes” man, he would send him on trips around the world. One notable statement that Jackie makes about this, is something that happened in our current events today. As a new Air Force One was needed, Johnson pushed for JFK to order four more Air Force Ones, and that Moscow’s planes were much faster. In turn Jackie stated, “Jack wasn’t going to spend that much money for four new planes, and Lyndon kept pushing him to do it”. JFK did not give in to Johnson’s demands, and the rift between the two was growing to a point in which Johnson might be dropped from the ticket. Jackie explains that she did not think that JFK would drop Lyndon in 1964, but that JFK had stated to her, “Oh God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?” Well the nation did get to see what would happen, and the effects of his presidency left a scar on the presidency that was felt for decades.

The book is a must have for any Kennedy collector, and the recordings are the most valued portion of the book. Within those CD’s, the voices of history are heard, and the protector of Camelot sheds light on the events before JFK’s presidency, during it, and what could have been after it. Jackie Kennedy believed that her husband would have gone around the world, written a book, or even done something with his library. Instead it was left to her to form the image and history surrounding her husband, and she was able to give the country that brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.

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Remembering the day JFK left us..

The day is stuck fresh in the mind of those that had to live through it, and it has become fresh in the mind that visit Dealey Plaza even today. The day, November 22nd, 1963 has had much meaning for those that were alive during the year 1963, and for those not quite old enough to have been around for this event. If you have never been to this spot, it is not as big as it might look on television, and it is a very high traffic area. On my recent visit to Dallas, I took my own children to visit this historic place. My children were ready to learn about everything that I have been studying since I was 8 years old. As we approached the plaza, there was hundreds of people who were taking pictures of the old Texas School Book Depository, pictures of the grassy knoll and selfies in front of just about anything they thought had meaning. As I was standing there explaining things to my children, I could not help but look out in the distance and find, families having picnics, people playing football, and others who seemed liked they were just dragged there by their significant other. Were these people disrespecting the site I thought? Were they not appreciating the history that was right in front of their face? Regardless, they were there, and with that, the history and the mystery surrounding the Kennedy assassination will live on.

I have been to Washington D.C a few times, and each time I have walked past Ford’s Theater where Lincoln was killed. The book store across the street, and the adjoining building in which Lincoln lost his life, were right there in front of me to visit. My interest in history started with JFK, and here I was in front of where Lincoln was shot, much like I was, when I was in Dealey Plaza. Not many people were in the book store, and from the times that I was there, the visitor entrance for the theater was never crowded. Sure, people have paid money to go inside of the theater to see the spot of his assassination, but it was not like Dealey Plaza. Had time let people forget about this special place? Were they not interested in this spot some 100 years after his assassination? These questions were in my head at that time when I visited Dallas, I wondered when people would stop caring. Here we are 53 years later, and on any given day, you will find people taking pictures, going to the museum, and standing in the spot where history changed. But when will that change, just as people not visiting Ford’s Theater as much

The Saturday I visited Dealey Plaza, the place was full of families, individuals, and others who were in town for a football game the next day. Regardless of why they were in Dallas, they were there. My fear is that this next generation may not have the same feeling that my generation, and the ones before me have had about the Kennedy assassination. I firmly believe that I have taught my kids enough about history, and how it must never be forgotten. It is with history that we are to learn from our mistakes, and can create a better life, from what has happened in the past. Do the kids playing football, or the ones having a picnic, not care about the spot where they are, and will their kids stop passing the history down? We must never forget the events in history that changed our world, and the Kennedy assassination was one of those events.

The difference between the two places in history is that with Dealey Plaza, it is there in the open for anyone to visit for free. It is a major part of Dallas, and the entrance and exit away from downtown. The painted white “X” on the spot where the fatal shot took place, is a constant reminder for those that drive over it each day. You can feel a sense of history from that spot, as you cross the very same area in which the 35th President of the United States lost his life. The assassination will live on for many years and for many generations to come, and how people remember both the event, and the man whose life was cut short that day will live on through them. Whether they are there for that picnic, football game, or even that group selfie, they know that history forever changed at that spot and on this day 53 years ago. If you were alive during this time, tell us what you were doing at the time of the president’s assassination, and if you were not alive at this time, tell us why you think people will always remember this day.

 

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Access to the Texas School Book Depository

 

Three years ago I found something in a police statement that has overtaken my mind and my time. This police statement was not meant to be of much, as it was the police statement of Texas School Book Depository Superintendent Roy Truly. The statement was to put more guilt onto alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and ended up having something in it, that I have been researching ever since. Within the statement, Mr. Truly mentions that the Texas School Book Depository had a janitor service that worked overnight within the building. These individuals had keys to the building, and had access to it, in the early morning hours of Friday, November 22nd, 1963. My original post about this company was in the early stages of my research, and within this article, you are going to read about everything that I have found over the past 2 years. Graduate school took me away from the research, but now I am back into it, and finding more out about this company.

So who was Acme Building Maintenance Company, and why did the Warren Commission not look into this company any further? Let’s start at the beginning and review who owned the company and how it became in what could have been, a key part of the set up in the assassination. The company was founded in 1920 by a man named Frank C. Jones. As high rise buildings were popping up inside the city of Dallas, Mr. Jones sought to take advantage of the vast amount of cleaning that these new buildings would need. The company grew at a fast rate and by the 1940’s and 1950’s, they were cleaning over 2 million square feet of office space within the city of Dallas. With an office set up on 1901 Laws Street in Dallas, the company was in a central location to all of its primary customers. The success of the company enabled Mr. Jones to become one of Dallas’s elite businessmen, and with articles featured in the Dallas Morning News during this time, he was able to have great financial success. With this success, Mr. Jones joined the Dallas Citizens Council, a group of powerful Dallas business owners who in later years would set up the luncheon at the Trade Mart for President Kennedy upon his arrival in Dallas. In 1954, an article in the Dallas Morning News had the caption “Acme Building Maintenance, Dallas’ Industrial Janitor”.

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With over 125 employees working under him, and major businesses such as the Baker Hotel, The Dallas Morning News, Southwestern Bell, The Dallas Times Herald, and Dallas Medical and Surgical Hospital, all used the services of Acme Building Maintenance. Although the company was growing, the company was trying to stay local with its business, and it board of directors included such names as, Milt Thomas, Paul Clark, Robert Whitener, and even Mr. Jones’ wife, Eva Jones. The company would get one particular business that would change the course of not only the country’s history, but also this small company as well. In May 1963, Acme became contracted with the Texas School Book Depository. In the months before this contract was taken, another man would join the ranks of the board at Acme, and his name was William Travis. William Travis was also on the board of directors at Republic National Bank of Dallas at this time as well. This new director would play a key part in the eventual downfall of Acme in the coming months, and would later look to take control of the company away from Frank Jones.

The events surrounding the assassination have been well documented, and there is no mention of Acme Building Maintenance except in two police statements. The first was by Truly, and the second would be by the janitor of the TSBD, Eddie Piper. Following along with what Truly had mentioned in his own statement, Piper reiterated the fact that the employees at Acme had access to the building overnight. Yet again, no action was taken place to investigate this company. On November 8th, 1963, a document pertaining to the housing of William Travis, stated that his home was in the stages of foreclosure. This chain of events would lead one to believe that Mr. Travis was in need of money, and he needed it fast. The home was not taken away from him, and in fact by 1964 you would not have known Mr. Travis was in any kind of money issues. By April 1964 in documents found, the Acme Building Maintenance Company changed hands and changed names. The new owners of the company included a man by the name of William Travis, the board member who came to the Acme company in 1963. In documents obtained, the new company would be named, Acme Building Maintenance of Dallas Inc. and with it, the new board consisted of two former Acme board of directors, Travis, and CFO Milton Thomas.

This new company would not keep that new Acme name for long. In June 1964, parts of the Acme company was again sold to an acquisition company called CT Corporation (ChemTech), and the Acme name was still as late as 1966. The remaining holdings of the former Acme company were gone, and what was known as Acme Building Maintenance, a strong Dallas based company with over 200 businesses as customers, was suddenly gone within a year. What came about in the aftermath of this sale, was the founding of a new businesses by William Travis, each of which would be named “Maintenance of”. There was Maintenance of Dallas, Maintenance of Fort Worth, Maintenance of San Antonio, and finally Maintenance of Houston. Each one of these companies has a president or CEO with the last name of Travis. William Travis himself is still listed as the Chairman of the Board of Maintenance of Houston. When reached for comment about this finding, the representatives at Maintenance of Houston said they would get back to me, so far, no contact has been made.

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So where did the original owner Frank C. Jones end up? After the sale of his company, Mr. Jones went was not able to find the success he had with his first company, and by 1966 in documents obtained, he was forced to sell his original home since 1944. Mr. Jones, would go onto working at various companies over the next couple of decades, and would live off of pensions from these jobs. By the time of his death in 1991, Frank Jones was not a well-known man in Dallas anymore, and the company he had founded was broken up into many different companies by a former board member.

By the time the Warren Commission was pulling together witnesses, the Acme company had already been sold twice, and broken up into different companies. With that, the records of all employees went with these acquisitions. The only names that can be found are the original board of directors, and the board of directors from the new company. Was this done to keep the real killers identity a secret, was William Travis paid off and handed keys to would be assassins to set up a sniper’s perch? All of these theories are left to the unknown, but what we know, is that a company that should have been looked into more, clearly was not. If you try and find the name Acme Building Maintenance of Dallas, you will be unable to find them. Most likely, my website will come up. In various city directories they are briefly mentioned, but the State of Texas does not even have them as a business that existed in that state. Another Acme Building Maintenance Inc., existed in Austin, Texas, and they had to give permission to William Travis in order to use the name Acme Building Maintenance of Dallas Inc.

In 2013 on a visit to Dallas, I was visiting the reading room at the Sixth Floor Museum. While I was in there, the late curator of the museum Gary Mack happened to be in there at the same time. I was too afraid to talk to him about this company at the time, so I emailed him later that day in hopes that he would have some more information about them. In his response, he was not able to provide much except for the same police statements that I already had in which they were mentioned. At the end of his email, he told me to keep him informed of this company, as he found it intriguing. I kept digging, and will continue to dig into this company and those that were a part of it at the time. For they, may hold the key to some of the answers in the Kennedy assassination.

 

Assistant President RFK

The assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 set forth in motion a chain of events in the history of the United States that would reshape it in the years that followed. For those who lived during this time, the events in Dallas changed the lives of many Americans, some too young to understand, and some old enough to realize the damage it had done to our country. The motives behind the assassination have been speculated by many, and the outcome of the research takes the culprits in the assassination to the forefront. One of the theories that has been mentioned was the involvement of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson. Having once been the powerful majority leader of the Senate, the now Vice-President would find his role diminished by the Kennedy administration. In this book review you are going to learn about a book that I had found at a local flea market a few years back. The book, “Robert F. Kennedy: Assistant President”, shows you the possible motivation that Johnson could have had in wanting to ascend to the presidency.

The book written by Gary Gordon in 1962, highlights the many life accomplishments of RFK as he made his way to the position of Attorney General. Within the first few pages the author describes the book as, “The dramatic life story of the second most powerful man in Washington”. Interesting to note about this book since it was written in 1962, was the fact that many polls taken by Newsweek, and U.S News, and other news outlets, put RFK ahead of Lyndon Johnson in terms of their power and influence over the country. The main theme of the book is to bring RFK into the national spotlight and in hopes of showing the American people that he was more than just the President of the United States brother. In many parts of the book, the author paints RFK as the man who not only got JFK elected through his hard work as campaign manager, but that he was not willing to take on a cabinet spot within the administration.

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The many chapters in the book show the reader that RFK may not have been qualified to become Attorney General, but he was able to use his position within the White House to change the role that Attorney Generals had. If those outside of the White House were seeing the way RFK was having influence over the decisions that his brother was making, then you know LBJ saw it as well. As the book starts off showing the Presidential campaign of 1960, it backtracks to highlight the life of RFK. Having no lawyer experience, he did not want the position of Attorney General at first. Trying to not show favoritism to his own family, JFK knew he wanted RFK by his side in those critical decision making times, and that he needed to be a cabinet member to achieve that. According to the author, JFK was quoted as saying, “I’ll take Bobby’s word over almost anybody’s”. The idea of having a family member within the cabinet had not been done before, and RFK was afraid of the political backlash that it would have in a future re-election campaign.

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Something of interest in the book was the trip around the world that RFK took in the early stages of 1962. The trip would be unprecedented by a United States Attorney General, and it had the feel of something more. The trip usually meant for Vice-Presidents, and one that LBJ took himself, was meant for RFK to get a feel of foreign affairs. The trip enabled RFK to see the issues at hand, and he would be able to have a better decision making process on these situations once back in Washington with his brother. It is hard to imagine the LBJ did not take great offense to this, and felt the lack of support from both Kennedy brothers. At the end of the book, the author makes a statement that is eerie to read as it has a statement that looks into the future. The author states, “In 1968, with JFK prevented by the Constitution from running again, the speculation is that Bobby could go before the voters with eight years of experience as an Assistant President”. Was this the motivation that was needed for LBJ, to end the Kennedy presidency? Did he himself want the presidency after JFK, and having read the many magazines and books proclaiming RFK as the second man in Washington, finally get to him? It is just one of the many theories that have been claimed over the years, and books such as these spark the mind into thinking. This book was an interesting find, and I recommend to always be on the lookout for books such as these, as they could hold the motives that others had in assassinating the President of the United States.

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Time to Unite as a Nation

As we are about to enter into an important day in American history, read this quote on how JFK viewed days in which the country was divided and how we needed to come together for our nation. We don’t let elections divide us as a nation, instead we should come together as the new leader of the free world takes their place inside of the White House.

“For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was, though it has always been great — not for what it is, though of this we are deeply proud — but for what it someday can, and, through the efforts of us all, someday will be.” —

“Address at a Luncheon Meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board (33),” February 13, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.

Never Let it Be Forgot

With the passage of the John F. Kennedy Centennial Commission Act in July 2016, the memory of JFK’s life will be remembered throughout the country in 2017. With the 100th anniversary of his birth being remembered by so many who were not alive during his presidency, shows the impact that JFK had on the United States. The memory of John F. Kennedy has not left the mind frame of the American people because of the countless amounts of books, movies, and documentaries about his life. Having been the first television president, JFK left his stamp on the country in which he sought a New Frontier for. It is the vision of the New Frontier, that has had the lasting impact of his life on so many Americans, and it was his death has continued the myth of “what could have been”.

During my two years of grad school, I had set up my thesis about the myth of JFK and how he controlled both image and myth about himself. It was after his death that others around him sought to carry on the legacy and thus Camelot was born. It was not born during the Kennedy years, as JFK would have preferred to be remembered more as a simple man. A man whose love of history was obvious, and he knew that the things he did in the office would be a reflection of his image in the years that followed. Having researched this assignment for a long period of time, the term Camelot became a symbol of the JFK years, and that came directly from his wife Jackie. It was Jackie that sent men such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr, and others to the Library of Congress to seek information about the funeral for President Abraham Lincoln. She wanted to replicate that funeral because she felt that her husband should be remembered as one of the greats.

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Over time the image of JFK has remained intact even though in the years since his death, many allegations of affairs and bad health tried to reshape the image into something different. The image that JFK had built for himself during his run for Congress and the image his wife created in the aftermath of his death has had a stronghold on the American people. Last month I was lucky enough to visit Washington D.C on a research visit. During the first day of the trip, I went to Arlington Cemetery to pay my respects and to also get a feel of the visitors to the site. I noticed many different types of people that went to the gravesite, some old, some young, some from other countries, but all, with a deep respect of the fallen president. If you have never made a trip, I would highly recommend it because you get a feel of “what could have been”. Along with Jackie on the decision to pick a site, was Robert Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The breathtaking view of Washington D.C from the burial site, shows a viewpoint in which JFK is always overlooking the city and nation he had a future for.

It was during this trip that I was able to go to the Library of Congress to research my topic and use the books and online resources that is available there. Having never been, I was intimidated by the fact that I would be sitting in such a historical place. Once inside, I requested books that I had found online, and before you knew it, I was sitting at a desk among other historians and researchers. I have been following the life and death of JFK since I was 8 years old, and not until that moment sitting in that seat, did I ever feel so close to him. History was all around me and I was able to find the things I was looking for within those walls. For any lover of history, going to the Library of Congress should be on the bucket list of things to do.

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With my thesis complete, my main goal for going to graduate school was to be able to write a book that represented everything that I have learned about JFK. His death has overshadowed many of the things in his life, as he has been remembered more in death then in life. By next year, I hope to be able to turn my thesis into my first book, and showcase how he was able to go from a young Jack Kennedy, to John F. Kennedy, then to the persona of JFK. All of which was created by the man himself, and left to those close to him to pass on to a new generation of Americans seeking hope. We have not had a president since him who has captivated the imagination of the country, and whose ideas would still resonate today. If you have visited either Arlington Cemetery, or even the JFK Library in Boston, share your visit with others below. The memory of his life and his death resides in those who choose to continue to share it with others. In the coming months I will be going back to looking into the details surrounding his death, but I will also be showcasing on this site the image and myth that he created.

 

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Staying United as a Nation

As the election of 2016 is well underway, and the candidates of both major parties have been selected, I think it would be a good time to see how a debate should go. In the coming weeks we will see two candidates with different views on issues square off. The bickering between them both will be highlighted and the real issues put to the side. I think it is a good time to watch the first televised debate, where two candidates were respectful to each other and were able to showcase their views. The two candidates we have in 2016 have been going at it for months, but in the end, the the United States of American is what matters.The nation needs to come together during this time to pick a leader, and who ever wins, respect that leader. We need to become united as a nation, not divided.

A New Generation to look at Camelot

Over the past 52 years the United States of America has seen 9 Presidents call the White House home. Each of them brought their own unique quality to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and each would try to leave a legacy behind. It is debatable who is the greatest President of the United States was, but there is no debate as to who would leave the White House too soon before his legacy was still in front of him. The death of President John F. Kennedy would have a ripple effect on our nation in the years that followed his assassination, and we as a nation have always wondered what could have been. The many debates as to who pulled the trigger that day in Dallas has been written about countless times and the debate does not seem to be slowing down with time. As I entered into the world of JFK assassination research at a very early age, my understanding of what happened changed over the years. Not only did my opinion change as I was able to do more research but my writing changed as well.

Almost two years ago I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in business management in hopes of being able to further my career in the field that I had been working in. As the academic advisor was trying to push me into going for my Master’s degree, I realized that maybe I should pursue the one area that has always interested me, History. So at that moment, I wanted to become a better writer, and a better researcher, in hopes of being able to finally write a book about the JFK assassination. The journey would take two years to complete, but at the end of my of Master’s program I would be able to write my final capstone paper. Over these last two years, I have been unable to write many blog posts because of the amount of schoolwork that was in front of me. But here I am, ready to finally write about the topic that has garnered my interest since I was 8 years old, and it would put the finishing touch on my Master’s degree.

 

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As I have been debating what to write about for this massive writing assignment which will turn into my first book, the vast amount of stories about John F. Kennedy’s life and assassination, have been written about. So instead of writing about a particular theory or story about something that happened during his life, I have decided to look at how history has written about JFK. From the side of both conspiracy theorist, lone gunman theorist, and those who write about his life. In my collection alone, I have over 130 books about both his life and assassination, and since 1963 the history of the topic has changed. The story which started with the making of Camelot, to who else could have pulled the trigger, to the dark side of Camelot, and finally back to the legacy and impact of JFK, has ruled the history books of the life and death of our 35th President. The JFK assassination was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States of America, and the outcome of it, would shape the nation for decades to come. The hope of a nation may have died that day in Dallas as well, as the country has looked for the kind of leadership that JFK provided.

Whatever your journey has been in the research about either the life of JFK or the assassination that cut his life way too short, I would invite you to comment below and tell everyone what made you want to read about him or the assassination. What caught your attention either as a child or an adult? As a new generation of researchers emerges, I hope to be able to keep the flame bright on the memory of JFK and have another generation of researchers look into the truth about what happened on that day in Dallas.

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A Time to Remember

As the date November 22nd comes onto our calendars, there are some of us that know the meaning of this date in history and others will go about their day like normal. It was on this date 52 years ago, that President John F. Kennedy lost his life and with it the hope of a nation that had counted on him to lead us into the new frontier. I was not born during this time in history but it was passed down to me from my grandmother who understood what his death would mean to our nation. From newspaper clippings, to framed pictures, to books, and finally a note from heaven, she had kept these mementos tucked away in a file underneath her bed. On the 25th anniversary of his death she brought out these mementos to show me since I had an interest in history. As an 8 year old boy, seeing your grandmother get excited talking about him made me generate more of an interest. One of those mementos is pictured below, and the poem titled “Special Delivery from Heaven” was meant to comfort the Kennedy family and to assure them that they would be okay. The 8 year old boy thought this letter actually came from JFK himself, and a grandmother who did not want to tell him the truth. I have kept things like this not only to remember JFK himself but also the memory of my grandmother.

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It was the hope of not only her generation that JFK would be the one to lead us on a path that we were destined for but the generations that followed. We have looked for leaders like JFK ever since his death, and although some claim to have the same wit, charisma, leadership, and hope, none of them have been able to follow through. This date in history is important to always look back upon because it changed the lives of many, and the path of the United States. It is easy to also get caught up in the “what could have been”, instead of the “look what we had”. I believe that’s how JFK should be remembered, and the anniversary of his death should be a testament of what he did, instead of what he could have done had he lived. We as individuals look to people to inspire us to achieve great things, and with him we had a leader that told us to go for it. From an early age I taught my children about this day in history and every year I had to remind them of what happened on this day in history. That has changed, and now my children come up to me and tell me what day it is. It is important to remember these historical dates and pass it on to the future generations, because without history we will never know where we came from and who got us there. It was President Kennedy that pushed us to the moon, and now it’s time to reach for the stars.

Lyndon Johnson’s role in William Manchester’s “The Death of a President”

The story has been told many times over the past 52 years and yet we are still able to find bits and pieces that we may have missed. When I was 8 years old, my grandmother had a collection of JFK material stored in a metal container. One day when the interest of JFK was beginning to spark, I found myself going through this container. Inside of this container was a vast amount of newspaper clippings, notes that she had written down about this time in history and one book. That book was “The Death of a President” written by William Manchester. It was my grandmother that told me that this should be the first book I read about this time in history and should be my last. I guess to her, this was the true story about what happened during those dark days in November. Although to some, the story of those days may be different then what Mr. Manchester wrote about, he does the job of a historian in bringing the reader to that exact time and giving you a sense that you were there. I have read this book several times over the years and recently as I have been trying myself trying to be a better researcher, have looked a little deeper into the writing of William Manchester’s signature work. In this post I will not go into the entire story that Manchester was trying to give the reader, instead I will showcase some points that stick out the most to me.
One of the main parts of the book that sticks out to me is the lack of cooperation that Lyndon Johnson had in the interview process. As William Manchester was gaining information from many of the key figures that were there that day, including that of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, it was Lyndon Johnson that showed the most resistance. During the course of the interview process, on two occasions President Johnson accepted the invite, then it would be canceled at the last minute. Eventually the two men would come to an agreement that President Johnson would only answer written questions and his responses would be done the same way. As Manchester states, “Some of the replies were detailed; to other inquiries he had no comment.” During the course of this reading, it appears that Manchester had become annoyed by the fact that Johnson was unwilling to recollect his memories of that day, and Manchester states that “It should be added that he has not seen the book in any form”. The frustration with Johnson was evident, but as the reader continues on in the book, it seems rather odd that the first 6 pages of Manchester’s recollection of the days leading up to the assassination and the days following it, involved talking about the Vice-President’s role in the administration and frustrations during his time as Vice-President.
Within the first paragraph in the definitive recollection of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the topic was not about the days leading up to the assassination, instead it was the role of the Vice-President and his frustration with the administration. It would almost seem to the reader that the agreement that Manchester and Johnson formed in order for him to be interviewed must have contained some form of understanding of how this book was going to begin. The political situation in Texas during the fall of 1963 was in ruins as the Democrats were coming apart at the seams. But as Manchester states in that first page, “Johnson would guardedly recall that there had been some discussion of the Texas political situation”. How is it that the main reason for the Kennedy trip to Texas was to restore faith in the party, and Johnson only recalls some discussion? The picture of resentment that Manchester was portraying of Johnson was coming clearer as the writing continued on. As Manchester states, “Johnson had found that he was a stand-by without a script”. Although he may not had the script he wanted, he did find himself thrust into a role that he want. On November 19th, 1963, Lyndon Johnson would take a trip to Dallas to speak with the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages. Only 3 days before the President was to arrive in Dallas, and at the same convention that former Vice-President Richard Nixon was at during his stay in Dallas during this time . An interesting side note to a story that has not been fully told.

The Vice-President did not have many of the luxuries that were enjoyed by the President, and simple things like having a number not in the public directory was one of them. If Johnson was to go on a flight using a military plane it would have to be assigned to him and he would have to ask permission for that plane. An indication that Johnson was feeling left out of the circle was evident, and as Manchester states “Lyndon Johnson was, in short, a prisoner of his office.” The book that would be able to tell the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was beginning with the frustration of his Vice-President. However we want to take this we can look at a quote that William Manchester says in the introduction of this book, “In time I myself shall merely become a source for future historians as yet unborn”. This book was the beginning of my understanding of those days in Dallas, and 48 years after its publication, this book is a reminder that we need to continue to research and look for those clues that might help us better understand what happened that Friday in November.

http://www.lbjlibrary.net/collections/daily-diary.html

References

Manchester, William. The Death of a President, November 20-November 25, 1963, New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Peppard, Alan. “Kennedy Rival Nixon Left Dallas as JFK Arrived in November 1963.” Dallas Morning News. November 2, 2013. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/jfk50/explore/20131102-kennedy-rival-richard-nixon-left-dallas-as-jfk-arrived-in-november-1963.ece.