The Dominion store parking lot in Windsor was quite big, enough for dozens of cars. A typical grocery store in southern Ontario, I suppose.
I took full advantage of it, of course. It was Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. So loved was JFK, that the store closed — and, on top of that, staff filled the giant glass windows with black paper, and big photos of Jack.
Think about that for a moment. A US president, so loved, so revered and respected … that a Canadian grocery store, across the river from Detroit, paid tribute in a way that they could.
And so, there I was, just eight years old, riding around on my bicycle with my buddy Randy, looking at these giant photos of Jack, and wondering who killed him, and why. I never forgot that day, like many others.
Of course, we knew from day one, that there was something more to JFK’s demise than what was being officially told.
It’s highly likely, that Oswald didn’t kill anyone, he was just the fall guy. And nothing seemed right in that whole Warren Report investigation. It was a professional hit, carried out by professionals — but who gave the order, and how high up did it go? We still don’t know.
These doubts were carried forward years later to the US House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s, which concluded a conspiracy was highly probable — that was as far as the CIA would let it go. Today, most Americans now believe that there is more to the story.
Conspiracy theories aside, we know now that Kennedy endeavoured to turn the big military ship around — to pursue a real and lasting peace with the Soviets (to avoid another Cuban missile crisis) — to “smash the CIA into a thousand pieces” — and, he and Bobby Kennedy had serious doubts about American involvement in Vietnam. Although, this last point is contentious.
Jack’s now famous speech at American University, likely sealed his fate to a sinister cabal, involving CIA, military and mafia elements. Give it a listen sometime, and you’ll understand why the military industrial complex and certain quarters of power were mortified.
Kennedy’s legacy, and the legend of the”Camelot” White House years with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, is fascinating … and it continues to shine until this day.
JFK’s skill, ability to listen to diverse points of view, and his empathy for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev allowed him to avert a disaster during the Cuban missile crisis — while the Joint Chiefs called his actions appeasement.
Kennedy also called for a federal Civil Rights Act, but it was not his fate to sign it into law. President Lyndon Johnson signed it in 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act in 1965 prohibiting discrimination in voting.
Meanwhile, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover regarded the activists with suspicion and worked against them, and the Kennedys.
He also stood up to big steel interests, boldly told Berliners he was one of them, established the Peace Corps and vowed America would put a man on the moon, before the end of the decade. He had, what some would call, human decency, and with that, inspired a generation.
For a time, under the Kennedys, America truly was “the beacon on the hill” historians speak of. Never was the White House more alive, with Jackie hosting elegant dinners and concerts, inviting artists, writers and poets from around the world.
That was then.
Over this past week I watched several hours of testimony at the US Congressional impeachment hearings, aimed at dislodging President Donald Trump. A man who entered the presidential race to boost his brand, only to win the highest office in the world.
The testimony focused on Trump’s efforts to extort dirt on a rival, Hunter Biden, by withholding US$400 million in military support to Ukraine — an impeachable offense, and something no other president has ever done.
We also learned how Trump not only tarnished the reputation of ex-US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a long-serving member of the foreign service, but also threatened her in order to get her out of the way — siding instead with corrupt Ukrainian officials. In an even more bizarre display, Trump tweeted an attack on the ambassador, during her testimony, raising concerns of witness intimidation.
The day ended, with one of Trump’s advisors, Roger Stone, found guilty on seven felony counts in a court just down the street. He is just one of several Trump advisors to be given a one-way trip to the crowbar hotel, to put it nicely.
In summary, it was two political parties battering each other and dragging down the democratic system with it. A shambolic escapade that will not achieve anything in the end, because Republicans control the Senate. For the record, no dirt was found on the Bidens and the Ukrainians did get their military support, something they desperately needed.
Indeed, the growing despair of having “the anti-president” in the White House is only welcomed by his diminishing far-right following and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who probably helped him get into office through nefarious cyber means.
By coincidence, I was recently in D.C., attending the US Army’s annual AUSA show and convention. While cabbing it to and from the convention center, I did manage a glimpse of the majestic Lincoln memorial. A tribute to the man they called “Honest Abe,” who was also gunned down in his prime, by an assassin.
It made me think of this excerpt, taken from James Swanson’s, Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse.
The date was April 4, 1865, when President Lincoln entered the Confederate capital of Richmond, which was still burning after its taking by Union troops.
There was a small house on this landing, and behind it were some twelve negroes digging with spades. The leader of them was an old man, sixty years of age. He raised himself to an upright position as we landed, and put his hands up to his eyes. Then he dropped his spade and sprang forward. “Bress de Lord,” he said, “dere is de great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s bin in my heart fo’ long yeah, an he’s cum at las’ to free his chillum from deir bondage? Glory, Hallelujah!”
And he fell upon upon his knees before the President and kissed his feet. The others followed his example, and in a minute Mr. Lincoln was surrounded by these people, who had treasured up the recollection of him from a photograph, and had looked up to him for four years as the one who was to lead them out of captivity.
The adulation embarrassed Lincoln. He was a simple man with plain tastes who had, during his entire presidency, eschewed pomp and circumstance. He had no patience for politicians who behaved like royalty. He did not want to enter Richmond like a king. He spoke to the throng of slaves.
“Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you may hereafter enjoy. I am but God’s humble instrument; but no one shall put a shackle on your limbs, and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this Republic.”
Before allowing Lincoln to leave them and proceed on foot into Richmond, the freed slaves burst into joyous song.
One can only imagine the historic immensity of that moving scene — one that Canadian writer and historian Bill Kaufmann described as “a messianic apparition.”
As thousands began crowding the sidewalks, Lincoln, flanked by a ring of marines with fixed bayonets, walked slowly toward the Confederate White House of President Jefferson Davis, interrupted by a young girl about 17 who presented a bouquet of roses to the President, who held her hand as she made a short speech. The card on the bouquet read: “From Eva to the Liberator of the slaves.”
Journalists witnessed the amazing scene as a housekeeper led Lincoln into the president’s first-floor study, and sat in his chair. Davis had been in his office no more than 36 hours earlier.
As one witness remembered, Lincoln “lay back in the chair like a tired man whose nerves had carried him beyond his strength.” The journalist Charles C. Coffin observed on the president’s face a “look of unutterable weariness, as if his spirit, energy and animating force were wholly exhausted.” Sitting in the quiet study of the Confederate president, perhaps Lincoln weighed the cost — more than 620,000 American lives — paid to get there. He did not speak. Then he requested a glass of water.
Kennedy too, knew the cost of war, serving heroically in the Pacific aboard PT-109 in the Second World War, helping save his crew after their patrol boat was split in half by a Japanese destroyer. Jack, who was on the Harvard swim team, swam to an islet 3 1/2 miles away, pulling an injured crewman through the water with his teeth.
His experiences in the navy helped shape his view of war and its terrible cost, keeping the jingoistic Gen. Curtis LeMay and the Joint Chiefs from attacking Cuba in October of 1962, and perhaps saving the planet in the process.
Yet Kennedy, like Lincoln, never lost his humanity. There is a well-known story, which I think encapsulates the Kennedy mystique. One day, in the White House, Kennedy looked outside the Oval Office, and saw a boy in a wheelchair on the grounds. He inquired who he was — the son of a visitor.
JFK immediately dropped what he was doing, grabbed his PT-109 navy cap, and ran outside. He greeted the boy, and put the PT-109 hat on his head, and they chatted for some time.
It is said, that a hardened Marine, standing guard over the two in the White House gardens, was brought to tears at the touching sight, never moving a muscle. The tears falling silently down, onto his clean, white tunic.
It is of great importance, that the legacies of Lincoln, Kennedy and other US presidents, live on and continue to inspire. These were great men, who achieved great things.
In saying that, I cannot even guess what Trump’s legacy will be, after the smoke clears and all his pals are sent to jail (several more are facing charges). Perhaps that’s yet to be written.
History will judge him for what he was, and what he did, and hopefully he won’t get us all killed. I will say, my meagre investments that I will use for retirement have done well under his administration, with markets in North America soaring.
Whether he can claim responsibility for it, or, if it was just a continuation of what President Barack Obama accomplished, will likely be studied in depth by economists and historians in the years to come.
Of course, Jack’s legacy was not on my mind, as I raced around the Dominion store parking lot on my bicycle, trying to comprehend the magnitude of it all, unaware there was another strange twist to come involving Jack Ruby and the alleged assassin.
Forever burned in my memory, is that immense presidential funeral, days later, marching through the streets of Washington while thousands looked on in mourning and many more watched on television. A great man had died, and America would never be the same.