Sunday, June 19, 2011

A long road with JFK remembered

A long road with JFK remembered

If that's Dave Powers in the glasses and hat with JFK 
then I think that's Kenny O'Donnell behind them with Lawrence O'Brien to his right. 

Melrose - Few U. S. Presidents, have had at their side during their entire political careers as trusted a friend and advisor as John F. Kennedy had with Dave Powers. 

Powers was born in Charlestown, Mass. His father died when he was two, and at 10 he was selling newspapers at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

In 1946, Powers was an unemployed veteran living in a three-decker in Charlestown with his widowed sister and 10 children, when a young John F. Kennedy climbed the stairs looking for help to run his first political campaign for Congress, which he won. Dave campaigned with JFK on every campaign thereafter. He was never far from his JFK’s side for 17 years, including the day the President was assassinated.

In October 1988, I had the privilege of introducing Powers as the Boston Rotary Club’s guest speaker. At the time, he was curator of the Kennedy Library. Fortunately, I taped his remarks, which are recalled below and provide a fascinating look at the campaigns and the President:

“While about to attend Mass in a church in Anchorage, Alaska during the Presidential campaign, I told the candidate that, ‘My mother told me that you were allowed to make three wishes before the Mass when you attend a new church. At the end of the service, I asked Jack if he’d made the three wishes. He replied, ‘Yes — New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.’

“One morning, we arrived outside a plant in Oshkosh, Minn. to greet workers who were arriving to punch in.  It was 10 degrees below zero. I couldn’t help but say to myself as I stood next to Jack, ‘Here’s this guy with plenty of wealth who could be sunning himself on Palm Beach.’ When we got back to the hotel, I noticed his right hand was very badly swollen from frostbite and from shaking some of those powerful hands. I bought two white gloves and ointment to put on his hand overnight.

“The strategy to defeat Nixon was to concentrate on 10 states with the most electoral votes. Mayor Daley likes to take credit for ‘stealing the election’ for Jack in the 11th hour. Actually, we had 26 extra electoral votes without Illinois. [Daley’s son, Bill, recently became President Obama’s chief of staff].

“The first television debate with Nixon was crucial. Kennedy had rehearsed for six hours the day before. He finally pushed all the notes off the bed and said, ‘If I’m not ready now, I never will be.’ During the debate, he would deliberately turn his head towards Nixon — a technique Dukakis later used in his debate with George H. W. Bush. [Interestingly, while driving Powers back to the library, Powers mentioned that Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s former special counsel and adviser, would love to be secretary of state in a Dukakis Administration if Dukakis won in next month’s election.] 

“Unfortunately for Nixon, Eisenhower stayed out of the campaign until near the end because of his health. He finally went to Cleveland and gave a ringing endorsement of Nixon. We said, ‘there goes Ohio’ and it did.

“After Krushchev had accepted Kennedy’s terms on withdrawing missiles from Cuba, I was the last to leave the President’s bedroom.  I saw him get on his knees to pray, and, as I left, heard him say, as always, ‘good night pal.’

 “When the President visited Ireland it was like he’d conquered a country. The Dublin newspaper later reported that some 375 Irish women confessed to having had intimate relations with the President during his three-day stay. I told him, ‘You’re the only man I know who could defeat [Ireland’s] President deValera in his own district.’

“It became a standard joke to Powers that whenever the President came back from a trip he’d say, ‘Thank God nobody tried to kill me today.’

“He was especially fearful of being shot at while in a parade.”

Powers’ last words to Jack and Jackie in Dallas was, “You two look like Mr. and Mrs. America. Now remember, when you ride down the Main Street, Jackie waves to people on the left side of the street and the President will take people on the right, because if you both wave to the same Texans at the same time, it might be too much for them.”

“It was sort of like an Irish wake on that long plane ride back from Dallas on Air Force One. I’ll always have such admiration for Jackie because she talked about all the things that Jack liked. The most extraordinary thing was that she remembered he had told her about the young cadets in Ireland who’d put on this wonderful drill at the graves of the 16 Irishmen that had been assassinated at the time of the Easter uprising in 1916. He’d said he’d like to do something like that for Arlington Cemetery.  It was done — at his burial. Jackie had talked to President deValera and had the cadets flown in.

“I don’t know what God does for a person at a time like that but she was stronger than any of us. I remember mentioning the name of the singer who had sung at their wedding and Jackie said, ‘We’ll have him sing at the funeral.’ She mentioned Jack’s favorite songs that she’d like to have sung. And she said, ‘We’ll have Cardinal Cushing say the Mass.’ She was the bravest of us all.”

Will history give President Kennedy high marks? In a recent Gallop poll, Kennedy and FDR (who ran four times) ran neck and neck in three categories: best administrator, most personally appealing, and inspiring confidence. 

According to Ralph G. Martin’s “A Hero for Our Time,” Powers could say things to the President that nobody else dared. Sometimes the shock of some outrageous thing Powers said would make the President laugh and laugh. He once gave Dave a silver mug with the inscription: “There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.”

Powers would often end his lectures about his friendship with President Kennedy with a quote from a poem by Thomas Davis.

“We are like sheep without a shepherd
  When the snow shuts out the sky
   Oh! Why did you leave us,
   Why did you die?”
— Arnold Koch of Melrose is a regular columnist for the Free Press.

Read more: A long road with JFK remembered - Melrose, Massachusetts - Melrose Free Press

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