JFK: Fifty Years Later

Influential. Charismatic. Fearless. Daring.  John F. Kennedy was all this and more. The Impact has decided to honor the historic 50 year anniversary of his entry into office, focusing on Westchester residents who have met him at his most candid


By Lauren Gualdino



Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. –  John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1961.

It has been 50 years since Americans hear these famous words spoken by Kennedy.  At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest man, and the first Irish Catholic, to be elected president. During his presidency, Kennedy faced a several foreign crises, but he managed to achieve accolades as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Peace Corps.

Kennedy developed a different relationship with American citizens.  One that every President since has found difficult to duplicate.

While vacationing on the Cape during the summer of 1962, a New York family was in for a big surprise.  President Kennedy was coming.

As a child Kennedy spent every summer in Cape Cod with his parents and eight siblings.  They would spend their days swimming, sailing and playing outside in the sun.  Spending time on the Cape is something that Kennedy continued to do even when he was elected president.

Kennedy was flying from Washington, D.C. to the Cape Cod airport, in 1962.  He had drawn a large crowd just to see his plane land.  Since Kennedy was a child he loved going to the Hyannis Port Candy Shop and he made sure that he stopped there first every time he arrived on the Cape.

The Bartley Family Cape Cod vacation was coming to a close on the day that Kennedy was arriving.  They had gone to see the President land and wanted to make one last stop before having to leave.  They ended up at the candy shop and while looking around they were greeted by a surprise.  President Kennedy entered the store, without any secret service agents, holding Caroline’s hand.

Jimmy Bartley was only 12 at the time and he didn’t last long in the candy store. “I was afraid he was going to ask me history questions so I ran outside.”

While Jimmy had ran away, his two sisters were able to spend and unforgettable moment with the 35th President.

“My mother had taken us to the candy shop and when President Kennedy entered the store,” recalls Kathy.  She approached him and said, Mr. President, these are my daughters, Kathy and Jeannie.’  President Kennedy then walked over to my sister and I, he asked us what school we attended and then commented on the freckles that were present on our faces.  I will never forget that day in the candy shop,” said Bartley.

May 29, 1917, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born and named after his grandfather, John Francis Fitzgerald, who was the mayor of Boston.  He was born in Brookline, Massachusetts and was often called “Jack” by his family and friends.  While not always being the best student, he was always encouraged by his father.

He attended Harvard University where he graduated cum laude with a degree in International Affairs.  While at school Kennedy’s father was appointed United States Ambassador and moved the rest of the family to London all while Kennedy and his brother Joe stayed at Harvard.  During this time, Kennedy became interested in foreign affairs.

It was Joe Kennedy Jr. that was meant for greatness, groomed to become the next President.

In 1926, Kennedy’s father had rented a summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.  He then purchased and remodeled the home to suit his family’s needs.  The Kennedy children spent their summers, learning how to sail and other competitive activities. Kennedy then purchased his own home on the Cape, not far from his fathers home, after he had married Jacqueline Bouvier.  The Kennedy Compound was completed when his brother, Robert purchased the land adjacent to the other two.

The Kennedy Compound consists of about six acres of waterfront property along the Nantucket Sound.  During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the compound was used as a base for his Presidential campaign and as a summer White House and Presidential retreat.

After Kennedy’s youngest brother Sen. Edward Kennedy passed away in August 2009, the Kennedy compound is to be converted into an educational center and museum.  Kennedy brought a great attraction to the Cape.  Not only did people come to the Cape to see where Kennedy spent a large part of his life but also they came to try and emulate his life there.

For a full ten weeks, the McMahon family, from Eastchester, NY, spends their time on the Cape.

“We have friends that have houses either right next to ours or so close that you can walk or bike, its like we have our own Kennedy Compound,” said Dawn McMahon.

McMahon, along with four other families, still spend their summers on the Cape.  Not only do they plan to make sure they sight see they have their favorite spots just like Kennedy did.  For them they always go the to the Brewster General Store and Scoops Ice Cream Shop, while it was the Hyannis Port Gift Shop and Candy Store for Kennedy.

Today there is a Kennedy Museum that features precious family moments captured in black and white pictures.  There is also campaign memorabilia and pictures of the Kennedy children, Caroline and John Jr.  It was in 1961, when Kennedy had signed a bill authorizing the establishment of Cape Cod National Seashore. He had co-sponsored the legislation while in the Senate; it was the first time the federal government created a national park that was mainly in private hands.   Kennedy had written, “to preserve the natural and historic values of a portion of Cape Cod for the inspiration and enjoyment of people all over the United States.”

After both Kennedy and his brother, Joe, graduated from Harvard they joined the Navy.  Joe was sent to Europe as a pilot and Kennedy was commander of a patrol torpedo boat, PT-109, in the South Pacific.  He was in command of a crew of twelve men; their job was to intercept Japanese ships.

On August 2, 1943 a Japanese destroyer came charging full speed ahead towards Kennedy and his crew.  He tried to swerve out of the way but was unsuccessful, the PT-109 splitting into two and the boat went up in flames.  Kennedy and his crew were able to jump out into the water but Kennedy had re-injured his back, his back had been previously injured in college when playing in a football game.  Kennedy, despite injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety.  One of Kennedy’s men was badly burned and was struggling to get to safety; Kennedy pulled him to shore by gripping his life jacket strap in his teeth.  After making it to shore they were rescued five days later.  Kennedy was awarded a Purple Heart for his leadership and courage.  His brother’s plane blew up in August 1944 while on a mission in Europe.  After his brother’s death Kennedy decided to follow the path that his brother would have chose: politics.

He was now the heir to the Kennedy throne.

Kennedy was a “political star.” The nation watched the first televised debate between Kennedy and his opponent Richard M. Nixon.  On November 8, 1960 Kennedy defeated Nixon and was elected President.

Not only did he create the Peace Corps program in the first weeks of his administration he lead the space exploration efforts, tried to end racial discrimination and fairness in the office.  Kennedy had to deal with confrontations around the world, such as The Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the struggle in Vietnam, and continuing tensions over the divided city of Berlin.

Kennedy’s accomplishments as Presidents often get overlooked due to his charm wittiness and good looks.

During World War II, the war that Kennedy was active in, America was a unified nation.  For the most part everyone supported the U.S government on its foreign policy.  However following the war things in America had changed. Many disagreed with foreign policy in Europe and around the world.  President Kennedy took on the role to restore a unified nation and during his short tenure in office began to do so.

President Kennedy accomplished many great feats during his short time in office.  After being elected Kennedy would slowly begin to creep his way into the civil rights movement.  Kennedy was advised by his brother Robert as well as cabinet members to stay away at least for the time being.  Kennedy believed that the civil rights movement would anger many southern whites and make it more difficult to pass civil rights laws in congress.  Nevertheless he was a strong advocate for racial integration.  During his Presidential campaign he personally phoned Coretta Scott King to ensure the release of her husband Martin Luther King Jr. from jail.

Kennedy’s greatest accomplishment as President came during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After discovering Soviet President Nikita Krushchev had been secretly constructing nuclear missiles on Cuban soil Kennedy was left in a tough dilemma.  If the U.S attacked the sites it very well have lead to World War III, which would definitely have involved nuclear warfare.  If he had chosen to do nothing Americans would be forced to live with nuclear missiles a few hundred miles away.  Doing nothing would also give the feeling that the U.S could not defend itself.  Since World War 1 the United States had officially been viewed as a world power, a status Kennedy did not want to relinquish so easily.  Kennedy would retaliate by placing a naval quarantine.  The U.S planned on stopping and inspecting all Soviet ships arriving around Cuba.  The United Nations called for both sides to back off but Kennedy denied.  After the first Soviet ship was boarded Krushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites.  The U.S agreed to never invade Cuba and to also secretly dismantle missiles placed in Turkey by Eisenhower.  Kennedy’s approval would sky rocket from 66 to 77 percent after the crisis, which made seeing him in person even more desirable.

Even though Kennedy had a great impact on international and American affairs he still found time to see the American people.

Kennedy would travel around the country in his motorcade speaking to the American people who loved him.  Crowds would gather and watching in amazement over their beloved President.  Margaret O’Neill had seen Kennedy’s motorcade come through Yonkers.

“I had just come out of the dentist office and was hoping to just get a glimpse and head home, I had a babysitter there and didn’t want to be out too long.  All of a sudden the car was coming down the street and I just started running with the crowd.  I had no idea what was going on or where I was going but, I just got swept up in the excitement and the rest was a blur.”

After 1,036 days in office tragedy struck.

On Nov. 22, 1963 President Kennedy was driving in Dallas past cheering crowds when a shot was fired.  Bullets hit the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward his wife. A Catholic priest was called for to administer the last rites.  At 1 p.m. John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. Lyndon B. Johnson was now left to be president.  Johnson took his oath of office, administered by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Hughes, at 2:38 pm.

Police arrested for Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with

murder. A few days later Oswald was murdered, leaving the only person who knew the reason for the assassination dead.

The President’s death caused a nationwide spread of depression.  Many remember where they were when they heard the news and these words from his inaugural address:

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days, nor in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration. Nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

With a ceremony modeled after President Lincoln’s, as per Mrs. Kennedy’s request, approximately 250,000 people paid their respects to their slain President.  The 35 President was laid to rest on November 25, 1963, in the Arlington National Cemetery.  Heads of state and representatives from more than 100 counties attended, while millions watched and wept from home.

It has been 50 years since Kennedy was elected president, but his American people still remember him like it was yesterday. Kennedy was not just their President, he was their friend.

“It was almost like the Kennedy’s were part of your own family,” said O’Neill.    We watched his children grow up and witnessed the tragic death of his son back in 1999. I was on the Cape the summer when Kennedy’s brother Ted passed away, I too had lost a family member.”

President Kennedy’s first year in office led to the country’s first non-war, non-recession deficit.  He also was president during the first $100 billion dollar budget.  One of Kennedy’s greatest gifts to us was his public speaking.  He had a unique way of delivering a speech that was second to none.  His West Berlin speech and his commencement speech at American University, both in 1963, are two of his most influential.

“Every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward—by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace.” Commencement address at American University, June 10, 1963

Even though Kennedy’s reign as President would last less than three years, he created a bond with the public and accomplished many great feats.  Kennedy was doing more than just speaking.  He wanted Americans to be active citizens who did not just sit around and wait for handouts.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.