A mostly reverential compendium of voices touched by the promise and spirit of John F. Kennedy’s presidency—and the shock of his death.
Keen observers of the president, members of his devoted staff, children of his advisers, civil rights leaders, eyewitness journalists and youth inspired by his brief, shining administration—all offer their concise statements and appraisals in veteran journalist Owen’s collection. The author was just 7 years old on the date of the assassination, riveted like the rest of the country to the TV (“the centrifuge of the country,” as Tom Brokaw calls it) and ultimately galvanized by the craft of journalism. Some of the accounts are extracts from copyrighted statements evidently published in previous books, such as Walter F. Mondale’s The Good Fight and Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, all of which expound poignantly on this most intimate “death in the family.” Some of the statements are truly elucidating and mesmerizing, such as those by then–special assistant counsel Joseph A. Califano Jr., who proudly applauded JFK’s prescient civil rights speech of June 1963 (a crusade taken up by his brother, Robert); and by Rev. Billy Graham, who had spent time with the president and was impressed by his concern “about the moral and spiritual condition of the nation,” noting the day after Kennedy died that “the entire nation [was] thinking more about death and eternity than at any time since the war.” Other accounts are more curious and questionable, such as those by Army officer Andy Carlson, who led the riderless horse “Black Jack” during the funeral, and by Ruth Paine, who was living with Marina Oswald at the time. Given the ongoing, apparently insatiable curiosity about the Kennedy assassination, most readers will probably find it all equally fascinating.
All walks of life are represented in this immense cross section of Americans' grief and groping for comprehension.