Remembering JFK

WE all remember where we were 25 years ago when we learned of President Kennedy's being shot. I was in downtown New York, walking along Fifth Avenue, when I heard another walker shout the numbing news. I traveled thousands of miles with John F. Kennedy along the campaign trail in his quest for the presidency. The memories pile up as I look back.

Once I sat for two hours alongside Mr. Kennedy on the small prop plane he used for campaigning during the primaries. This was in late January of 1960. Kennedy had first flown to Wisconsin to enter the primary there. Then he had gone on to Nebraska for the same purpose. A handful of staff and journalists was accompanying him back to Washington from Omaha. I had asked for an interview, and he had beckoned for me to sit beside him.

We started off with some small talk. Why had he entitled his book ``Profiles in Courage'' and not ``Profiles of Courage?'' ``Well,'' he said, ``you say `profiles in the rock,' not `profiles of the rock.' But I guess the other does sound better.'' Then he laughed and added: ``It was the publishers who came up with that name - not I.''

Someone in the aisle asked Kennedy if he had noted that Harry Truman had referred to the 1928 election as a possible index of what might occur if the religious issue were raised.

``Yes,'' Kennedy said, ``but why did he have to say that? Why couldn't he have said that there has been lots of progress since 1928 and that he thought it would be different now? He's a vain little man who is trying very hard to control the Democratic Party.''

We talked at length about his decision to enter the Wisconsin primary. He said he knew it was a high-risk move on his part. ``It's Humphrey country,'' he said. Hubert Humphrey was favored to win in Wisconsin, since he came from the state next door.

``But I have to take my chances,'' he said. ``I've got to show the leaders in our party that I can win. I've decided that the only way I could get some of these party people to take me was to put them in a position where they would have to take me. That means I get in early, in the first primary. So I decided to go into the Wisconsin primary. I really didn't make up my mind until the last minute.''

He said he was taking a big gamble in entering the Wisconsin primary: ``There are real hazards here. A loss there would hurt me terribly, perhaps eliminate me.''

Kennedy fought Mr. Humphrey to a standoff in delegates from that Wisconsin race and was hailed as the victor for stopping Humphrey there. Then came a big victory in West Virginia - and Kennedy was on his way.

Someone walking along the aisle of the plane asked Kennedy if he didn't think one of the politicians he had been talking to in Nebraska looked like Marrying Sam. ``Who is `Marrying Sam'?'' Kennedy asked. It developed that he never had read ``Li'l Abner.''

Kennedy and I talked and talked of politics and the campaign. But much of the conversation was of politicians and political plans that no longer seem very interesting. Kennedy bantered a great deal, with me and others on this plush plane - a Convair with chairs and seat belts for 11 or so, as I recall. There were bunks in the back of the plane which had been bought for Kennedy by his brothers and sisters. Kennedy called the plane the ``Caroline,'' after his daughter.

At one point Kennedy ordered hot chocolate, and I joined him. As we neared Washington he showed much concern when he learned that I had gotten on his plane in Milwaukee without much notice and hence had not been able to make overnight arrangements in Washington. He was most gracious after we arrived in seeing to it that I found lodgings and that someone from his staff drove me there at that late hour of the night.

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