Memorial Day 1963: Standing where he would be buried

From historian Michael Beschloss, a glimpse of John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day 1963, one day after his last birthday.

The Washington Post reported:

“President Kennedy led the memorial observances by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. He was accompanied by his two-year-old son John Jr. who held tightly to the hand of a Secret Service agent.”

JFK was standing where he would be buried six months later.

15 comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    In the photo, JFK appears deeply pensive. I imagine Memorial Day resonated strongly for him.

    It must have been difficult for him to grasp the array of military and CI opposition to his Cuba and Soviet Union policies. In WWII, everyone had been on the same team.

    The photo was taken during the last of the “American Graffiti” period.

  2. Want an excellent book to read?
    “Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis” by Richard Cottrell

    http://www.amazon.com/Gladio-NATOs-Dagger-Heart-Europe/dp/1615776877/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369669988&sr=1-1&keywords=gladio+richard+cottrell

    Cottrell writes extensively on Gen. Lyman Lenmnitzer who JFK demoted as head of the JCS and placed Lemnitzer as head of NATO where he was involved in many Gladio type activities.

    Cottrell pins the JFK assassination on Lemnitzer/Gen. Ed Lansdale. It has taken a long time for me to suspect Lemnitzer/LeMay as much as I do today. LeMay, after all, gave an oral history describing he Kennedys as “cockroaches” and stating he was aware of how they were treating (translation executing)Lyndon Johnson in the fall of 1963.

    No doubt Lemnitzer/LeMay had spectacular hatreds of JFK and anyone advocating Operation Northwood or participating in Operation Gladio activities, as well as advocating a nuclear first strike on the USSR has to be considered a prime suspect in the JFK assassination.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      It does give those generals motive but after the assassination, was Viet Nam the consideration for abandoning Cuba or a first strike against the Soviets?

  3. John Kirsch says:

    It’s impossible, of course, to know what was going through JFK’s mind as he played his ceremonial role in a holiday memorializing the nation’s war dead. In his book about the Kennedy years, Richard Reeves pointed out that JFK was deeply skeptical, if not actually distrustful, of the military. And it seems possible, perhaps certain, that certain elements of the military-intelligence “community” felt the same way toward the president.

    • JSA says:

      I’m inclined to agree with John Kirsch’s take. For all we know, he was wondering about things he would be saying in June (re: American University speech). Or maybe his brother, who died flying a loaded bomb with little chance of any success, in 1944. By 1963, Kennedy was indeed reaching a point of skepticism toward the higher brass that he saw them as obstacles to moving forward and to changing the world through more peaceful, cooperative means. He certainly said so much to Ted Sorensen, and he made a point of having key staffers read Barbara Tuchman’s “Guns of August” about the foolish arms build up to World War One. I doubt many historians fully grasp the complexity of this president, who read so much and who was a pretty good amateur historian himself. Other than Paul Douglas and a handful of others, I think most historians don’t see the connection between a military increasingly distrustful (and dangerously independent to the threat of treason by 1963) and a civilian President wanting to rein in this military, along with the intelligence agencies. It’s the elephant in the room that the establishment doesn’t want to talk about today.

      • John Kirsch says:

        JSA, I remember reading somewhere that if the events of 11/22 had happened in another country, many Americans would have concluded that the leader in question had been killed by a conspiracy. But many if not most Americans are unable to conceive of that happening here. It’s like a mental block. The fancy phrase for it is “American Exceptionalism.” The irony is that it HAS happened here. I’m thinking of the Lincoln assassination.

        • JSA says:

          I think there IS a mental block with many Americans, particularly those of older persuasion who grew up learning American history in the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s in public schools. I’ve asked them why they can’t fathom a military/intel (LBJ also) conspiracy, and they say they just can’t accept that that kind of thing could or would happen here. But you’re right; Lincoln was killed as the result of a conspiracy, perhaps hatched by the Confederate government after the failed Dalgren raid by Federal forces to try to sound out a kidnapping/assassination of Jefferson Davis, in 1863. We know that Lincoln was killed by Booth and that his co-conspirators helped try to bring down the US government in April of 1865, but we probably will never know how far the plans reached. Perhaps just with Booth and a few others, or maybe deeper? As for Kennedy, I think we DO know who the main culprits were. Knowing is one thing. Accepting facts, however ugly they may be, is another. I’ve said it before: We Americans are a not all bad or all good. We are PEOPLE. Just like anyone else. We share a common history and mostly share the same basic culture, and we share the same basic ideals, even when divided as we are now, like we were prior to the Civil War. I’m interested in getting the facts straight, and “Damn the Torpedoes” to borrow from USN Admiral Farragut (Mobile Bay, 1864).

    • Jonathan says:

      My reading convinces me JFK distrusted the CIA after the Bay of Pigs but did trust his military leaders. In the run-up to the Bay of Pigs invasion, Richard Bissell was confidently predicting success, while Lyman Lemnitzer was cautioning that the CIA’s plan had little chance of success against Castro’s forces.

      After the Bay of Pigs, JFK created the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in the Pentagon and tried to transfer a lot of CIA responsibility to DIA. Problem was, Angleton and others in the CIA covertly thwarted his every move.

      When JFK fired Dulles, Bissell, and Cabell, he also should have fired Angleton, David Atlee Phillips, E. Howard Hunt, and some others.

      • JSA says:

        I think Kennedy should have NEVER accepted Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, in 1960, and should have chosen Stuart Symington instead. Barring that, I think JFK should have had his brother work to get Lyndon out in 1962 instead of 1963 (if you believe that the LIFE Magazine scandal and hearings on Bobby Baker/leading to LBJ were true, fed by Bobby, as I do). 1962 was an election year, but even so I don’t think Lyndon Johnson had much to rely on by then. It would have been extremely ugly, and LBJ would have probably played the Addison’s card as well as the sexual scandal card, but I don’t think that would have been enough to save him. Then Kennedy could have chosen a more amenable Vice President, one whom the military didn’t like or trust. I think having Lyndon Johnson on the ticket sealed the deal however, and Kennedy was doomed from June of 1960 onward.

        • Jonathan says:

          JFK made mistakes.

          The greatest was inviting LBJ to be his VP.

          JFK was a rookie. He did not understand hardball. Or those throwing him hard balls, sliders, and curves.

          When you are a prince or a king, you control the game.

          When you are a prince or a king, you are invincible. Enter Shakespeare.

          • John Kirsch says:

            Jonathan, I’m not sure I entirely buy your assertion that JFK was a “rookie” who didn’t know how to play “hardball.” Kennedy liked to boast about how much he enjoyed going “mano a mano” with an opponent. And Robert Kennedy, JFK’s right-hand man, was seen by many as ruthless.

          • JSA says:

            I think that, although JFK was potentially “no rookie” in 1960, he was inexperienced when it came to the kind of extreme hardball that people like Lyndon Johnson played. Remember, LBJ had worked his way up from almost nothing to potential Vice Presidential pick (after a terribly run presidential campaign that was so lackluster it failed to impress the delegates that year). His taking the Senate seat in Texas was amazing, and involved power plays that at that time JFK was not willing or capable of pulling off. Also, prior to 1961, when his father had his stroke, JFK relied a lot on his dad, Joe Sr., to pull some strings and to advise behind the scenes. The first major strategy session for the presidency, where details began to get hashed out for 1960 began with the father in late 1958. In those days, that was considered early. Robert Kennedy, for all his ruthlessness, was a rookie when compared to LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover, Allen Dulles, and many of the key power players in American politics and business, in 1960. He learned quickly, and by 1963 was a major force helping his brother, but in 1960, although he tried to advise his brother from accepting LBJ as Veep candidate, he couldn’t persuade LBJ to back down nor could he persuade his brother to go with someone else. I think LBJ was quite skillful at getting onto the Kennedy ticket, quite masterful in fact.

  4. John Kirsch says:

    I’m not one of those who believes that 11/22 was the moment when everything began to go wrong with the United States. Problems such as poverty, racism, militarism and what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called “single selfishness and compulsive greed” had been part of the nation’s makeup for many, many years. But looking at the foto of JFK, seemingly lost in thought, makes me think that his death did mark a retreat from the idea that reason and debate should guide our national decisions. Much of what came later, until the present, has had a quality of unreason about it.

  5. JFK had first-hand experience of how the armed-forces worked. His father, Joe Kennedy had him all set up for a cushy job far from combat. He refused the “priviledge” and sought out active duty. It’s hard to blame old Joe – he never liked the British. (In WW2, the expression was “Suction” JFK no doubt saw it over and over. ) Woodrow wilson was somewhat intimidated by the military, JFK saw through them. Lyndon Johnson, a civilian, knew who he would have on his side when he opted in for V.P.

  6. John Kirsch says:

    JSA, you may be right about RFK and his alleged ruthlessness. I read somewhere that after 11/22, RFK said he realized that “my world was not the real world.” I’ve long had the sense that the political establishment of the day (which would certainly have included LBJ) viewed the Kennedys as interlopers, rich dilettantes who, for all their seeming power, didn’t understand how politics really worked. I can easily imagine the hard men at the CIA and Pentagon (and elsewhere) reacting to the American University speech with scorn. According to Tom Wicker, Allen Dulles said something like “That little Kennedy thought he could do anything.” or words to that effect.

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