Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Kennedy's legacy and fate

The tragic news of Senator Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor has resulted in an outpouring of reminiscences about the Kennedy legacy which strike a personal chord in my past experience.

After 18 months as a mortar platoon leader in Korea, and two years as a general assignment (civilian) reporter for Pacific Stars and Stripes in Japan, I returned to the U.S. to work as the political cartoonist for Greensboro Daily News in North Carolina at the beginning of the "Kennedy era".

In addition to drawing opinions about John Kennedy’s nomination and election, I confess to being personally swept along by the exciting sense of something special happening in American politics—a new national awareness that we could shed the albatross of segregation, that we could in fact put a man on the moon, that truly the torch had been passed.

My cartoons were being regularly reprinted in the Washington Post and one day I received a letter from Evelyn Lincoln, President Kennedy’s personal secretary, writing at the behest of the President, informing me that Kennedy would like very much to have the original of a particular cartoon. It was the first of what was to become regular correspondence between Mrs. Lincoln and myself.

In January of 1963, during a trip to Washington, I was invited by Pierre Salinger to come to a White House press briefing. Afterward, he took me down the hall to meet with President Kennedy. As we went through Evelyn Lincoln’s office, I could not stifle a Cheshire cat grin upon seeing one of my cartoons hanging by the doorway into the Oval Office.

The President introduced me to Ted Sorensen, his speech writer and Secretary of State Dean Rust. They left and we were alone for about twenty minutes of conversation ranging from the politics of segregation to what kind of brush I used for drawing with India ink. He joked about finally finding gainful employment for his two brothers through the tried and true route of nepotism.

Upon my return to Greensboro, I received another letter from Evelyn Lincoln, saying that the President wanted to thank me again for the cartoons. She concluded, "It was a pleasure to have you here. Hope you come again sometime."

Months later Lee Harvey Oswald and a bullet aborted the John Kennedy legacy. It is sad that the final chapter of Ted Kennedy’s legacy will be written by a malignant brain tumor.

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