Manchin Pays Tribute to John F. Kennedy on 50th Anniversary of Assasination
Senator Manchin submits a Congressional record statement in memory of President John F. Kennedy
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today submitted a Congressional record statement to pay tribute to President John F. Kennedy on the 50th Anniversary of his assassination.
In part, Senator Manchin wrote: “John Kennedy was in the White House for only one thousand days, not even three years. But his achievements exceeded his years. It’s easy to dismiss his Presidency as one of rhetoric more than results. But to do so ignores the New Frontier he pioneered – a new era of economic growth, space exploration, civil rights advancements, conservation of natural resources, nuclear disarmament and generations of Americans who have made public service a way of life.
“John Kennedy’s immortal words, especially those of his Inaugural Address, still call us to action – to think beyond our own self-interests, and to do what is best for our country and the people of the world.”
Below is the full text of the Congressional record statement:
Mr. President, fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, America still mourns his loss. For those of us who were inspired by his Presidency, it’s easy to understand why. In a time of indifference, he reawakened this nation to the finest meaning of citizenship – placing public service ahead of private interest.
That is why a half a century later, he remains a powerful symbol of a time of soaring idealism in America, when our people believed our country could do anything – even go to the moon. John Kennedy also inspires Americans who know him only from history books or from the stories their parents and grandparents tell of that all-too-brief shining moment that was his Presidency.
John Kennedy was in the White House for only one thousand days, not even three years. But his achievements exceeded his years. It’s easy to dismiss his Presidency as one of rhetoric more than results. But to do so ignores the New Frontier he pioneered – a new era of economic growth, space exploration, civil rights advancements, conservation of natural resources, nuclear disarmament and generations of Americans who have made public service a way of life.
John Kennedy’s immortal words, especially those of his Inaugural Address, still call us to action – to think beyond our own self-interests, and to do what is best for our country and the people of the world.
Like millions of Americans, I vividly recall the exact moment on that cold day of November 22, 1963, when I heard the shocking news from Dallas that the President had been shot. I was a junior at Farmington High School. By the time we were told of the tragedy, it was just after lunch and my classmates and I walked into English class. Mr. Simon Matthews, our English teacher who also was one of our football coaches, broke the unspeakable news.
Mr. Matthews announced austerely, “The President has been shot.” We thought he was joking and teased him to quit kidding us. He said again, “The President has just been assassinated,” and we were sent home from school early.
When I arrived home, I was stunned to walk in to my living room and find it filled by my entire family. I had never seen my grandfather or father or my uncles leave work early. It was a somber time for every member of my family as we tried to come to grips with the terrible news. It was just so hard to believe our President could be taken from us. But he was.
Three days later, it was decided that our family would go to Washington to pay our respects to the President. As an eager sixteen year old who had just gotten my license a few months before, I volunteered to drive us in Papa’s ’58 Cadillac. Six of us piled into the car and made the trip to our nation’s capital.
I will never forget, as the caisson bearing the President’s casket was led down Pennsylvania Avenue on its way to Arlington Cemetery, my cousins and I climbed into the trees for a better view of the procession. We saw the President’s stricken family and friends, the somber Washington dignitaries and world leaders, and Black Jack, the riderless horse with boots turned backwards in the stirrups, a heartbreaking symbol of the loss of a great leader. As I watched the procession move slowly to the sad cadence of military drums, I thought of the time I had been fortunate enough to meet members of the Kennedy family.
I was working on my go-cart downstairs in the garage when they visited my family in Farmington as then-Senator Kennedy was preparing for the West Virginia presidential primary. My hands were dirty and greasy, but my mother insisted that I wipe them clean and come upstairs to meet a few people. As I climbed the steps, I smelled my grandmother, Mama Kay’s, spaghetti. Everyone had gathered at the table for dinner and an exciting discussion about the political race ramping up in West Virginia. That was the day I shook hands with the Kennedys.
John Kennedy and his family spent so much time campaigning in West Virginia that he once quipped that “West Virginia” was the third word his daughter Caroline learned to pronounce. He once boasted that he was the only Presidential candidate in history, other than West Virginian John Davis in 1924, “who knows where Slab Fork is and has been there.”
John Kennedy came to West Virginia to show that a Catholic could win in a predominantly Protestant state. Americans worried that a Catholic President would be controlled by the Pope and that Catholic Mass would be held in the White House every day. Let me just note here that John Kennedy carried the West Virginia primary in a landslide – with 60.8 percent. He won our votes and our heart. He went on to become, as he put it, “not the Catholic candidate for President,” but “the Democrat Party’s candidate for President, who happens also to be a Catholic.” But there was one Catholic Mass in the White House, on November 23, 1963 – a Requiem Mass for the slain President.
As I reflect now on how much life intersected with John Kennedy’s life, I prefer to think about the beginning of the Kennedy Presidency rather than its tragic ending. I prefer to remember his Inaugural Address. It was just 1,355 words and 14 minutes long, but it set in motion a generation of Americans with a passion for public service.
Some were inspired to defend liberty as soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. Some would march for civil rights in the South. Some would join the Peace Corps and become ambassadors of peace in villages throughout the world. And some would answer the call to service by seeking public office.
John Kennedy was a powerful and positive force in my life and the life of our nation. To me, he embodied a time when politics could be harnessed to higher aspirations, to do good things for the country.
Not only did his Inaugural Address famously challenge us to ask ourselves what we can do for our country, it also provided timeless advice on how to overcome the bitterness of partisan politics. An election, he said, is “not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom,” not an end but a beginning “signifying renewal.” That is still good advice.
John Kennedy was a committed Democrat and few people loved politics more than he and his family. But he understood – as he wrote in his book Profiles In Courage, that “there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.” He accepted the fact that democracy relies on competing views and vigorous debate.
But he did not believe the objective should be to win political power but to solve our country’s problems. As he once said, “Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past - let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
That is what I have always tried to do – to find the right answer and to do what is best for my country and the generations of Americans to follow. That is why, 50 years after John Kennedy’s death, I still try to follow his admonition to “go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help … knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
He acknowledged that this was not the work of a hundred days, or of a thousand days, or of one administration, or of a lifetime, but of generations. Even so, he said, “Let us begin.” And, Mr. President, to you and to all our colleagues in the Senate, I say: Let us continue.
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