Kennedy Anniversary Stirs Memory And Nostalgia

Nov 22, 2013

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is seared in the memories of people who remember November 22, 1963.  That event also marks the beginning of a period of massive change in American politics and culture. Friday at noon on Vermont Edition, we reflect on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination why it still casts a long shadow. 

Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson discusses the divide between the real struggles Kennedy had as president and the "Camelot" myth that developed after his death. We also hear Sen. Patrick Leahy's memories of that day, and the recollections of Kenny O'Donnell of Westford, whose father, Kenneth O'Donnell, was one of President Kennedy's closest advisors. 

Kenneth O'Donnell, special assistant to President Kennedy, was in the car directly behind the president's in Dealey Plaza. O'Donnell's son, Kenny, now lives in Westford.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

On the day of Kennedy's assassination, O'Donnell Sr. was in the car directly behind the president's in the motorcade; O'Donnell Jr. was at his high school in Washington, D.C. 

"I was pulled out of class by the headmaster," O'Donnell recalls. "He had a radio in his office, and because he knew who my father was, he wanted to give me the news."

"We didn’t know he [my father] was okay until we saw him on TV," O'Donnell continues. "Because, you know, [there were] no cell phones in those days. There was just too much going on at that hospital."

O'Donnell Sr. was a key actor in the hours immediately following Kennedy's death. "The Dallas police did not want to release the body for investigation," Kenny O'Donnell says. "My father, who was basically the de facto chief of staff, overruled the Dallas police. [He said], 'We're going to put the body on the plane, and [Vice President] Lyndon [Johnson] has to be sworn in immediately, because we don't know what's going on.'"

Kenneth O'Donnell later gave a testimony at the White House about the events of the day.

Also in the program, memories from the Civil War. Middlebury College recently received a gift of 80 letters that were written by one Vermont family during the war, many of them written by two brothers who were serving on the front. Rebekah Irwin, Director of Collections and Archives at Middlebury College, explains what these documents reveal about the lives of young Vermont soldiers in the Civil War.