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I’ll be seeing you

| Thursday, March 21, 2019

John F. Kennedy’s boyish good looks and natural charisma helped him to defeat Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. Some thought that the candidate was born to be president. What was not known was that for most of his life he played second fiddle to his smarter, more dedicated, dark-haired older brother. The Kennedy family groomed Joe Kennedy Jr. to be president his entire life. Little focus was given to their sickly second child. The story of the Kennedys is one of constant irony and tragedy. Joe Jr.’s death was the first in a long line of demises.  

Rose Kennedy sent a letter to her children in 1942. Following a joke about her eldest son Joe’s fondness of his new mustache, she writes about the future president: “He (John F. Kennedy) is quite ready to die for the U.S.A. … He also thinks it would be good for Joe’s political career if he died for the grand old flag.” This shows the Kennedy family’s dedication to Joe’s success and the lack of interest that was awarded to Jack. Having a Kennedy in the White House was a crusade passed from one brother to another, ending in three deaths and an overturned car in the Poucha pond off Chappaquiddick Island. It also shows the grand irony of a family plagued by tragedy.

Though Jack was willing to die for Joe, it was Joe who would become the political sacrifice. Jack Kennedy was considered a hero following the PT 109 incident. Being over-shown by his younger brother caused Joe great emotional distress. There are stories about him lying in bed muttering to himself about how he was going to prove to the world he was braver than his brother. These feelings led him to volunteer for arguably a suicide mission following the end of his 25th mission tour, ultimately causing his death. Back in Hyannis Port, the Kennedy family was gathered listening to the song “I’ll be seeing you” when notified of the death of Joe. Joe Sr. walked into the room where they were gathered and reportedly said, “Joe’s dead. Kennedys don’t cry.” As evident in Rose’s letter, much of the Kennedy family’s energy was focused on making Joe president. This energy was quickly transferred to Jack without a word spoken. Jack quickly gathered the family to go sailing in his brother’s honor.

Years later, Robert Kennedy, commonly known as Bobby, wrote a letter to his brother Jack expressing his desire to serve on a ship named after their late brother. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the ships that went to confront the Russian ships was named after the Attorney General and President’s eldest brother, unbeknownst to them. Joe lived on through the political careers of his brothers. He was the first of the Kennedy martyrs. His death was used throughout the Kennedy campaigns. The fact that John F. Kennedy was never groomed to be president gave us one of the most intriguing figures in American history. He was more relatable and laid back than his older brother could ever be.

The deaths of the Kennedy boys redefined American history in so many ways. Joe’s death gave us America’s most intriguing president and Jack’s gave way to a renowned view on American idealism and fueled his younger brother’s campaign. Bobby’s death symbolized the end of an era and Ted’s death helped to pass the Affordable Care Act. In an interview, Grace Kelly was asked if JFK died in vain. Not only did Jack not die in vain, none of the Kennedy boys did. They simply passed a torch that one day will be picked up again, no matter how idealistic and naive it may be.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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