John F. Kennedy was born 100 years ago Monday, and a new book recounts his brief but eventful presidency — and the style and wit with which he shaped the hopes of a generation — through day-by-day reports drawn from coverage at the time, right up to his assassination in November 1963.
Kennedy’s 1,036 days in office saw many crises, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Soviet Union’s menace to West Berlin and, most dangerously, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
As former AP Washington Bureau Chief Walter Mears writes in the introduction to “JFK: A Daily Chronicle of the White House Years”:
“It was a time of hope, youthful leadership — JFK’s new generation in power — but with clouds. U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war was beginning. Kennedy sent an increasing number of military advisers there, and they were the first Americans involved in combat. The civil rights issue was a growing problem. Kennedy sought legislation, but it would not come on his watch.”
Besides touching on reports from the fraught, history-making days of his presidency, the book includes lighter dispatches, including reports of the three birthdays Kennedy celebrated as president:
MAY 29, 1961: President celebrates birthday
BOSTON — President John F. Kennedy celebrated his 44th birthday this evening with a dinner at the Boston Armory. Several of New England’s Democratic leaders as well as Richard Cardinal Cushing, archbishop of Boston, attended the event.
By way of explaining his pending trip to France, Kennedy entertained the gathered dignitaries with an eloquent recitation of the history of Franco-American relations. The president intends to meet with French President General Charles de Gaulle to nurture “the close relationship which must exist between France and the United States if the cause of freedom in the Atlantic community is to be preserved.”
Kennedy looks forward to traveling to France “with the good wishes of all of our citizens of our country as we pay a visit to an old friend.” However, his subsequent trip to Vienna will lack the same spirit of diplomatic bonhomie.
In Vienna, Kennedy intends to sit down with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, with whom Kennedy has been exchanging increasingly tense communications. Relations have become strained over such issues as Cuba and the Congo. On President Kennedy’s part, he intends to “go as the leader of the greatest revolutionary country on earth.”
The president concluded with an expression of thanks to the crowd, which included some of his staunchest supporters. He also quoted orator William Lloyd Garrison, copping a sentiment he will carry with him on his trip overseas: “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.”
MAY 20, 1962: Marilyn Monroe Treats JFK to Special ‘Happy Birthday’
NEW YORK — Fifteen thousand people attended President Kennedy’s birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden last night — and 15,000 jaws dropped to the floor during a performance by Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe walked onto the stage and sang “Happy Birthday,” turning the normally innocuous song into a something out of a burlesque show. Wearing a skintight, flesh-colored, rhinestone-studded dress, America’s most popular sex symbol sang “Happy Birthday” with a breathy, sultry delivery, concluding, “Happy birthday, Mr. President, happy birthday to you.”
“Monroe then sang six lines of “Thanks for the Memories,” with the words changed for Kennedy:
Thanks, Mr. President,
For all the things you’ve done,
The battles that you’ve won,
The way you deal with U.S. Steel
And our problems by the ton,
We thank you . so much.”
Following the performance, two men carried a giant cake onto the stage. Kennedy then took the stage and addressed the crowd. “I can now retire from politics,” he joked, “after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
MAY 30, 1963: Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Kennedy celebrated a festive 46th birthday yesterday, enjoying cake and good cheer with staff in the White House’s Navy Mess Hall.
In the evening, the president was joined by the first lady, brothers Robert and Edward, and about 20 of his closest friends and associates on board the presidential yacht Sequoia. Guests enjoyed a feast of crabmeat ravigotte, roast beef, and asparagus hollandaise. The dessert, a special creation for the event, was Bombe President with chocolate sauce. Guests toasted the president’s health with glasses of 1955 Cuvee Dom Perignon.”
The day was not all play and no work, however. Civil rights issues remained at the top of Kennedy’s agenda, as he organized a meeting with business leaders to sit down and discuss the difficulties minorities face with regard to equal employment and access to public facilities and services. The meeting is scheduled for June 4 at the White House.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ In recognition of the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth, The Associated Press has published “JFK: A Daily Chronicle of the White House Years,” a comprehensive look at all 1,036 days of his presidency, in words, recollections of correspondents and AP photos. It is available in print and e-book exclusively at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qzYKs3 The day-by-day coverage includes descriptions, excerpted here, of three ways Kennedy’s birthday was celebrated while he was in office.
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