By Bob Gaydos
The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he's literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it's not the sound of Dylan's unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.
That would be Kennedy's, with his distinct Boston accent. I've been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I've known the Dylan connection. That's because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.
That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.
Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.
A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Time Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy's death. Headline: "The Measure of the Man."
Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK -- Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, "Ich bin ein Berliner," "Ask not "", the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty -- still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.
He is regularly rated as one of this country's greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with "Profiles in Courage."
After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.
If Dylan's message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy's was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.
Four years ago in my blog, writing "The Measure of the Man II," I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, "The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?'' That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.
I also wrote, "I'm also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born."
So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin'. I'll meet you at 100.