July 15, 1960 — John F. Kennedy delivers the “New Frontier” speech

The 1960 Democratic Convention was still a fairly competitive contest when it opened on July 11 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Kennedy was the obvious front-runner, but Lyndon Johnson was still in the game. However, after Kennedy defeated him in a televised debate, Johnson’s fortunes began to fade. Kennedy was elected with an absolute (if narrow) majority on the first ballot of the convention, becoming the nominee. After some backroom negotiations, Johnson agreed to be Kennedy’s Vice-Presidential running mate.

And so it was that on the final day of the convention, Kennedy gave a speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party as their candidate for President of the United States. The speech he gave, widely known as the ‘New Frontier’ speech after the metaphor that drove most of it, was a high water mark of progressive rhetoric, and remains so even today:

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. … Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

As President, Kennedy would be quite successful in progressing towards these policy aims, and Johnson would continue with them when he succeeded to the office.

1961 — Kennedy pledges to put a man on the Moon by the decade’s end

It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.

As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.

Referenced in:

Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde

1963 – President Kennedy is buried in Arlington Cemetary

Perhaps even more than the shooting itself, two days earlier, President Kennedy’s funeral marked the official end of the ‘Camelot’ era. With him were buried a lot of hopes. The future seemed filled with naught but uncertainty. Lyndon Johnson had taken over the job he coveted, albeit in a way he would never have wished for, but his first steps as a leader were hesitant. The one thing he had done with sureness was to declare November 25, 1963 a National Day of Mourning, when only essential personnel would be required to work.

After his death in Dallas, President Kennedy’s body was flown back to Washington, where it was autopsied at Bethesda Naval Hospital on the same day. The following day, he lay in repose, and then in state, in the East Room of the White House, and the day after that, in the Rotunda. His funeral mass was held at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, after which his funeral procession carried him to his final resting place in Arlington Cemetary.

Other than William Taft, Kennedy is only United States President to be buried at Arlington.

Referenced in:

Saturn V – Inspiral Carpets

1963 — U.S. President John F Kennedy is assassinated

One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.

While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.

On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.

Referenced in:

Civil War — Guns n’ Roses
Tabloid Junkie — Michael Jackson
Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
He Was A Friend of Mine — The Byrds
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde
Song for a Friend — The Kingston Trio
Purple Toupee — They Might Be Giants
She Is Always Seventeen — Harry Chapin

1943 – The Japanese destroyer Amagiri rams and sinks US Navy PT-109

Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109, under the command of Lieutenant junior grade John F. Kennnedy, was one of 15 PT boats sent out on a mission to intercept the Tokyo Express on the night of August 1, 1943. Along with three other boats of the flotilla, it stayed behind to guard the retreat of the others and continue patrolling.

At about 2am in the morning, on a moonless night, the crew realised that they were about to collide with a Japanese ship. The destroyer Amagiri rammed them amidships, cutting the boat in half.

Under the command of Kennedy, all but two of the crew made it to safety on Plum Pudding Island, from which they were rescued by PT-157 six days later.

Referenced in:

PT-109 – Jimmy Dean

1961 — John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as President

John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration oath was administered by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren with all the due pomp and ceremony.

Kennedy’s speech that day was unusually short for an Inaugural Address, but it is generally considered to be one of the better inaugural addresses. Such well known Kennedy quotations as “ask not what your country can do for you…” and “the torch has been passed to a new generation…” are taken from it.

Also, notably, Kennedy was the first President in some decades not to wear a hat at his Inauguration, pretty much single-handedly killing hats for men. Strange but true.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin