EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE, “FOUR DAYS TO REMEMBER”
Many of the nation’s most highly-decorated military men paid tribute to the fallen president. “As a former comrade in arms, his death kills something within me,” General Douglas Macarthur wired the First Lady in a telegram. Five-star General of the Army Omar Bradley, in the hospital, sent handwritten regrets that he could not attend the funeral. Sergeant York, the legendary hero from the World War I Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918, wired a message of “deepest sympathy and regret.” Ill health also prevented Winston Churchill from attending in person.
Sir Winston Churchill; handwritten letter.
24 November 1963.
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
Never have I been so filled with revulsion, anger and sorrow, as when I heard of your husband’s death.
On this great and good man were set the hopes of humanity. The grief and loss must be unspeakable for you, who have stood by him for so many years, and who were at his side when he was struck down. Nothing can be of consolation to you at this time. But I would like you to know that throughout the world, and in England especially, all men who prize Freedom and hope for Peace share your loss and partake of your grief. . . .
Winston S. Churchill
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER TWO, “FAMILY AND CLOSE FRIENDS”
Though the bulk of the condolence mail flew into White House mailboxes, the other Mrs. Kennedy, JFK’s mother, was not neglected. Among the letters Rose Kennedy received was one from Pat Skakel Cuffe, the older sister of her daughter-in-law Ethel, and the first of the Skakel girls in whom Bobby Kennedy had taken a romantic interest, who had married an Irishman and settled in Dublin.
Pat Skakel Cuffe; handwritten letter to Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
All through these terrible days I grieve for you and Mr. Kennedy–stunned at the measure of your sorrow. – I hope it will be of some joy to you to know that surely every person in Ireland has prayed for your son today–and for his splendid family. The memory of the Irish being what it is, you will be prayed for on this island for years and years to come. . . . Schools and shops, government and business is at a standstill today–. . . Only Jack could have so caught the respect and love of a country not his own.
No one is prouder than I am to share his citizenship, his Faith, and through Ethel and Bobby,– his family. –
Pat Skakel Cuffe
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER THREE, “MEMORIES”
Jack had developed an early partiality to the British cause partly on account of his younger sister Kathleen or “Kick.” Kathleen was said to have “the soul of an expatriate”; her introduction to British society via the American Embassy in London succeeded so well that she became an ardent Anglophile . . . and favorite of multiple young English beaux. Among these were William Douglas-Home, who became a well-known playwright; Lord Tony Rosslyn (Anthony St.-Clair Erskine, Earl of Rosslyn); and most of all, William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and heir to the Dukedom of Devonshire, with whom “Kick” fell passionately in love and decided to marry, despite his Protestant upbringing. The union was vehemently opposed by Rose Kennedy, who threatened to disown her daughter for abandoning the faith of her ancestors. Luckily she had been adopted by no less a social figure than the American-born heiress Nancy, Viscountess Astor, who acted as go-between for mother and daughter.
When “Kick” was killed in an airplane accident in the south of France in 1948, the eulogies poured in from all over Great Britain. “No American . . . was ever so loved as she” wrote an anonymous correspondent to the London Times. Now, fifteen years later, some of the same people wrote to Jacqueline Kennedy about her slain husband. Wrote William Douglas-Home: “I loved that man. I never knew a nicer, greater man.” Nancy Lady Astor wired “LOVE AND DEEPEST SYMPATHY TO YOU ALL,” while her daughter-in-law Chiquita Astor wrote that Jack “was the one man I admired most through the years. One knew him, one had seen him grow and gain stature to the point that the whole world was focused on him.” Moucher Devonshire, mother-in-law of “Kick,” wired that she was “OVERWHELMED BY TERRIBLE NEWS,” while the Earl of Rosslyn, Kathleen Kennedy’s one-time admirer, wrote:
Anthony Rosslyn, handwritten letter.
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
As soon as I heart that dreadful news my thoughts turned to you & the children, & I sent you that telegram. I am surrounded in this room by pictures of him & "Kick," & his autographed books are near me too. He was very much part of my pre-war life & when we met at your sister's for the christening, we talked of those days. What a senseless, wicked tragedy, & what an appalling shock & ordeal for you, your high courage will make it more bearable. You are so much in my thoughts & prayers & I hope that one day we may meet again.
With my love
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER FOUR, “POLITICAL FRIENDS AND FOES”
Once the world had survived the Cuban missile crisis with a clear Russian setback, Kennedy felt he could afford a more cooperative attitude towards the Soviet Union, at least on the question of nuclear war. In his noted June 10, 1963 “Peace Speech” at American University, he relied partially on suggestions drafted by Norman Cousins, journalist and chairman of the peace organization SANE. Weeks later the U.S., U.K. and U.S.S.R. signed the world’s first nuclear test ban treaty in Moscow, signaling a new era of non-nuclear competition between the superpowers. This willingness to curb nuclear weapons, along with the President’s switch from a pragmatic political to a moral position on civil rights, brought him great credit among liberals.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, pediatrician, bestselling author and political activist with SANE; handwritten letter
Cleveland Heights Ohio
Dear Mrs. Kennedy
I have admired your husband for many qualities but most of all for his dignity. For the clarity of his vision and for his courage in fighting for the rights of Negroes and for peace.
I believe that the sacrifices of his death will inspire people with his ideas for generations to come and will further the causes he fought for.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER FIVE, “THE WRITTEN WORD”
Nevertheless the tradition of cordial personal relationships that had existed for over a century between American presidents and the publishers of the New York Times continued during the Kennedy years, as evidenced by the several letters the owners sent Mrs. Kennedy. Chairman of the Board Arthur Hays Sulzberger wrote about this “sad, sad thing that has come to all of us and particularly to you and your little family.” President and Publisher Arthur Ochs (“Punch”) Sulzberger, declared that “None of us will ever forget the great privilege of having known your husband.” Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, the matriarch of the Ochs-Sulzberger clan that ran the Times, also sent her love, with special appreciation for the late President’s “kindness and consideration of me.” Most affecting, however, was the letter from Marian Sulzberger Dryfoos, widow of Orvil Dryfoos, Iphigene’s son-in-law and the man who had steered the paper during the crucial years of Jack Kennedy’s candidacy and early administration. Dryfoos, weakened by the stress endured during the bitter 1963 labor dispute between New York newspaper publishers and the city’s printers’ union, had fallen ill shortly after it ended, and died in the hospital near the end of May
Marian Sulzberger (Mrs. Orvil) Dryfoos, Director of Special Activities, New York Times; handwritten letter
Nov. 27, 1963
Dear Mrs. Kennedy
. . . If only in your hours of grief I could do for you what the President did for me at the time of Orvil's death. He sent me by special messenger a handwritten letter telling me how he felt about Orv and what Orvil had done for his country. I have often reread it and it is something I shall always cherish. I am so proud to have had a part in Orv's too short, but wonderful life. I know you must feel this way too about your husband for he was really an extraordinary man, warm, sympathetic and understanding. I saw him only last Monday in Miami and in the sea of people, he remembered so many by name and had a word for each of us. . . .
Pardon me for telling you of my loss, but somehow last Friday was like six months ago and with both of these wonderful men went a part of me.
Your courage is an inspiration to all of us. . . .
My deepest sympathy
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER SIX, “HOLLYWOOD AND THE JET SET”
Darryl F. Zanuck sent Jacqueline Kennedy one of the longest telegrams she received. Zanuck was a co-founder of 20th Century Pictures (later 20th Century Fox) who worked independently in Europe during the late 50s and 60s before returning to Hollywood to finish production of the studio’s epic, Cleopatra.
Darryl F. Zanuck, 20th Century Fox studio executive; telegram
DEAR MRS KENNEDY
I WAS IN ROME WHEN THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT OCCURRED, IN ADDITION TO MY GRIEF AND SHOCK I WAS NEVER MORE ASHAMED OF BEING AN AMERICAN. DURING THE LAST SEVERAL DAYS, AND THROUGHOUT THE FUNERAL CEREMONY, I WAS NEVER MORE PROUD OF BEING AN AMERICAN. UNDER THESE TEDIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES YOU CONDUCTED YOURSELF IN A MANNER THAT GAVE NEW DIGNITY TO OUR NATION. I KNOW THAT YOU WILL BE INTERESTED TO LEARN THAT IN ROME ON THE DAY FOLLOWING THE ASSASSINATION ALL OF THE ADVERTISING BILLBOARDS WERE REMOVED THROUGHOUT THE CITY AND WERE REPLACED WITH LARGE BILLBOARD POSTERS WITH A FULL-SIZED PHOTOGRAPH OF OUR LATE PRESIDENT. ALL TELEVISION AND RADIO PROGRAMS WERE CANCELLED WITH THE EXCEPTION OF NEWS BULLETINS. THIS IS A SMALL TOKEN BUT IT IS INDICATIVE OF THE RESPECT A FOREIGN COUNTRY HELD FOR YOUR HUSBAND.
DARRYL F. ZANUCK
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER SEVEN, “MOURNING IN EVERY NATION”
Almost cataclysmic at the start of Kennedy’s administration, relations between the USA and the Soviets had warmed considerably by the time he died. Ilya Ehrenburg, for decades one of the most visible and adaptable of Soviet journalist/intellectuals, wrote in a wire to Hubert Humphrey, which the Senator promised to pass on to Mrs. Kennedy, that the president had been a “noble and peace-loving man” and “only a villain could assassinate such a man.” Nothing, however, could have been more significant for the fate of both countries than the genuine distress and sorrow felt in both the Kremlin and on the streets of the U.S.S.R.
Nikita Khrushchev, Premier and First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; telegram, in Russian
WN150 70 VIA RCA
MOSCOW 1215 NOVEMBER 23 1963
MRS. JACQUELINE KENNEDY
WITH DEEP PERSONAL SORROW I LEARNED ABOUT THE TRAGIC DEATH OF YOUR HUSBAND – THE PRESIDENT OF USA JOHN F. KENNEDY. IN EVERYONE WHO KNEW HIM HE INSPIRED GREAT RESPECT, AND MY MEETINGS WITH HIM WILL FOREVER REMAIN IN MY MEMORY. PLEASE ACCEPT MY MOST SINCERE CONDOLENCES AND EXPRESSIONS OF MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY ON THE DEEP SORROW THAT BEFELL YOU.
23 OF NOVEMBER 1963.
Jacqueline Kennedy understood perfectly the import of this telegram, and did not hesitate to carefully compose a reply, itself reviewed by the U.S. State Department, in which she praised Khrushchev as a “big man” who–unlike the little ones moved by “fear and pride,” was a partner with her husband “in a determination that the world should not be blown up.” The day after Christmas Nina Khrushcheva, the premier’s wife, sent a New Year’s card from Moscow offering her “best wishes,” which was personally sent on to Mrs. Kennedy by the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER EIGHT, “VOICES OF THE YOUNG”
For some more mature children, the assassination awakened suddenly adult sensations. Kenneth L. Weir, a sixth-grader from Paducah, Kentucky, who talked about himself as “a child” but in “this case” with “feelings of a man” found himself “for the first time . . .truthfully . . .able to say that I am ashamed to be an American.”
Chuck Slick, seventh-grader at the Lovett School, Atlanta; handwritten letter
November 27, 1963
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
My name is Chuck Slick, and I am sure that you have never heard of me. But naturally I have heard of you and my heart goes out to you.
I think that a tragedy has befallen the country and the free world. For when the United States of America loses a leader, the West and aspiring free Nations of the East receive a dire setback.
Having been born in Texas, I felt nauseated when I was told of this frightening blow. It makes me angry at Dallas, even though my half-brother lives there.
Also I must say that I admire your courage. When my father died last year I didn't have half of your courage. You have my sympathy and my admiration.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER NINE, “A HERO TO EVERY AMERICAN”
A letter from Vesta I. Nelson, a mother in Orlando, Florida enclosed an emotional letter from her son. He had been unable to write her for several days, he said, because “the tears would blind me.” After cataloguing the many reasons he wept–for himself, for JFK and family, for “liberals and intellects, . . . for politics, . . . for America, . . . for the world”–he hoped nonetheless that the ideals JFK stood for would continue to guide all Americans. In a brash but moving letter, Jacob Govern of Brooklyn addressed himself directly to his “noble and magnetic president” with deep sorrow, declaring that “you have not died in vain, our Prince.” A letter of condolence from Florida shows how quickly the general public caught on to Jackie Kennedy’s promotion of the famous verses from Camelot as a touchstone for remembering her husband. The article by Theodore White that quoted her had been published in Life magazine on December 2.
Jean (Mrs. Arthur) Yehle; handwritten letter
Key Biscayne, Florida
December 7, 1963
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
An article by Theodore White that I read today prompted me to write to you to tell you how we, like so many others, share your loss.
The line from “Camelot” expresses our feelings perfectly. For one brief shining moment we saw Camelot. We were inspired to change our lives, to sell our business and send my husband back to the University to work toward a Ph. D., so that he might teach and do research, and we both might feel we were part of the effort the President was making to guide and shape our changing world.
We strongly feel that the man makes the times, that the hero theory of history has validity. We, like you, think there'll never be another Camelot again.
Our deepest empathy is with you.
From "Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963" by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis. Copyright © 2010 All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement.