Two sides of JFK

Jack Kennedy’s delight in his children, and in all children, was pro¬found, and recognized as such by staff aides who knew nothing of his early life. Marcus Raskin, who worked on nuclear disarmament is¬sues for the National Security Council, recalled in an interview for this book that he and his colleagues would ask, in moments of inter¬national crisis, “Where are the children?” If Caroline and her younger brother, John, “were in Washington, then there wouldn’t be a war. If the children were away, then you weren’t sure.” The question was not facetious, Raskin insisted. Jerome B. Wiesner, the president’s science adviser, told McGeorge Bundy’s national security staff, Raskin said, “to watch where the kids are. If they’re here [in Washington], then there’s going to be no war this week. If the kids aren’t here, then we’ve got to be careful.” Wiesner’s remark was obviously tongue-in-cheek, Raskin said, but “many things are said ha-ha that have a grain of truth to them.” He and his colleagues, Raskin said, looked in moments of crisis “for some sort of human affect to understand the momentous questions that they were dealing with.”
If the president’s national security advisers understood his love for children, so did the Secret Service. Larry Newman was one of the White House agents assigned to Kennedy on the evening in August 1963 when the president made a visit to his youngest child, Patrick, born prematurely and hospitalized with a lung ailment, who was fighting for his life in Children’s Hospital in Boston. Newman, who was in the elevator with the president and Patrick’s doctor, listened as Kennedy was told that his newborn son was unlikely to survive. The elevator stopped at the fifth floor, where the pediatric intensive care unit was. The floor had been cleared of all visitors for the presidential visit. The hallway was dark; the patient rooms were illuminated by night-lights. Newman recalled in an interview for this book that while walking with the president to intensive care, “we passed a room where there were two delightful-looking little girls who were sitting up in bed. They were probably about three or four years old, and they were talking and laughing together. The only problem — one girl was bandaged up to her chin. She had severe burns. And the other had burns down her arms and huge pods [of bandages] on the end of her hands. President Kennedy stopped and just looked at these two little girls. He asked the doctor, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ And the doctor explained that one girl may lose the use of her hands. The president stood there. His son was down at the end of the hall in grave to critical condition. We just stood there with him; it was just a small party in the dark. He started feeling in his pockets — it was always a sign he wanted a pen. Someone gave him a pen. He said, ‘I’d like to write a note to the children.’ And nobody had any paper for the thirty-fifth president of the United States to write a note on. So the nurse scurries to the station and gets the name of the children and their family and Kennedy writes a note to each child. There was no fanfare, no photo-op. There was nothing. The nurse took the notes and said she would see that the family got it. And then we proceeded down the hall to see his son, who of course died the next day. It was something he didn’t need to do, but he al¬ways seemed to come out of his reserved and Bostonish [ways] with children.

“Nothing was ever said about it. There was no press release or anything. He just went on to do what he had to do — to see his son. This was part of the dichotomy of the man — the rough-cut diamond. You could see so many qualities he had that just glowed; you couldn’t see why he wanted to follow other roads that were so destructive. It was truly painful.”