When Young Was A Good Thing

When Young Was A Good Thing


Leonard Zwelling

Every year on November 22, I remember.

French class, after lunch at Wellington C. Mepham High School, in Bellmore, Long Island, New York. It was a grey day and windy. The American flag in front of the school on a flag pole that still stands to this day was straight out atop the pole.

At around 2 PM Eastern time the Spanish teacher from next door came into our classroom and whispered something in my French teacher’s ear.

“Should we tell them,” I overheard as I was sitting in the front row to the left of the classroom facing the chalk board.

“President Kennedy has been shot,” they announced.

By the time I passed from French class to choir the flag atop the pole was still straight out, but halfway down the pole. He was dead.

The choir gathered in its seats. We sang the Lord’s Prayer. We went home. The rest has been chronicled over and over, yet those of us alive in 1963 still doubt that the truth has been fully told. It is inconceivable that he could have been shot by a lone gunman for no good reason, but yet, there it is despite Oliver Stone’s contrary, cinematic claims. Having visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and stared down at the spot where the bullets hit, I have concluded that a lone marksman could have done it.

The only closure I have ever gotten was the testimony of Governor Connelly’s wife Nellie who was in the car that day in Dallas when she told me when I requested to ask her a question at an MD Anderson Board of Visitors dinner, “Three shots from behind.”

Today, in 2023, 60 years later, I consider that we may be about to embark on a Presidential campaign between two guys who, if either is elected and serves out his term, would be the oldest President in history. Jack Kennedy was the youngest elected President in history.

Let’s focus on that for a moment because what we felt in 1960, when Kennedy was elected (we think, although Mr. Nixon might disagree about that Chicago vote count), it was his youth that contrasted so vividly with the then-considered old President Eisenhower. Kennedy was the first President born in the twentieth century. He, like Ike, was a war hero, but he had tasted battle first hand. He was vibrant. He was funny. He was sexy (we didn’t know then he was a womanizer), and he spoke directly to us that America could be anything and would be if we “asked not” and did for our country.

What I believe is so sorely missing from today’s politics is dynamism and excitement and a call for everyone to chip in and make the country great. Do any of these candidates running for President really excite you or do you have to rationalize who to vote for by choosing the lesser of two evils? When was the last time you voted FOR anyone? I guess some people were excited about Obama, but that didn’t last long.

What is even worse is that the young candidates today seem so old. And most of the candidates are old.

This from the late, great Art Buchwald in September of 2001:

When President Kennedy was killed, my friend Mary McGrory said to Pat Moynihan, “We’ll never laugh again.”

And Moynihan, who later became a U.S. senator, replied, “Mary, we’ll laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.”

And this has become true for the entire country.

The United States was reborn in 1960 with the election of Jack Kennedy and aged overnight on November 22, 1963. In what seems to be an inevitable contest next year, we have gone to the extremes of old and certainly not for the better no matter which one of these old men (I can’t call them grey hairs if Trump is in the race) wins.

Perhaps this cycle of national aging that began 60 years ago can finally end in 2028. It seems unlikely to occur next year and that is pretty sad. And that’s coming from an old person.

There is a massive crisis of leadership in the world today whether in the White House, Congress, or Wall Street. Who are you supposed to tell your grandchildren to look up to? Biden, Trump, Johnson, Schumer, Musk? I don’t think so.

Somehow, the United States needs a renewal again, just as it did in 1960. Let’s hope it’s not too far off.

2 thoughts on “When Young Was A Good Thing”

  1. Gerard Ventura MD

    Six weeks prior to his assassination, Kennedy reluctantly agreed at a Cabinet meeting to increase the number of military advisors going to South Vietnam. But he also said: It’s their war. They’re going to have to fight it.”
    Sixty years later, relations between our two countries now are likely identical as to what they would have been if he had served 8 years instead if 2 & 1/2. But because he didn’t, 50,000 Americans and 1 million Vietnamese lost their lives.

    1. Maybe. You never know what he would have done, but your recollections are correct. My belief is that your assessment is too

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