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Kenneth O'Donnell

Kenneth O'Donnell


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Kenneth O'Donnell was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 4th March, 1924. During the Second World War O'Donnell served in the US Airforce (1942-1945). After the war O'Donnell studied at Harvard University where he met Robert Kennedy. He also attended Boston College Law School.

In 1951 O'Donnell worked as a salesman for Hollingsworth and Whitney in Boston. A member of the Democratic Party, O'Donnell helped in the campaign to get John F. Kennedy elected to the Senate.

O'Donnell worked in public relations before being appointed as Assistant Counsel, Select Committee to Investigate Improper Activities in Labor-Management Relations in the Senate (1957-59).

In 1960 O'Donnell was the organizer and director of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign schedule. The following year he became Kennedy's special assistant. O'Donnell was an early critic of the Vietnam War and advised Kennedy to bring an end to America's involvement in the conflict.

In November, 1963, he was involved in the organization of the presidential trip to Dallas, Texas. This involved discussions with Winston G. Lawson (secret service agent in charge of the trip), Roy Kellerman and Jesse Curry (chief of police in Dallas).

On the 22nd November, 1963, O'Donnell travelled in the Secret Service car immediately behind the presidential car. O'Donnell later wrote, "After the second shot, Dave Powers said to me, 'Kenny, I think the president's been shot!' I made a quick sign of the cross. While we both stared at the president, a third shot took the side of his head off. We saw pieces of bone and brain tissue and bits of reddish hair flying through the air. The impact lifted him and shook him limply as if he were a rag doll, and then he dropped out of our sight, sprawled across the back seat of the car."

Several witnesses said that William Greer stopped the car after the first shot was fired. This included Jean Hill, who was the closest witness to the car when Kennedy was hot: According to Hill "the motorcade came to almost a halt at the time the shots rang out". James Chaney (one of the four Presidential motorcyclists) - stated that the limousine "after the shooting, from the time the first shot rang out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped." Mary Woodward, a journalist with the Dallas Morning News wrote: "Instead of speeding up the car, the car came to a halt... after the first shot".

O'Donnell later wrote: "If the Secret Service men in the front had reacted quicker to the first two shots at the President's car, if the driver had stepped on the gas before instead of after the fatal third shot was fired, would President Kennedy be alive today? He added "Greer had been remorseful all day, feeling that he could have saved President Kennedy's life by swerving the car or speeding suddenly after the first shots."

O'Donnell told the Warren Commission that the shooting had come from the rear. He later told his friend, Tip O'Neill, that he had been under pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to say this. In fact, he believed that the gunfire had come from in front of the motorcade. O'Donnell commented: "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family." This story was backed up by David F. Powers, who was sitting next to O'Donnell in the motorcade.

In 1965 O'Donnell established his own management consulting company. In that year he was also an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Massachusetts. In 1968 O'Donnell was the campaign manager of the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign. After the assassination of Kennedy he helped the campaign of Hubert Humphrey.

Kenneth O'Donnell and David F. Powers began work on a book on their time with John F. Kennedy. The book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kenned was published in 1976.

Kenneth O'Donnell died on 9th September, 1977, of the effects of alcoholism. His daughter, Helen O'Donnell, published the book, A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell in 1998.

Kennedy had told me (Kenneth O'Donnell) in the spring of 1963 that he could not pull out of Vietnam until he was reelected, "So we had better make damned sure I am reelected." ... At a White House reception on Christmas eve, a month after he succeeded to the presidency, Lyndon Johnson told the Joint Chiefs: "Just get me elected, and then you can have your war."

Arlen Specter: Would you outline the origin of that trip to Texas, please?

Kenneth O'Donnell: It came from a conversation between the President and Vice President Johnson, and myself. It concerned President Kennedy's desire, and President Johnson's desire that he came to Texas...

Arlen Specter: In a general way, what was the purpose of the President's trip to Texas in November of 1963?

Kenneth O'Donnell: Well, he hadn't conducted any political activities in Texas. There were great controversies existing. There was a party problem in Texas that the President and the Vice President felt he could be helpful, as both sides of the controversy were supporting President Kennedy, and they felt he could be a bridge between these two groups, and this would be helpful in the election of 1964. I think that is the major reason for the trip.

Arlen Specter: Tell us what occurred then as you made that turn away from the crowded downtown Dallas area and headed toward the plaza area.

Kenneth O'Donnell: Well, I sat down. I remember saying to Dave Powers that it was a fantastic crowd. He agreed. We turned. I remember the overpass. And then the shots occurred - which, at that time, I did not know were shots. My first impression was it was a firecracker. And then either somebody said, "He has been hit," or I noticed the slump - he had been waving out the right side of the car, and I noticed him slump over toward Mrs. Kennedy, and I realized then that they had been shots. But as fast as that realization occurred, I saw the third shot hit. It was such a perfect shot - I remember I blessed myself. I was rather convinced that was a fatal blow.

Arlen Specter: When you say you made a turn, which way did the motorcade turn?

Kenneth O'Donnell: Turned to the left.

Arlen Specter: And approximately how far behind the Presidential vehicle was the follow-up car at that time?

Kenneth O'Donnell: My guess would be 5 to 8 feet, the normal - when there are large crowds, pressing in on the side, they try to stay close. It was moving at a steady pace. The crowds were orderly. So he was at a normal - I would presume they were just about turning to step up the speed a little bit, because there would be no crowds from there.

Arlen Specter: What is your best estimate of the speed of the President's vehicle at that time?

Kenneth O'Donnell: Well, I would think we probably were going between 15 and 20, up until that moment, and I think he probably had just begun to accelerate probably up to about 25, somewhere in that vicinity.

Arlen Specter: What reaction did you observe, if any, as to Mrs. Kennedy during the shots?

Kenneth O'Donnell: Well, he slumped on her. She appeared to be immediately aware that something had happened. She turned toward him. And then the third shot hit. Obviously, she then knew what happened. She turned, looking at the backup car. Meanwhile Agent Hill had gotten off the car and started running up. She was clambering toward the back, and reached his hand, and he was on the car.

Arlen Specter: Did you observe any reactions in the President's car other than those which you have now testified about?

Kenneth O'Donnell: No.

Arlen Specter: At what point did the motorcade accelerate?

Kenneth O'Donnell: It accelerated, I would think, right about at the time that Agent Hill grabbed onto the back of the car, which would be just a few seconds after the last shot.

Arlen Specter: And at what speed did the motorcade proceed en route to the hospital?

Kenneth O'Donnell: Very rapidly. I would guess between 60 and 70 miles an hour.

Ken O'Donnell, the most powerful member of the staff, was both a Harvard graduate and an Irish-Catholic politician from Massachusetts. The reports of such dissension came from unsuccessful applicants for White House positions or lightweights who didn't last long on the staff, many of whom found "blackballing" by one element or the other a handy alibi for their rejection or dismissal.

From my viewpoint, O'Donnell had the greatest responsibility, influence, and accessibility to the President. Ken is a slight man but tough and wiry with black hair and a disposition to match it when he thought someone was working against JFK's best interests. His father, Cleo O'Donnell, was a legendary football coach at Holy Cross. But Ken chose to pass up the Catholic institution for Harvard, which was the other side of the tracks for an Irishman from Worcester. He was first string quarterback, captain of the Harvard football team, and an honorable mention All American. One of his favorite passing targets on the same team was an end by the name of Robert F. Kennedy. The two became close friends despite their great difference in backgrounds. After graduation, when Ken was considering an offer to play professional football with the old Buffalo Bills of the All American Conference, Bob persuaded him to go into government and politics instead.

O'Donnell worked on precinct organization for John F. Kennedy's winning Senate campaign against Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952. I first met Ken when he came to Washington in 1957 as administrative assistant to Bob Kennedy on the Senate labor rackets committee, for which I was then an investigator. I found him to be one of the most candid and direct men I have ever met. He would never use five words if one would do, and that word was very often a flat "no." One could admire him immediately but it took a little longer to like him. It was obvious to me, even in 1957, that Ken was merely marking time for the "big game," and in 1959 he left the rackets committee to join the Kennedy for President staff.

Once the campaign was under way, he was constantly at JFK's side...

Ken had many duties at the White House. One of them was Appointments Secretary. Except for members of the official family and state visitors, no one could see the President without first clearing with O'Donnell - and he could say no to a corporation president trying to promote an ambassadorship as readily as he could to a ward politician trying to influence the award of a contract. Ken was also the liaison between the White House and the Secret Service and FBI. Their highly confidential reports came across his desk before reaching JFK's. One of his most important duties was arranging the President's travels. Whether it was a flight to Chicago to speak to a political rally or a state visit to Europe to confer with de Gaulle, Khrushchev, or Macmillan, O'Donnell was the chief planner. He also had an amazing knowledge of Democratic politics and personalities in every one of the states, and would referee many of the disputes among warring factions. When the word came down from O'Donnell, that was it!

It was my impression that O'Donnell had the greatest influence in shaping the President's most important decisions. He was able to set aside his own prejudices against individuals and his own ideological commitments (I would rate him a moderate Democrat) and appraise the alternatives with total objectivity. It was impossible to categorize O'Donnell, as White House observers did with other staff members, as either a "hawk" or a "dove" on foreign policy, or a Stevenson liberal or Truman conservative on civil rights. JFK gave extra weight to O'Donnell's opinions because he knew he had no personal cause to argue. Ken had only one criterion: Will this action help or hurt the President? And that, for O'Donnell, was another way of asking: Will it help or hurt the country?

I was never one of the use people who had doubts or suspicions about the Warren Commission's report on the president's death. But five years after Jack died, I was having dinner with Kenny O'Donnell and a few other people at Jimmy's Harborside Restaurant in Boston, and we got to talking about the assassination.

I was surprised to hear O'Donnell say that he was sure he had heard two shots that came from behind the fence.

"That's not what you told the Warren Commission," I said.

"You're right," he replied. "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."

"I can't believe it," I said. "I wouldn't have done that in a million years. I would have told the truth."

"Tip, you have to understand. The family-everybody wanted this thing behind them."

Dave Powers was with us at dinner that night, and his recollection of the shots was the same as O'Donnell's. Kenny O'Donnell is no longer alive, but during the writing of this book I checked with Dave Powers. As they say in the news business, he stands by his story.

And so there will always be some skepticism in my mind about the cause of Jack's death. I used to think that the only people who doubted the conclusions of the Warren Commission were crackpots. Now, however, I'm not so sure.

But I'd rather focus on Jack's life. He really did have the charisma, the glamour, and the talent that has become part of his legend. He had a radiance that made people glow when they were in his company. He brought to all sectors of the American public a new feeling that they were wanted, that there was a place in America for them regardless of religion or race. And perhaps most important, when Jack Kennedy was president, people had trust in their government. I look forward to the lay when that will once again be true.

It was during the late seventies that every conceivable damaging revelation came out about the Kennedy brothers, yet the Kennedy family still opposed the 1976-79 House Select Committee on Assassinations' reinvestigation of the Kennedy murder. What more could they be hiding?

As it turned out, the new investigation discovered more information damaging to the Kennedy image. It found out that Jacqueline and Robert had been, from a strictly legal standpoint, unwitting accessories after the fact in the President's murder.

First, the Assassinations Committee determined that it was principally Jacqueline Kennedy and the so-called "Irish Mafia" trio of Dave Powers, Kenny O'Donnell, and Larry O'Brien who were responsible for removing Kennedy's body from Parkland Hospital to Air Force One and then to Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington. The move was illegal and resulted in the President receiving a wholly inadequate autopsy, a calamity that has stirred innumerable controversies over the past thirty years.

Furthermore, the Assassinations Committee determined that Jacqueline and Robert exerted undue influence on the autopsy surgeons at Bethesda Naval Hospital preventing the President from receiving a complete autopsy and even interfering with standard autopsy procedures regarding the tracking, or dissection of gunshot wounds.

Finally the committee determined that Robert Kennedy had actually caused crucial physical specimen evidence to disappear from the custody of the National Archives, namely slides of the President's wound-edge tissues and his formaldehyde preserved brain.


AN UNCOMMON FRIENDSHIP

Kenny O'Donnell's daughter, Helen, and Bobby Kennedy's son, Michael, planned this book and were going to write it together. Then came Michael's death. Her own family and the Kennedys - particularly Ethel, Robert Jr., and Chris Lawford - made it possible for Helen, only 15 when both of her parents died within six months of each other, to write the book.

Under these circumstances, a reviewer can be excused for not expecting much - a dutiful hagiography, perhaps. However, ''A Common Good'' is a fascinating work that should interest a wide audience, from the casual reader to the historian. O'Donnell is not a historian and she is not a polished writer, but she has had access to material that not many people have seen. The accessibility of her father's tapes and papers and of the Robert Kennedy papers, the strong support of the living friends and relatives of both men and their willingness to share their memories have provided a tremendous resource.

O'Donnell makes no claim to anything greater than the record of a strong friendship between two interesting and historically important men. But ''A Common Good'' is much more than that. The period in our national history has been grossly distorted by tabloid-like attention to philandering, to debunking the ''myth'' of Camelot, and to the icon that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis became. So a serious attempt to look at the political nuts and bolts, the teams that both Kennedys, Jack and Bobby, built, the role that each of them and Kenny O'Donnell played in the others' lives, is more than welcome.

O'Donnell begins her book at Harvard in 1946, where Kennedy and her father met and played football together within the larger embrace of the Harvard Varsity Club. There the two men began a friendship that would prove lifelong. It extended to others on the team and in the club who became Bobby's loyalists.

Once O'Donnell hits her stride - and it does take some pages for that to happen -the furious energy, determination and frantic pace that typified the Kennedys takes over the book. She is wonderful at carefully amassing details, so we watch the first of the Kennedy campaigns build, block by block and day by day. Organization is a weakness in the beginning, and a reluctant Bobby is brought in to run things - that's where his genius lay. With him he brings Kenny O'Donnell and some of their buddies from Harvard.

The team these men put together carries Jack Kennedy into the House, from the House to the Senate, and from the Senate to the White House.

Each campaign gives O'Donnell the opportunity to develop her main characters, Bobby and her father, Kenny ''the Cobra,'' as he was called when he was JFK's chief of staff in the White House. The focus is entirely on the political and on the friendships among the men. The man marry, and the wives - Jackie, Ethel, Helen O'Donnell, the author's mother - only briefly appear now and again. Their strengths are indirectly apparent. Jackie and Ethel were women of steel, but Helen faltered under the weight of sorrow A as Kenny himself would, once Bobby was killed.

The peculiar thing about ''A Common Good'' is that the fatal Dallas trip catches the reader by surprise. Of course one knows all along what will happen - Dealey Plaza, the shots ringing out, the president slumping, Jerry Bruno seeing ''pieces of bone and brain tissue and bits of reddish hair flying through the air. . I said to Dave, `He's dead.' ''

So Kenny O'Donnell, who chose the route, and Bobby are left to deal not only With guilt and grief but with Lyndon Johnson, whom they despised.

For quite some time, in the afternoons Bobby and Kenny would go to Jacqueline's house, ''sit in her living room and tell stories about Jack - remembering being an Irish way of dealing with the pain.'' And then life pulls the mourners back into the stream.

Now we begin to see the policy that would split the nation spinning out of control as Johnson becomes deeply committed to the war in Vietnam. O'Donnell and, to a lesser extent, Bobby are more and more opposed. Then Bobby is in the Senate, and hating it, Kenny O'Donnell runs for governor of Massachusetts and loses by two votes per precinct. Pressure mounts for Bobby to run for president, and . and we all know what happened next.

Nothing can prevent the feeling that we have watched ''Oedipus'' in modern dress. The president is dead, his brother is dead, Jackie has fled to a foreign land, the country is on the brink of a revolution, and in less than a decade, both Kenny and his wife, Helen, drink themselves to death, leaving the author a teen-aged orphan.

This is a book about what might have been.

O'Donnell puts the long and sorrow-ridden Kennedy saga in an interesting perspective when she closes with a quotation from Reinhold Niebuhr: ''Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history therefore, we must be saved by faith.''

It is a testimony to O'Donnell's ability that the reader is left with the feeling of having been there through the losses, the pain and even the dreadful feeling of inevitably so evocative of Sophocles. But most important is the careful, detailed presentation of the events, the work, the hopes and passions that are too often obscured beneath our obsession with the sexual today. This is, therefore, a good book that offers a different perspective on this turbulent period in our nation's history.

The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell

William Morrow. Photos. 425 pages. $26

Webb, who teaches at Christopher Newport University, was a graduate student at Tulane when President Kennedy and, later, his brother, Robert, were killed.


Learning from the Missile Crisis

It was a lovely autumn day 40 years ago this month, a day not unlike September 11, 2001, when Americans realized that the oceans no longer protected us from enemy attack. Those old enough that October 22, 1962 to know the name John F. Kennedy will never forget the fear that swept through homes and cities when the president appeared on television, grave and gray, to proclaim a crisis. Reading a stern ultimatum to the Russians that called them nuclear cheats and liars for placing offensive missiles in Cuba, he also left the impression that his counteractions might any minute provoke a rain of Soviet missiles. The news terrified the public for six days and nights (though less for those of us trained to parse the bellicose words and signals flying urgently between Moscow and Washington). And as Hollywood has demonstrated time and again, the drama of the Cuban missile crisis has the power to instruct, beguile and entertain Americans in every decade.

The 2000 film version, with Kevin Costner playing an absurdly fictionalized role as Kennedy’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell, was called Thirteen Days, referring to the period of public alarm plus the period of frantic, secret debate that preceded it as Kennedy planned a response to the discovery of the nuclear rockets in Cuba. If the moviemakers had bothered with the Soviet and Cuban sides of the crisis, they could have made a vastly better film, reasonably called Thirteen Weeks. And had they examined the calamitous miscalculations on all sides, it might have been titled Thirteen Months.

Most accounts of the crisis concentrate only on the Washington players, led by the glamorous, nervous president and his shrewd younger brother, Robert. A view of Havana would feature the humbling of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s bearded Robin Hood, and his scheming younger brother, Raúl. In Moscow a bombastic Nikita Khrushchev was drowning in sweat as his boldest Cold War maneuver collapsed into retreat. This is a tale about a fateful triangle.

Like the attacks of 9/11, the missile crisis had deep political roots that were unwittingly nourished by our own conduct. Also like 9/11, our failure to imagine the threat beforehand caused us to ignore the few available warnings. Yet the 1962 showdown left us ill prepared for an Osama bin Laden, because our Soviet foes 40 years ago—though we demonized them as evil aggressors—were rational rivals who valued life. We played nuclear poker against them but shared a common interest in the casino’s survival.

As a reporter in Washington I covered the Cuban drama for the New York Times and have studied it faithfully since. Over the years, our knowledge of it has been enhanced by autobiographies written by many participants, by a great deal of scholarship and by nostalgic, on-the-record gatherings of Soviet, American and Cuban officials. We also have had credible reports on the contents of Soviet files and, most recently, verbatim records of crisis deliberations in the Kennedy White House.

In hindsight, I think two common views need correction. It is clear now that Nikita Khrushchev provoked America not from a position of strength, as Kennedy first feared, but from a chronic sense of weakness and frustration. And it is also clear from the historical record that the two superpowers were never as close to nuclear war as they urgently insisted in public.

Calamitous Miscalculations

Khrushchev, the soviet leader, was a gambler who had expected great returns from his radical economic reforms, denunciation of Stalin, release of political prisoners and gradual engagement with the rest of the world. He had visited the United States preaching coexistence and vowing to compete peacefully. But he was under tremendous pressure. The Soviet hold on Eastern Europe, a vital zone of defense against hated Germany, remained tenuous Khrushchev’s generals were clamoring for more expensive weaponry his people were rioting to protest food shortages and China’s Chairman Mao was openly condemning Khrushchev for undermining Communist doctrine and betraying revolutionaries everywhere.

After the launch of Sputnik in 1957 revealed the sophistication of Soviet rockets, Khrushchev acquired the habit of rattling thegim at his most stubborn problems. Thanks to his missiles, which cost far less than conventional forces, he was hoping to shift money from military budgets into the USSR’s backward food and consumer industries. By aiming medium-range missiles at West Germany, France and Britain, he hoped to force NATO to acknowledge Soviet domination over Eastern Europe. Toward that end, he kept threatening to declare Germany permanently divided and to expel Western garrisons from Berlin, which lay vulnerable in Communist East Germany. By also rattling longrange missiles at the United States, Khrushchev expected finally to be dealt with as an equal superpower.

Although President Eisenhower had not directly challenged the Soviets’ sway over Eastern Europe, he had not yielded to any of Khrushchev’s other ambitions. A new and inexperienced President Kennedy, therefore, struck the Soviet leader as a brighter prospect for intimidation.

Kennedy had arrived at the White House in early 1961 visibly alarmed by Khrushchev’s newest bluster, a promise to give aid and comfort—though not Soviet soldiers—to support “wars of national liberation” in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Then, in April of that year, Kennedy stumbled into the fiasco of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, the humiliating failure of a CIA-sponsored invasion aimed at overthrowing Fidel Castro. So when Kennedy and the Soviet leader met in Vienna in June 1961, Khrushchev pummeled the American leader with threats to end Western occupation rights in Berlin and then watched with satisfaction when the president acquiesced in the building of the Berlin Wall.

Kennedy’s response to Khrushchev’s taunts was to flex his own missile muscle. During his presidential campaign he had criticized Republicans for tolerating a “missile gap” in Khrushchev’s favor. Now he abandoned that pretense. As both governments knew, the Russians held only 20 or 30 intercontinental missiles, of unreliable design, and were having trouble building more. By contrast, the United States’ missile, bomber and submarine forces could strike 15 times as many Soviet targets. The Kennedy team began to boast not only of this advantage but also to hint that it might, in a crunch, resort to a “first use” of nuclear weapons, leaving Russia unable to strike American targets.

Thus stung in the spring of 1962, Khrushchev came up with a bold idea: plant medium-range missiles in Cuba and thereby put most of the United States under the nuclear gun. Without having to wait a decade for long-range missiles that he could ill afford, the Soviet leader would give Americans a taste of real vulnerability, save money for other things and strengthen his negotiating position.

Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, the Soviet defense minister, embraced the idea and helped sell it to dubious Soviet colleagues. Khrushchev’s old chum and American expert Anastas Mikoyan predicted an unpleasant reaction from Washington and a tough sell in Cuba. But Khrushchev thought he could hide the buildup from Kennedy until the missiles were mounted and armed he hoped to reveal his new poker hand in November during visits to the United Nations and Havana.

The Castro brothers were desperate for Soviet weaponry to protect them from American invaders, but they didn’t want sealed-off bases under alien control. To overcome their resistance, Khrushchev forgave Cuba’s debts, promised more economic aid and insisted his missiles would help defend the island and support Castro’s dream of inspiring other Latin revolutions.

Castro was not fooled. There were easier ways to deter an invasion Soviet ground troops in Cuba could serve as a trip wire to bring Moscow into any conflict, or Cuba could be included in Soviet defense agreements. Castro knew he was being used, but agreed to the bases to show “solidarity,” as he put it, with the Communist bloc and to win more aid for his people.

In Washington as in Moscow, domestic politics fueled the drive toward confrontation. Through the summer of 1962, the U.S. Navy had tracked a large flotilla of ships from Soviet ports to Cuba, while the CIA heard confusing reports about sightings of military equipment on the island. Heading into a close Congressional election, Republicans saw a chance to repay Kennedy for his past attacks on their Cuba policy by mocking his tolerance for a Soviet buildup just 90 miles from Florida. But the administration’s intelligence teams detected only nonnuclear “defensive” weapons—MIG fighter planes, torpedo boats and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), which had a range of only 25 miles. Having roundly misread each other, Khrushchev and Kennedy brought this diplomatic stew to a boil.

The Making of a Crisis

Hearing the republican alarms about missiles in Cuba, Khrushchev sent his ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to Robert Kennedy with assurances that the Soviets would do nothing provocative before the American election. And when RFK complained that the buildup in Cuba was bad enough, the ambassador insisted—in innocence, it would turn out—that his government would never give another nation control over offensive weapons.

To fend off the Republicans, the Kennedy brothers hurriedly produced a statement saying that if any nation’s forces were to achieve a “significant offensive capability” in Cuba, it would raise the “gravest issues.” In a deceptive riposte, Khrushchev responded that his long-range missiles were so good he had “no need” to send big weapons “to any other country, for instance Cuba.” OK, then, Kennedy countered, if Cuba ever became “an offensive military base of significant capacity for the Soviet Union,” he would do “whatever must be done” to protect American security.

American analysts concluded that the president’s strong warnings made it highly unlikely that the Soviets would install a missile base in Cuba. After all, they had never placed nuclear weapons outside their own territory, not even in Communist Europe.

That fixed American mind-set caused Kennedy to dismiss reports from spies in Cuba of missiles much larger than “defensive” antiaircraft SAMs. Then a dumb coincidence delayed photoreconnaissance. Because on September 9 the Chinese shot down a U-2 plane photographing their terrain, the White House ordered U-2 pilots over Cuba to steer clear of areas protected by SAM defenses.

Equally ill timed was the marriage of CIA chief John McCone, a Republican and former businessman who was the only Washington official to have reasoned his way into Khrushchev’s mind. Before embarking on his honeymoon at the end of August, McCone had tried to persuade Kennedy that the SAMs in Cuba could have only one purpose: to prevent U-2 spy planes from observing Khrushchev’s probable next step—the installation of mediumrange missiles capable of striking American cities. McCone’s absence meant his suspicions, and insights, were not heard in Washington for most of September.

Once McCone returned, he learned that an intelligence analyst had indeed spotted, in a photograph, suspicious bulldozer patterns in the terrain in western Cuba—patterns resembling the layout of missile bases in Russia. McCone insisted on more aggressive reconnaissance, and finally, on October 14, in the suspect area near San Cristóbal, U-2 cameras 13 miles up snapped remarkably clear pictures of medium-range missile transporters, erectors and launchpads. It was compelling evidence of imminent deployment of nuclear weapons capable of striking Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Dallas. Khrushchev, deeply committed to defying Kennedy’s warnings, was, in fact, installing at least 24 medium-range ballistic missile launchers (MRBMs), plus 16 intermediate- range missiles (IRBMs) that could reach any point in the continental United States except the northwest corner.

Kennedy, in turn, was just as deeply committed to prohibiting such bases. Upon seeing the U-2 photographs the morning of October 16, he first envisioned an air strike to destroy the missiles before they became operational. His more sober second thought was to keep the news a tight secret until he could take counsel and sift his options. Gauntlets thrown, here began the historic “thirteen days.”

The President’s Men Convene

What appears in retrospect to have been a quickly devised and effective American plan of action was actually the product of chaotic, contentious debate among official and unofficial advisers. They functioned as a rump “executive committee of the National Security Council,” soon jargonized as “ExComm,” and often met without Kennedy, to free up the discussion.

The ranking ExCommers were the president and his brother, the attorney general Dean Rusk, secretary of state Robert McNamara, secretary of defense McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser Douglas Dillon, secretary of the treasury Gen. Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other chiefs John McCone of the CIA and United Nations representative Adlai Stevenson. They all made a show of keeping their public schedules while moving in and out of secret meetings. From Tuesday, October 16, through Sunday, the 21st, they gulped sandwiches for lunch and dinner and kept their own notes in longhand, without secretaries. They shuttled among meeting sites by crowding circus-style into a few cars, to avoid a telltale herd of limousines. They lied to their wives, to subordinates and to the press. For the climactic hours of decision, the president cut short a campaign visit to Chicago, feigning a bad cold and a slight fever.

All this undemocratic secrecy served a policy purpose. The president was afraid that his options could be dangerously reduced if Khrushchev knew he had been found out. Kennedy worried that the Soviet leader might then stake out a preemptive threat to retaliate for any attack on his missiles, either by firing some of them or attacking American forces in Berlin or Turkey. Alerting Congress could have provoked demands for swift military action without allowing time to study the consequences.

The more the ExComm members talked, the less they agreed on a course of action. Every day brought more evidence of Soviet haste. Some of the missiles, the ExComm members speculated, would surely be armed with nuclear warheads within days, and all within weeks.

So what? the president asked provocatively at one point. He had once said a missile was a missile, whether fired from 5,000 or 5 miles away. And Defense Secretary McNamara held throughout the discussion that 40 or 50 more missiles pointed at U.S. targets, while perhaps quadrupling the Soviets’ strike capacity, did nothing to alter our huge strategic advantage. The Joint Chiefs disagreed, insisting that by dramatically increasing America’s sense of vulnerability, the Soviet weapons would greatly limit our choices in any future exchange of threats or fire.

Everyone soon acknowledged that Soviet bases in Cuba were, at the very least, psychologically and politically intolerable. They would embolden Khrushchev’s diplomacy, especially when it came to his designs in Berlin. They would also enhance Castro’s prestige in Latin America and erode Kennedy’s stature at home and abroad. As if the missiles themselves were not challenge enough, Khrushchev’s deception was seen as undermining U.S.-Soviet negotiations.

The president kept posing the issue starkly, insisting there were only two ways to remove the missiles: bargain them out or bomb them out.

Bargaining might entail painful concessions in Berlin or the withdrawal of American missiles from NATO bases in Turkey though the weapons were technically obsolete, they represented commitment to an ally. Bombing Cuba would surely kill Russians and risk Soviet counterattack against American bases in Florida or Europe. (Our southern coast lacked radar defenses as General Taylor observed prophetically at the time, “We have everything, except [the capability] to deal with a simple aircraft coming in low.”) In any case, a strike at Cuba was bound to miss some missiles and require a follow-up invasion to seize the island.

Small wonder the advisers changed opinions as often as they changed clothes. For every possible “if,” they conjectured a discouraging “then.” If we withdrew our missiles from Turkey, then the Turks would shout to the world that American guarantees are worthless. If we sent a Polaris missile submarine into Turkish waters to replace the missiles, the Turks would say we always slither out of harm’s way.

What if we warn Khrushchev of a coming air strike? Then he’ll commit to a violent response. And if we don’t warn him? Then he’ll suffer a surprise attack, seize the moral high ground and announce that the United States would rather risk world war than live with the vulnerability that all Europeans have long endured.

Round and round they went. What about a U.S. naval blockade of Soviet weapons coming into Cuba? Well, it would not remove missiles already in place or prevent deliveries by air. A total blockade? That would offend friendly ships but not hurt Cuba for months.

Time grew short. Many Soviet missiles were installed, and the scent of crisis was in the air. At the New York Times, we heard of canceled speeches by the Joint Chiefs and saw officials being summoned away from their own birthday parties. Lights at the Pentagon and State Department blazed at midnight. We clamored for enlightenment, and officials mumbled about trouble in Berlin. Kennedy heard us approaching and asked our bureau chief, James “Scotty” Reston, to call him before we printed anything.

Thursday, October 18, was the day for a double bluff when Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko paid a scheduled visit to the White House. He sparred with the president over Berlin but held tightly to his written-out claim that only “defensive” weapons were going to Cuba. Though angry, Kennedy and Rusk pretended to be fooled.

The president had told ExComm earlier that morning that he discounted the threat of a nuclear attack from Cuba—“unless they’re going to be using them from every place.” He most feared nonnuclear retaliation in Europe, probably in Berlin. But as McNamara put it to the group, firm action was essential to preserve the president’s credibility, to hold the alliance together, to tame Khrushchev for future diplomacy—and by no means least—to protect the administration in domestic American politics.

Most important, ExComm had the benefit of the considered views of Llewellyn “Tommy” Thompson, Jr., the just returned ambassador to Moscow who knew Khrushchev better and longer than any Western diplomat. He thought the Soviet leader intended for his missiles to be discovered—to invigorate his campaign against the West. Thompson felt that Khrushchev might well respect a U.S. weapons blockade and was unlikely to risk a fight in faraway Cuba. While he might strike impetuously at Berlin, that was a gamble he had been reluctant to take for four years.

Returning Saturday from Chicago with his “cold,” Kennedy seemed to buy Thompson’s assessment. He was ready to risk a Berlin crisis because, as he had told the Ex-Comm, “if we do nothing, we’re going to have the problem of Berlin anyway.” A blockade would buy time. They could always ratchet up tougher action if Khrushchev didn’t back down.

Kennedy was plainly haunted, however, by the Bay of Pigs and by his reputation for timidity. So he ended the week’s deliberation by again cross-examining the Joint Chiefs. Would an air strike destroy all the missiles and bombers? Well, 90 percent. And would Russian troops be killed? Yes, for sure. And couldn’t Khrushchev just send more missiles? Yes, we’d have to invade. And wouldn’t invasion provoke countermoves in Europe?

The president decided to avoid violent measures for as long as possible. But he did not want to reveal the tactical reasons for preferring a blockade. He insisted his aides use “the Pearl Harbor explanation” for rejecting an air strike—that Americans do not engage in preemptive surprise attacks—a disingenuous rationale that Robert Kennedy piously planted in histories of the crisis.

Story of a Lifetime

When I learned from his butler that the west German ambassador was fast asleep before midnight Friday, I became certain that the agitation in Washington did not concern Berlin, and so my Times colleagues and I focused on Cuba. And if it was Cuba, given all the recent alarms, that had to mean the discovery of “offensive” missiles. On Sunday, October 21, as promised, Scotty Reston called the White House. When Kennedy came on the line, Scotty asked me to listen on an extension.

“So you know?” Kennedy asked Reston, as I recall it. “And do you know what I’m going to do about it?”

“No, sir, we don’t,” Reston answered, “except we know you promised to act, and we hear you’ve asked for television time tomorrow night.”

“That’s right. I’m going to order a blockade.”

I was tasting a great story when Kennedy dropped the other shoe. If he lost the element of surprise, he went on, Khrushchev could take steps that would deepen the crisis. Would we suppress the news in the national interest?

Reston called a meeting. For reasons patriotic or selfish, I at first resisted granting the president’s request. A blockade is an act of war. Did we have the right to suppress news of a superpower war before Congress or the public had even an inkling of danger?

Reston phoned the president again and explained our concern. Did Kennedy want secrecy until after the shooting had begun?

“Scotty,” the president said, “we’ve taken a whole week to plan our response. I’m going to order a blockade. It’s the least I can do. But we will not immediately attack. You have my word of honor: there will be no bloodshed before I explain this very serious situation to the American people.”

Given the president’s word of honor, I believe to this day that we were right to defer publication by 24 hours. Kennedy’s reasons were persuasive: our disclosure could have led the Soviets to threaten a violent response against the blockade and thus provoke a violent conflict. But I took my name off the fudged story I wrote for Monday’s paper: “Capital’s Crisis Air Hints at Development on Cuba,” which, without mentioning missiles or a blockade, said the president would deliver news of a crisis. Like the Washington Post, which had been similarly importuned by the president, we held back most of what we knew.

Kennedy’s speech that Monday evening, October 22, was the most menacing of any presidential address during the entire Cold War. Although the senate leaders whom he had just briefed deplored his reluctance to attack, Kennedy stressed the danger implicit in the moment:

“[T]his secret, swift, and extraordinary build-up of Communist missiles . . . in violation of Soviet assurances, and in defiance of American and hemispheric policy . . . is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country if our courage and our commitments are ever to be trusted again by either friend or foe. . . . Should these offensive military preparations continue . . . further action will be justified. . . . It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Americans certainly did not underrate the gravity of events families drew close, planned emergency escapes, hoarded food, and hung on every news bulletin. Friendly governments supported the president, but many of their people feared his belligerence, and some marched in protest. In a private letter to Khrushchev, Kennedy vowed to stand firm in Berlin, warning him not to misjudge the “minimum” action the president had taken so far.

The Kremlin’s response encouraged both ExComm and diplomatic observers. While denouncing America’s “piracy” at sea and instructing Soviet agents abroad to fan the fear of war, the Kremlin obviously had no ready plan for counteraction. Berlin was calm so were our bases in Turkey. Moscow’s government-controlled press pretended that Kennedy had challenged little Cuba rather than the Soviet Union. Khrushchev assented at once when the U.N. Secretary General, U Thant, tried to broker a pause for negotiation, but Kennedy decided to balk. In fact, Washington prepared a blunt notice about how the United States planned to challenge Soviet ships and fire dummy depth charges to force submarines to surface at the blockade line.

More good news came on Wednesday, October 24. The president kept some of his nuclear bombers airborne for the Russians to notice. And suddenly word arrived that Khrushchev had ordered his most vulnerable Cuba-bound ships to stop or turn tail. Recalling a childhood game in his native Georgia, Dean Rusk remarked, “We’re eyeball-to-eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

Washington also soon learned that the Soviets had instructed the Cubans not to fire antiaircraft guns except in self-defense, giving American reconnaissance unhindered access. Kennedy now stressed that he, too, wanted no shots fired. He also wanted the Pentagon generals eager to enforce the blockade (officially designated a “quarantine”) to know that although it was a military action, it was intended only to communicate a political message.

Public tension, however, persisted Thursday because work on the missile sites continued. But Kennedy let a Soviet oil tanker pass through the blockade after it identified itself and its cargo. And Friday morning, October 26, a Soviet ship allowed Americans to inspect what they knew would be innocent cargo. At the prospect of negotiation, however, Kennedy still could not decide what price he was willing to pay for a Soviet withdrawal of the missiles. ExComm (and the press) debated removing the U.S. missiles in Turkey, but the Turks would not cooperate.

The most unsettling hours were the next 24, which brought a maddening mix of good and bad news that once again rattled nerves in both Washington and Moscow. Three separate unofficial sources reported a Soviet inclination to withdraw from Cuba if the United States promised publicly to prevent another invasion of the island. And Friday night, in a rambling, highly emotional private message that he had obviously composed without the help of his advisers, Khrushchev implored Kennedy “not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war.” He said his weapons in Cuba were always intended to be “defensive,” and if Cuba’s safety were guaranteed, “the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba would disappear.”

“I think we’d have to do that because we weren’t going to invade them anyway,” Kennedy told ExComm. But early Saturday, Moscow broadcast a colder message asking as well for an American withdrawal from Turkey. The Turks publicly protested and urged American officials not to capitulate.

The Russians seemed to be upping the ante, and Kennedy feared that he would lose world support and sympathy if he held out against the reasonable-sounding proposal to trade off reciprocal missile bases. Then came the shocking news that an American U-2 pilot had been shot down over Cuba and killed, presumably by a Soviet SAM, and another U-2 was chased out of Soviet Siberia, where it had accidentally strayed. Were accidents and miscalculations propelling the United States and the Soviet Union toward war after all?

In another Kennedy-Reston conversation that night that I was invited to listen in on, the president expressed his greatest fear that diplomacy might not resolve the crisis after all. He said the reconnaissance simply had to continue, and if his planes were again molested, he might be forced to attack antiaircraft installations.

With the Pentagon pressing for just such an attack, the president made doubly sure that no one assumed he had already decided to strike. He told ExComm that unless more planes were shot down, he envisioned the slowest possible escalation of pressure on the Soviets—starting with a blockade of oil shipments to Cuba, then of other vital supplies—taking great care to avoid the nuclear conflagration that the American public so obviously feared. Eventually, perhaps, he would take a Russian ship in tow. And if he had to shoot, he thought it was wiser to sink a ship than to attack the missile sites.

Plainly neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev was anywhere near risking anything like a nuclear shoot-out.

Still, without much hope for negotiations, Kennedy yielded to advice from several ExComm members that he accept Khrushchev’s no-invasion bargain and ignore the bid for a missile swap in Turkey. The president signaled his readiness to guarantee that the United States would not attack Cuba if the missiles were withdrawn, but simultaneously sent his brother to tell Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that the time for diplomacy was running out, that work on the missiles had to stop at once.

In delivering this ultimatum, however, Robert Kennedy also offered Khrushchev a sweetener: an oral promise to withdraw the missiles from Turkey within a few months, provided that this part of the deal was not disclosed. Only a half dozen Americans knew of this promise, and they, as well as the Russians, kept the secret for more than a decade.

A Collective Sigh of Relief

The sun shone bright in Washington Sunday morning, October 28, as Radio Moscow read out Khrushchev’s response to Kennedy’s offer. He said he had wanted only to protect the Cuban revolution, that work at the bases on the island had now stopped, and that he had issued orders to dismantle, crate and bring back “the weapons which you describe as offensive.”

Castro, bypassed in all the negotiations, threw a fit and refused to admit U.N. inspectors sent to the island to verify the de-armament, forcing homebound Soviet ships to uncover their missile cargoes for aerial inspection at sea. For a month, Castro even refused to let the Russians pack up their “gift” to him of several old Ilyushin bombers, which Kennedy also wanted removed.

President Kennedy, sensing Khrushchev’s discomfort in retreat, immediately warned his jubilant aides against gloating. He had now earned his spurs as a Cold Warrior and the political freedom to reach other deals with the Soviets, starting with a crisis “hot line,” a ban on aboveground nuclear tests and a live-and-let-live calm in Berlin. Thirteen months later he would be killed in Dallas—by a psychotic admirer of Fidel Castro.

Khrushchev emerged from the crisis with grudging respect for Kennedy and tried to share in the credit for moving toward a better relationship. But his generals and fellow oligarchs vowed never again to suffer such humiliation. Two years later, denouncing Khrushchev’s many “harebrained schemes,” they overthrew him, going on to spend themselves poor to achieve strategic weapons parity with the United States.

The Soviet Union and the United States never again stumbled into a comparable confrontation. Both nations acquired many more nuclear weapons than they would ever need, but they kept in close touch and learned to watch each other from orbiting satellites, to guard against surprise and miscalculation.

Condemned to Repeat?

The Cuban crisis had profound historical implications. The arms race burdened both superpowers and contributed to the eventual implosion of the Soviet empire. Other nations reached for the diplomatic prowess that nuclear weapons seemed to confer. And the ExCommers wrongly assumed that they could again use escalating military pressure to pursue a negotiated deal—in Vietnam. They failed because none of them could read Ho Chi Minh the way Tommy Thompson had read Khrushchev.

The philosopher George Santayana was obviously right to warn that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This past, however, acquired a rational, ordered form in our memories that ill prepared us for new and incoherent dangers. In our moments of greatest vulnerability󈟸 years ago and again last year—it was our inability to imagine the future that condemned us to suffer the shock of it.


Contents

O'Donnell was born in Boston, on November 7, 1951, the son of Frances Marie (née Buckley), an office manager, and Lawrence Francis O'Donnell Sr., an attorney. [1] He is of Irish descent and grew up Catholic. [4] He attended St. Sebastian's School (class of 1970), where he was captain of the baseball team and wide receiver on their undefeated football team. O'Donnell majored in economics at Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1976. [5] While at Harvard, he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon and was popular among its members for his wit and sarcasm. [6]

Author Edit

From 1977 to 1988, O'Donnell was a writer. [5] In 1983, he published the book Deadly Force, about a case of wrongful death and police brutality in which O'Donnell's father was the plaintiff's lawyer. [7] In 1986, the book was made into the film A Case of Deadly Force, in which Richard Crenna played O'Donnell's father and Tate Donovan played O'Donnell, and for which O'Donnell was associate producer. [8] In 2017, O'Donnell published the book Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. [9]

U.S. Congress Edit

From 1989 to 1995, O'Donnell was a legislative aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. [5] From 1989 to 1991, he served as senior advisor to Moynihan. From 1992 to 1993, he was staff director of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, then chaired by Senator Moynihan, and from 1993 to 1995 he was staff director of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, again under Senator Moynihan's chairmanship. [10]

Television Edit

Writing and production Edit

From 1999 to 2006, O'Donnell was associated with the television drama The West Wing. During that time, he wrote 16 episodes. From 1999 to 2000, he was executive story editor for 12 episodes in 2000, he was co-producer of five episodes from 2000 to 2001, he was producer of 17 episodes from 2003 to 2005, he was consulting producer for 44 episodes and, from 2005 to 2006, he was executive producer for 22 episodes. [11] O'Donnell won the 2001 Emmy award for Outstanding Drama Series for The West Wing and was nominated for the 2006 Emmy for the same category. [12]

In 2002, O'Donnell was supervising producer and writer for the television drama First Monday and, in 2003, he was creator, executive producer, and writer for the television drama Mister Sterling. [11]

Contributor and host Edit

In 2009, O'Donnell became a regular contributor on Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough. His aggressive debate style on that program and others led to several on-air confrontations, including an interview with conservative Marc Thiessen on Morning Joe that became so heated that Scarborough took O'Donnell off the air. [ citation needed ] Also in 2009 and 2010, O'Donnell began appearing frequently as a substitute host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, particularly when Olbermann's father was ill in the hospital. [ citation needed ]

On September 27, 2010, O'Donnell began hosting a 10 p.m. show on MSNBC, called The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. [13] [14] On January 21, 2011, it was announced that O'Donnell would take over the 8 p.m. slot from Keith Olbermann after Olbermann announced the abrupt termination of his show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann. [15] Beginning October 24, 2011, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell switched time slots with The Ed Show, with Ed Schultz taking over the 8 p.m. Eastern slot, and O'Donnell returning to the 10 p.m. Eastern slot. [16]

Acting Edit

O'Donnell played Lee Hatcher, the Henrickson family attorney, in the HBO series Big Love, about a polygamous family in Utah. In addition to being a producer on The West Wing, O'Donnell also played President Josiah Bartlet's father in a flashback sequence of the episode "Two Cathedrals". [17] O'Donnell portrayed Judge Lawrence Barr in two episodes of Monk [18] and played himself on an episode of Showtime's Homeland. [19]

In 2007, O'Donnell criticized Mitt Romney's speech on religion, stating: "Romney comes from a religion that was founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist." [20] [21] In the April 3, 2012, broadcast of The Last Word, O'Donnell made comments regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), saying it was an "invented religion," which was "created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it." [22] During the April 11, 2012, broadcast of The Last Word, O'Donnell apologized for the April 3 comments, stating that they offended many, including some of the show's most supportive fans. [23]

Before showing a taped October 2010 interview with RNC Chairman Michael Steele, O'Donnell caused controversy over his intro to the interview which was considered racially insensitive. He said, "Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and Tea Partiers while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider, the Republican National Committee." After drawing criticism from Steele and talk-radio host Larry Elder, O'Donnell apologized for his remarks. [24] [25] [26]

O'Donnell also drew criticism for an October 2010 interview with Congressman Ron Paul, when Paul accused him of breaking an agreement not to ask him about other political candidates. [27] O'Donnell said he was not part of any agreement but an MSNBC spokeswoman stated, "We told Representative Paul's office that the focus would be on the tea party movement, not on specific candidates." [28]

During an October 2011 interview, O'Donnell accused Republican primary candidate Herman Cain of not participating in protests during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and also charged him with avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf said the questions posed by O'Donnell were "offensive" and declared, "In this interview, O'Donnell goes to absurd lengths to use patriotism and jingoism as cudgels to attack his conservative guest, almost as if he is doing a Stephen Colbert style parody of the tactics he imagines a right-wing blowhard might employ. Does he realize he's becoming what he claims to abhor?" [29] O'Donnell's interview with Cain was later defended by Reverend Al Sharpton. [30]

On September 20, 2017, an eight-minute video clip was leaked which showed O'Donnell angrily cursing and swearing about background noise between segments of a live broadcast that had aired August 29, 2017. [31] O'Donnell apologized on Twitter, [32] and the leaker was subsequently fired. [33]

On August 27, 2019, O'Donnell reported that Deutsche Bank documents showed Russian oligarchs had cosigned loan applications for Trump. O'Donnell reported the story, based on a single source he did not identify, using the qualifier "if true" and admitted it had not been verified by NBC News. [34] The next day, O'Donnell walked back the report, referring to it as an "error in judgment." [35]

In a 2005 interview, O'Donnell called himself a "practical European socialist". [3] O'Donnell also declared himself a "socialist" on the November 6, 2010, Morning Joe show, stating: "I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to 'progressive'. Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist. I live to the extreme left, the extreme left of you mere liberals." [36] On the August 1, 2011, episode of The Last Word, O'Donnell further explained: "I have been calling myself a socialist ever since I first read the definition of socialism in the first economics class I took in college". [37]

In late 2010, O'Donnell made a trip to Malawi with the intent of providing school-room desks for students who had never seen desks. MSNBC and UNICEF partnered to create the K.I.N.D. fund - Kids in Need of Desks - with the mission to deliver desks to African schools. As of December 2013, the program had raised over $6.5 million, [38] paying for approximately 100,000 desks to be delivered to classrooms. In addition, the K.I.N.D. fund also provides scholarships to help young girls in Malawi attend school. By the end of 2017 the Fund had raised $19 million. [ citation needed ]

On February 14, 1994, Lawrence O'Donnell married Kathryn Harrold. The couple has one child, Elizabeth Buckley Harrold O'Donnell. [39] O'Donnell and Harrold divorced in 2013. [40] [41]

In April 2014, he and his brother Michael were injured in a traffic accident while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands. [42] [43] O'Donnell returned to his MSNBC show The Last Word in June after two months of recuperation. [42]


“I told the FBI what I had heard [two shots from behind the grassy knoll fence], but they said it couldn’t have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn’t want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family.”

– Kennedy aide Kenneth O’Donnell, quoted by House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. in “Man of the House,” p. 178. O’Donnell was riding in the Secret Service follow-up car with Dave Powers, who was present and told O’Neill he had the same recollection.

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29 comments

I’m Japanese assassination resercher.
I think their testimony have historic value,but from today’s
viewpoint their testimony is worthless as grassy-knoll shooter’s
evidence.
From JFK’s motorcade car,four motorcycles,followup car,grassy-
knoll shooter clearly visible,but no one observed.
After the “Brothers” publication,Mr.McCone and Mr.O’Donnell and Mr.Powers opinion about cross-fire spread as vital evidence.
Their testimony not evidence but only “opinion”.
Grassy-knoll shooter is a phantom.
And Mr.Ed Hoffman’s testimony is only bad joke.

So who do you think did it, and how, sir?

“Some of the anecdotes [in MAN OF THE HOUSE] . . . were verifiable. Others came under attack. Columnists Evans and Novak denied his [O’Neill’s] assertion that they offered to trade him good coverage for leaks.”

If I wanted to challenge O’Neill’s veracity, I would not use that Evans and Novak denial. That tactic is employed by a hell of a lot of political reporters, and E&N did it as much, if not more, than anyone else. How do you think they managed to produce six columns a week? Needless to say, if you wouldn’t play ball with them, they’d attack you.

If the Secret Service had not so totally eliminated all forensic analysis of this assassination, their would be no need for the conspiracy theories. We could know what actually occurred in Dallas. Clearly, the Secret Service is totally and solely responsible for making this event the mystery it has become. A mystery which will never be solved. The only question…what was their motive for going to such great and desperate lengths to prevent the truth from being revealed?

This was debunked years ago. “The story is an absolute lie…whoever gave that story is lying. It’s an absolute, outright lie.” – Kenneth O’Donnell, Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1975.

Tip O’Neill’s memoir is hardly a trustworthy source. “Some of the anecdotes [in MAN OF THE HOUSE] . . . were verifiable. Others came under attack. Columnists Evans and Novak denied his [O’Neill’s] assertion that they offered to trade him good coverage for leaks. Dave Powers failed to support O’Neill’s claim that Powers and Kenny O’Donnell believed there was a second gunman involved in the JFK assassination. “Tip is a great storyteller, as are many politicians,” Novak diplomatically told the press. “They tell these stories over and over again. The rough edges get planed off and the story gets a little more dramatic and they get further and further from reality.” Aloysius Farrell, TIP O’NEILL AND THE DEMOCRATIC CENTURY (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001), pp. 680-81.

Doesn’t it make more sense that O’Donnell and Powers were simply continuing their public appearance of supporting the official story, though they had privately told Tip O’Neill what they really thought?

Why does that make more sense? It makes no sense to trust an anecdote from someone proven to stretch the truth over the man’s own repeated denials.

In “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ya”(written by O’Donnell and Powers), O’Donnell described the time between the second and third shots they heard as “about enough time for a man to run 50 yds”. I always thought that was interesting for them to write.

If it is a outright lie KPOD lied because that quote that he told the FBI there was shots from the front are in his own book, Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye”. I have also heard it in some recently released tapes from a interview he did in the early 70’s.

To GM & JG, respectively:
Yes Dave Powers did film partly through the motorcade, but ran out of film before entering the Kill Zone/Dealy Plaza thus, he did not record the JFK assassination, but eye-witnessed it from behind the motorcade in the follow-up car. “I was assigned to ride in the Secret Service automobile which proceeded immediately behind the President’s car in the motorcade…I sat in the jump seat on the right side of the car…” (http://jfkassassination.net/russ/testimony/powers1.htm).
In answer to JG and the seeming disbelief expressed in the comment, “Shoot the president from the front but plant evidence behind him, this makes no sense. If there was a shooter behind the fence he would have been seen.” Well JG, as logical as that seems on the surface, take into account that the assassins thought about this detail so no, the shooter in front would not have allowed himself to be exposed as a shooter. As noted, Dave Powers, Kennedy’s Special Assistant, rode in the Secret Service follow-up car with Ken O’Donnell. Powers affidavit states: “My first impression was that the shots came from the right and overhead, but I also had a fleeting impression that the noise appeared to come from the front in the area of the triple overpass. This may have resulted from my feeling, when I looked forward toward the over-pass, that we might have ridden into an ambush.”
To believe the Warren Omission is to abdicate ones ‘duty of vigilance’ as a citizen of the Republic. For it is only through the watchfulness of citizens that government is held accountable. The Warren Omission is a house built on the sand of the lone assassin fable, supported by an improbable 3 shot scenario and an invented flight path (by the late Senator Arlen Specter of PA.) of a bullet derisively called the “magic bullet.” This bullet is alleged to have entered the back of JFK, exited his throat below his Adam’s apple, entered Gov. Connelly’s back, smashed his 5th left rib, exited his chest below his nipple, entered his right wrist breaking that thick bone, then entering his right thigh. This bullet is supposed to have been found on a stretcher by the elevator in almost pristine condition (on the floor below where JFK & the Gov. received emergency treatment for their collective wounds). If you find the “shooter behind the fence” implausible, how can you naively accept the contrived flight of, and inflicted damage by, CE399 (Magic Bullet)? This highly falsified scenario is a desperate attempt to conceal the true nature of the coup d’état, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963. If Kennedy’s murder was revealed for what it was, the credibility of the government would disintegrate. Why? Because “agents” trained, retained, and involved in other assassination plots of foreign leaders were involved in killing JFK. The power structure (the elected and appointed leaders) decided that it was in their “best interests” to foist upon the American people, the biggest hoax in American History (at that time), namely, the Warren Omission Report. The august body of esteemed ‘gentlemen’ performed as witting dupes sabotaged by the FBI and CIA. These government Agencies knowingly withheld information (about the assassination of foreign leaders) and the fact that multiple government agencies were actively tracking Lee Harvey Oswald up to the day of the assassination. The Kennedy coup d’état was an off-the-books state sponsored regime overthrow. Any questions?

Was Dave Powers filming the events in Dallas? Did he stop filming before the assassination?


Kenneth O'Donnell - History

I read yesterday that once the Finance Committee voted out the health care reform bill, the negotiations with the White House and all parties were held in Ted Kennedy’s old office on Capitol Hill. More directly his last office. It was the office he used, adjoining Majority Leader Reid’s office, where he could work with the parties to put together the health care bill. Which some would say was his lifelong dream to provide health care for all Americans. As someone who has just gone through months of personal and professional hell, job loss, investor crashes and lacks health insurance the debate and discussion particularly hits home for me. At least that is one of the reasons it hits home.

The recent deaths of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy may have made national news, but for me they hit home in a surprising way. Surprising because I have been so removed from that time and place. As the expression goes, “I don’t live there anymore,” and yet it felt very much like the passing of an era, the closing of a door and invocation of past tragedies mostly my own. It made me think of my Dad. My Dad was Kenneth O’Donnell, JFK’s Political Aide, friend and advisor. He was Robert Kennedy’s friend, often political advisor and big brother. Sometimes they got along, sometimes they drove each other nuts, but they were always close. For my Dad, Bobby’s murder would eventually be a blow from which he would never recover. Guilt. He felt guilty.

The death of Eunice and Ted also reminded me of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. My parents adored Jackie. It had not always been that way, but their friendship grew, as friends do under the pressures of a political campaign, the pressures of the White House, and they became cemented by the tragedies of Dallas, November 22 nd , 1963. My Dad was never particularly close to Ted. It may be hard for readers to understand this now, but to my Dad, Jack and Bobby, Ted was a kid. He was the kid brother. My memories of Ted are more recent, when he was older, his face a picture of tragedy, lines that were earned by pain, not given. When my Dad died, he had been there for me. It seems like a lifetime ago now, and it is – I had not spoken to him in many years – but when it mattered most he was there. Made sure I got on the right track, on the right road, got into school, had a place to spend the summer having fun, and had a shoulder to lean on when it mattered. That changed dramatically with the death of my dear friend, Michael Kennedy, and later with John’s death. He changed. Some tragedy becomes too much. But, what I choose to remember now is that when it mattered he was there. I have been asked over and over again by the press to recount some stories, tell some tales and give some insight into the man. I have thought hard about it, and it is not easy to do without violating the privacy of someone who had so little left to them. Privacy that is – it was something he rarely enjoyed and something we all take for granted. Still, when I think of him, I think of the time when I was to give my first real political speech in Boston. It was a minor affair, a small event hosted by The Democracy Foundation, an organization I helped found with the help of Ted’s nephew, Joe Kennedy, who had been my friend and confidante at that time. I had written a paper for school suggesting the formation of The Democracy Foundation. Joe read it. Loved it. And in true Bobby Kennedy fashion, called a lawyer and helped me put the Foundation together. It ran for several years with the help and support of both Joe and Ted. That was then.

I recall being nervous, frightened and unsure of myself. When you lose both your parents at a young age, within six months of each other, and your life is upended by tragedy, it takes time to acquire the self confidence that comes naturally when your parents are there to urge you on, push your forward, provide that cheering section, that shoulder to cry on and that stern word of advice just before you make a dumb decision. It is the role only a parent can play.

Anyway, I remember nervously getting up in front of the microphone, my voice too soft to be heard even with the aid of the microphone. Somebody yelled, “can’t hear you” – I nearly died – I suddenly couldn’t remember my lines, what the hell was I supposed to say next? I felt all alone up there on the platform, everyone watching. Wondering? Is she up to it? Her father would not have this kind of problem. Suddenly, I felt his presence rather than heard him. I turned slowly, at least it seemed slowly, and there was Ted, slipping in the side door to the surprised cheer of the audience. He bounded, yes bounded, he could see somebody floundering from a mile away, and was suddenly at my side – “surprised you, didn’t we?” He bellowed to the delight of the audience. The crowd went crazy. They loved it. It all seemed so planned so natural, as if he and I had cooked this up from the beginning. Heck, I didn’t even know he was going to be there. In fact, his staff had told me he could not attend. He smiled at the audience, laughed and joked, carefully helping to pry my fingers from the lectern where the sweat from my palms had glued them tight. The event went on to be a huge success, there would be many more events before things started to go wrong, but he was there then, too. At that time, succeeding or failing, the one person I could count on was Ted. He didn’t really care whether you succeeded or failed. He just cared that you tried. Bobby had been like that, as well. Winning was important, but trying was the most important part. Sitting on the sidelines bellyaching was never okay. Sorry if that blows some of the People Magazine images of the Kennedys as always needing to be first. But, Ted cared if you tried. Just tried.

Years later, when my book came out, Ted was there again. Again, after a tragedy – Michael had died that year. Michael had meant everything to me at that time and losing him sent me into an emotional tail spin. That was when I first met Chris Lawford. Michael’s brother, Bobby, had sent him out to LA to help me get on solid ground. He did. While I haven’t talk to Chris in a while, I daresay, without his help, to use Ted’s phrase, it probably would have become “a tragedy within a tragedy.” When my book A COMMON GOOD, The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy & Kenneth P. O’Donnell came out that spring, I didn’t really care. The book which had been inspired by and written with Michael’s guiding hand seemed to be a symbol of more tragedy. Michael was gone. And, I felt and frankly was very much alone. It still pains me to look at the cover to this day. The cover, a classic black & white shot of my Dad and Bobby standing in the White House.

Ted wanted to have a book party. I didn’t want to. The book had become a symbol of loss, and everyone, and I mean everyone, was trying to take credit for work that Michael and I had done. Ted insisted on a book party. He was able to get Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, a stunning, smart as hell blond and her husband, Smith, to host the party at their home in Georgetown. The Bagleys were then, and still are today major money players, in the Democratic Party and were happy to help. Anything for Ted. The party was painful. I hated it. Michael was not there, and it seemed so pointless until Ted arrived, bringing with him an entourage of Senators whom he had cajoled into attending. They didn’t know Michael, me or my Dad, but they loved Ted, so they came. What I remember most about that party were three things. One was when Ted stood in the middle of the room and spoke about, not Michael at first, but my Dad. He spoke about the love, yes that’s right, love and admiration, that he felt for my Dad, and the deep tie that, bound him with Jack and Bobby. He said, with tears in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, that they could not have done it without Ken. Ken was in many ways “their political third brother.” Coming from Ted, who was the third brother, such a statement would have blown my Dad away. Ted was not a kid brother anymore, but a keeper of the legacy that he was striving to maintain, while still struggling to make his own. My Dad would have been both surprised and deeply touched. Somebody had in fact, paid attention. Somebody had cared that he had devoted his life to two men who he felt could change the country and the world. In the end, their deaths would be the beginning of his own. Somebody had noticed. Ted. Ted had noticed. That would have surprised him.

The second important thing was that Kerry Kennedy had quietly attended. She had not needed to, since the room was awash in Kennedys and their entourages. But, Michael adored his sister. She ran and continues to run the foundation that bore their father’s name, The RFK Memorial, a foundation whose success and vision Michael had made very much his own. It would have mattered to him that she came. It had mattered to me.

The third important thing was that at the book party was where I would meet famed journalist, Warren Rogers. Warren had written for, among others, Life Magazine for years, working under the best. That included the late legendary, tough and visionary newsman editor, Jim Bellows. Warren had covered the White House during my Dad’s day and had become a good friend to my Dad and Bobby. Warren was a white haired handsome, tough as nail journalists, a “dirty finger nail” reporter, as he used to say proudly, who would become the key to my future and, ironically, a step away from the Kennedys.

There are many stories, and many will find their way into my forth coming book, but some need to be shared now. To put a human face on a man, a family and an era that is quickly, and in some ways, appropriately becoming relegated to the History Channel and LIFE Magazine specials. Some years ago, after John’s death, I had worked with a group to re-launch George Magazine and had taken on the challenge at the direct request of Ted Kennedy. He had called me in New York and challenged me to try and make it work. The challenge was formidable, the task difficult and made more difficult by my own mistakes. The largest mistake was trying to re-launch GEORGE at all. The magazine was too identified with John. While John had the right idea, if I was going to do it, I needed to make it my own. Not an extension of John. Ted didn’t tell me that. Perhaps he assumed I understood it. I didn’t.

Mrs. Shriver had told me that, though. I respected and admired her, because my Dad and Mother did, and because when I was having a tough time in Washington, it was either Jackie or Eunice who I could count on. Always unasked, if you needed them they were there. They seemed to know, to sense when the shit was about to hit the fan, had already hit the fan or you just needed some direct advice. Mrs. Shriver, I never called her Eunice, always gave direct advice. When she heard about the launch of the magazine she called me. I thought to congratulate me. I was wrong.

“It’s a mistake,” she had said point blank. “The magazine?” I asked, hurt and surprised. Defensive. “No,” Mrs. Shriver said, “Not the magazine. Doing it the way you are doing it. Be your own person. Make your own mark. Make a name for yourself out there. On your own terms, then launch something like the magazine. In order to work, the magazine must reflect who you are, not who John was. You have it, but you need to look at Arnold. If you need a role model, it should be Arnold. Arnold is his own man. He has his own identity. He stands toe to toe with my family. He is not a supplicant to my family. He makes his own rules, runs his own life and is his own man. You have it Helen, like Arnold, but it won’t work until you are your own person. You need to get away from the Kennedy family and go be Helen.” I remember I was surprised, defensive and hurt. I also knew in my gut that Mrs. Shriver was right.

But, unsure how to do that, unsure how to accomplish what Arnold accomplished, sounds stupid now, but unsure how to be your own person, I had plunged ahead. Some action was better than none. Right? No. Not always. It was stupid. I still had lessons to learn. “Sometimes,” Michael had told me once, “You seem determined to learn things the hard way.” Well maybe that was true. I had been wrong. Mrs. Shriver had tried to warn me. Guide me. She had given me the best damn advice anyone had given me. Since Jackie, anyway. I had not listened. In the end I would pay a price for my arrogance, some of it deserved, most of it not and dished out by people who should know have known better. Still the mistake had been mine. What I learned is that you can carry on the spirit of George, of what John intended, but as your own endeavor, not as an extension of John or the Kennedys. That is what I intend The O’Donnell Report will be. A political column based on the spirit of what John intended, but very much my own words, my own vision, and my own future. I think Mrs. Shriver would be proud and pleased that I finally got it right.

When things got tough she was the only person that ever hung in there with you. She didn’t hold your hand or spare your feelings if you were wrong. She told you the truth. She never bullshitted. She never misled you and never ever deliberately hurt anyone. She was, if it can be said of a woman, my Dad’s kind of guy. My Dad and Mrs. Shriver were often at odds during the campaigns and in the White House years. In a way, she drove him crazy, because she was, as he once put it, “just as smart as the President, maybe smarter and twice as tough.” She never backed down. Never let my father intimidate her. She was a woman in a man’s world, and he could not handle her. She could stand toe to toe with him during a political argument and often she was right. She never went around him. She wasn’t that type. She was best described in the way people later described my Dad and Frank, she was someone who “came right at you. And you knew where you stood with her.” My Dad respected Eunice. Respected her. Eunice was like Jackie, “they were both tough as nails” my father once said, not in criticism, but respect. “Tough as nails,” was a compliment as far as my father was concerned.

None of this should be all that surprising. My family had a long tradition with the Kennedys and my father and Jack had been there from the start. By 1958 Jack Kennedy was gearing up to run for the United States Senate. While his election was a foregone conclusion, the number he won by was critical. Many in politics recognized that John Kennedy was "a man in a hurry" who had his eye on the White House in 1960. He needed to put up some big numbers in the 1958 Senate race in Massachusetts to demonstrate that he was up to the task of a national campaign. If his numbers were not large enough, the job of convincing an already skeptical Democratic Party that he had what it took to win in 1960 would become that much harder.

The task to achieve the goal of a convincing win in the 1958 campaign fell to my dad and the late Larry O'Brien, both trusted Kennedy political aides and good friends. Together s “Irish Mafia.” They were its core. “There was nobody better than Larry,” my Dad said once and the feeling was mutual. Together they made a hell of a political team for Jack Kennedy. Hard bitten and political, my Dad felt he could handle anything in the game of politics and nothing could throw him off the win. Nothing except a stunning brunette named Jackie Kennedy, now the candidate's wife, who swept my Dad and everyone around her off their feet. For someone who did not like politics, Jackie Kennedy proved to be a master of the art of politics. My father's first experience with her was in the all important Senatorial Campaign.
Up until the campaign, this would be the most extensive time he had ever spent with her. He approached the assignment with all the dread of a “guy's guy" who was not particularly well suited to dealing with a woman like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. He eventually came to dub her either “the Queen” or “Madame La Femme.” She was, in his view, beautiful, smart, savvy, wickedly funny and John Kennedy's best political weapon. The friendship that developed between them would last for the next twenty years. Through the good times and, more importantly, through the heart wrenching tragedy of John and Robert Kennedy's deaths, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and my father would remain mutual fans and friends forever.

Growing up, I remember my parents spoke often of John and Jackie Kennedy. John Kennedy, though long gone, was in many ways a living presence in our house. His death represented unbelievable tragedy to both my parents, not just in terms of personal loss, but also in terms of the loss of possibilities for this country. Given his close personal and professional relation with the President, my father believed John Kennedy represented the most extraordinary set of possibilities and hope for a better future not only for the United States but for the world. My dad remembered that the President, as the stories in my forthcoming book, "Not Your Turn, Not Your Time," will show, had a very firm and exciting future planned for Jackie and his children. John Kennedy may have been President, but as he often expressed to my father, he and Jackie had great plans for life beyond the White House. Sadly, they would remain only plans.

Jackie Kennedy was very much part of that hope and shared that sense of loss of a future that might have been. My father and she became deep and sincere friends, brought together by the good times, but their friendship became truly forged by the depths of their shared loss. They were like two returning war veterans nobody could understand the depth of their pain but one another. In each other and in their friendship, they found solace for the incredible heartache with which John Kennedy's sudden death left them both.

My father was always protective of Jackie. He loved her, wanted her to have her own life and though he himself was in so many ways unable to move on with his own life, he spent all his energies urging her to find and forge a new life for herself away from the Kennedys and the tragedy of the past. He wanted for her what he seemed unable to achieve for himself. He did not want her to become entombed by the Kennedy “legacy.” In helping her to become free, he never found the time to free himself and became another of its victims. For her part, Jackie worked tirelessly to get him to move forward, to let go of the past, but he could not and would not break free. Like many true Irishmen, he felt most comfortable in the tales and stories of past glory. He seemed to sense his time was limited, he had done his best, and his one final task, was to share his memories of the flesh and blood human beings who had achieved the beginning of a “sea change” in the way government of , by and for us was conducted. He especially wanted to pass along his memories of the real John and Jackie Kennedy with all of us, so that we too might one day understand, years later, what made them people who could touch the hearts and minds of Americans and people around the world with genuine hope and courage. Through his stories, like the Irish bards of yore, my dad wanted us to come to understand and appreciate “Madame La Femme” in all her uniqueness, beauty and originality. In a world of sameness and copies, Jackie, “Madame La Femme,” was truly an original.

I grew up hearing stories about Jackie everyday. I remember that my father always held her up as the woman to admire and to aspire to be like. No detail was too small from the hair color, to the makeup, to the style with which she dealt with other people, to the importance of being “mysterious.” Men, my Dad used to say, love mystery, and Jackie represented all of those things, most especially mystery -- that quality that left others wondering when she had left the room. When my father died, there were two moments that stood out for me the most. The first memory was of Ethel Kennedy, Bobby’s widow, standing in the middle of the chaos in our house after the funeral. She was the first one there for me when my Dad died and the last one to leave after the funeral. She remained loyal to the memory of my mother and my father, and that meant a lot to a young girl, orphaned by the deaths of both her parents in the same year. She was strong, in control and represented a connection to Bobby and a reminder that despite the tragedy and the differences of the past, we remained an extended family.

The second moment I remember was Jackie. Her presence in the church nearly brought the service to a halt. She tried to be discreet, but her mere entry into the church fixed the entire congregation's attention on her alone. She had true charisma and, try as she might, no matter the event, it followed her everywhere. Her presence at the funeral, along with Ethel, symbolized to me the respect in which their husbands had held my father. No amount of second generation revisionist's history will ever change that fact.

Later, after I had retreated to one of the limousines in tears, I remember Jackie climbing into the car and holding me, telling me she would always be there, she would never forget my father and never forget me. That they would always remain loyal to the past and the friendship and the history they had forged together. She never did forget me and always kept her word. I wish I had been older and had come to know Jackie better. There are so many questions I would have wanted to ask her. Still, in some ways, I feel as if I have come to know her through my recollections of her.

I rarely revisit these stories much anymore. I have, for many years, now resisted various attempts to get me to talk about the Kennedys and those days. In part because it is painful, in part because I feel that many people have misunderstood my intentions and as a result have mistreated me, especially after Michael’s death. I also do not want to, as Chris Lawford once said to me, “become a chronicler of the past and the Kennedys.” I also resisted it because it’s just all so damn sad. Finally, I have resisted this because I am moving on with my life. While I am currently working on a book on JFK and President Obama and a movie project on The Rat Pack, I simply don’t live there anymore.

Still, this is the time to say something. It was time to talk about the real people, not the plaster images or the People magazine versions, but the real human beings. While that life is now in my past, there was a time when it held, and they held a special place in my heart and in my life. They always will. They were not saints, they were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but, like my Dad and Mother, they loved their lives, they loved their family and they loved their country. They may not have always gotten it right, but they sure as hell tried, and they all had a hell of a good time when things where good. Their lives remind me of a wonderful quote from Frank Sinatra, “You gotta love livin', cause dyin' is a pain in the ass..” They would all certainly agree. Let us hope that with the passing of an era we recall their lessons that can move us forward, that we can learn from, but as Mrs. Shriver warned me some time ago, let us make this our own future, taking lessons from the past, but striving to make our mark on the future of this state and this nation.


Kenneth O'Donnell - History

I read yesterday that once the Finance Committee voted out the health care reform bill, the negotiations with the White House and all parties were held in Ted Kennedy’s old office on Capitol Hill. More directly his last office. It was the office he used, adjoining Majority Leader Reid’s office, where he could work with the parties to put together the health care bill. Which some would say was his lifelong dream to provide health care for all Americans. As someone who has just gone through months of personal and professional hell, job loss, investor crashes and lacks health insurance the debate and discussion particularly hits home for me. At least that is one of the reasons it hits home.

The recent deaths of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy may have made national news, but for me they hit home in a surprising way. Surprising because I have been so removed from that time and place. As the expression goes, “I don’t live there anymore,” and yet it felt very much like the passing of an era, the closing of a door and invocation of past tragedies mostly my own. It made me think of my Dad. My Dad was Kenneth O’Donnell, JFK’s Political Aide, friend and advisor. He was Robert Kennedy’s friend, often political advisor and big brother. Sometimes they got along, sometimes they drove each other nuts, but they were always close. For my Dad, Bobby’s murder would eventually be a blow from which he would never recover. Guilt. He felt guilty.

The death of Eunice and Ted also reminded me of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. My parents adored Jackie. It had not always been that way, but their friendship grew, as friends do under the pressures of a political campaign, the pressures of the White House, and they became cemented by the tragedies of Dallas, November 22 nd , 1963. My Dad was never particularly close to Ted. It may be hard for readers to understand this now, but to my Dad, Jack and Bobby, Ted was a kid. He was the kid brother. My memories of Ted are more recent, when he was older, his face a picture of tragedy, lines that were earned by pain, not given. When my Dad died, he had been there for me. It seems like a lifetime ago now, and it is – I had not spoken to him in many years – but when it mattered most he was there. Made sure I got on the right track, on the right road, got into school, had a place to spend the summer having fun, and had a shoulder to lean on when it mattered. That changed dramatically with the death of my dear friend, Michael Kennedy, and later with John’s death. He changed. Some tragedy becomes too much. But, what I choose to remember now is that when it mattered he was there. I have been asked over and over again by the press to recount some stories, tell some tales and give some insight into the man. I have thought hard about it, and it is not easy to do without violating the privacy of someone who had so little left to them. Privacy that is – it was something he rarely enjoyed and something we all take for granted. Still, when I think of him, I think of the time when I was to give my first real political speech in Boston. It was a minor affair, a small event hosted by The Democracy Foundation, an organization I helped found with the help of Ted’s nephew, Joe Kennedy, who had been my friend and confidante at that time. I had written a paper for school suggesting the formation of The Democracy Foundation. Joe read it. Loved it. And in true Bobby Kennedy fashion, called a lawyer and helped me put the Foundation together. It ran for several years with the help and support of both Joe and Ted. That was then.

I recall being nervous, frightened and unsure of myself. When you lose both your parents at a young age, within six months of each other, and your life is upended by tragedy, it takes time to acquire the self confidence that comes naturally when your parents are there to urge you on, push your forward, provide that cheering section, that shoulder to cry on and that stern word of advice just before you make a dumb decision. It is the role only a parent can play.

Anyway, I remember nervously getting up in front of the microphone, my voice too soft to be heard even with the aid of the microphone. Somebody yelled, “can’t hear you” – I nearly died – I suddenly couldn’t remember my lines, what the hell was I supposed to say next? I felt all alone up there on the platform, everyone watching. Wondering? Is she up to it? Her father would not have this kind of problem. Suddenly, I felt his presence rather than heard him. I turned slowly, at least it seemed slowly, and there was Ted, slipping in the side door to the surprised cheer of the audience. He bounded, yes bounded, he could see somebody floundering from a mile away, and was suddenly at my side – “surprised you, didn’t we?” He bellowed to the delight of the audience. The crowd went crazy. They loved it. It all seemed so planned so natural, as if he and I had cooked this up from the beginning. Heck, I didn’t even know he was going to be there. In fact, his staff had told me he could not attend. He smiled at the audience, laughed and joked, carefully helping to pry my fingers from the lectern where the sweat from my palms had glued them tight. The event went on to be a huge success, there would be many more events before things started to go wrong, but he was there then, too. At that time, succeeding or failing, the one person I could count on was Ted. He didn’t really care whether you succeeded or failed. He just cared that you tried. Bobby had been like that, as well. Winning was important, but trying was the most important part. Sitting on the sidelines bellyaching was never okay. Sorry if that blows some of the People Magazine images of the Kennedys as always needing to be first. But, Ted cared if you tried. Just tried.

Years later, when my book came out, Ted was there again. Again, after a tragedy – Michael had died that year. Michael had meant everything to me at that time and losing him sent me into an emotional tail spin. That was when I first met Chris Lawford. Michael’s brother, Bobby, had sent him out to LA to help me get on solid ground. He did. While I haven’t talk to Chris in a while, I daresay, without his help, to use Ted’s phrase, it probably would have become “a tragedy within a tragedy.” When my book A COMMON GOOD, The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy & Kenneth P. O’Donnell came out that spring, I didn’t really care. The book which had been inspired by and written with Michael’s guiding hand seemed to be a symbol of more tragedy. Michael was gone. And, I felt and frankly was very much alone. It still pains me to look at the cover to this day. The cover, a classic black & white shot of my Dad and Bobby standing in the White House.

Ted wanted to have a book party. I didn’t want to. The book had become a symbol of loss, and everyone, and I mean everyone, was trying to take credit for work that Michael and I had done. Ted insisted on a book party. He was able to get Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, a stunning, smart as hell blond and her husband, Smith, to host the party at their home in Georgetown. The Bagleys were then, and still are today major money players, in the Democratic Party and were happy to help. Anything for Ted. The party was painful. I hated it. Michael was not there, and it seemed so pointless until Ted arrived, bringing with him an entourage of Senators whom he had cajoled into attending. They didn’t know Michael, me or my Dad, but they loved Ted, so they came. What I remember most about that party were three things. One was when Ted stood in the middle of the room and spoke about, not Michael at first, but my Dad. He spoke about the love, yes that’s right, love and admiration, that he felt for my Dad, and the deep tie that, bound him with Jack and Bobby. He said, with tears in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, that they could not have done it without Ken. Ken was in many ways “their political third brother.” Coming from Ted, who was the third brother, such a statement would have blown my Dad away. Ted was not a kid brother anymore, but a keeper of the legacy that he was striving to maintain, while still struggling to make his own. My Dad would have been both surprised and deeply touched. Somebody had in fact, paid attention. Somebody had cared that he had devoted his life to two men who he felt could change the country and the world. In the end, their deaths would be the beginning of his own. Somebody had noticed. Ted. Ted had noticed. That would have surprised him.

The second important thing was that Kerry Kennedy had quietly attended. She had not needed to, since the room was awash in Kennedys and their entourages. But, Michael adored his sister. She ran and continues to run the foundation that bore their father’s name, The RFK Memorial, a foundation whose success and vision Michael had made very much his own. It would have mattered to him that she came. It had mattered to me.

The third important thing was that at the book party was where I would meet famed journalist, Warren Rogers. Warren had written for, among others, Life Magazine for years, working under the best. That included the late legendary, tough and visionary newsman editor, Jim Bellows. Warren had covered the White House during my Dad’s day and had become a good friend to my Dad and Bobby. Warren was a white haired handsome, tough as nail journalists, a “dirty finger nail” reporter, as he used to say proudly, who would become the key to my future and, ironically, a step away from the Kennedys.

There are many stories, and many will find their way into my forth coming book, but some need to be shared now. To put a human face on a man, a family and an era that is quickly, and in some ways, appropriately becoming relegated to the History Channel and LIFE Magazine specials. Some years ago, after John’s death, I had worked with a group to re-launch George Magazine and had taken on the challenge at the direct request of Ted Kennedy. He had called me in New York and challenged me to try and make it work. The challenge was formidable, the task difficult and made more difficult by my own mistakes. The largest mistake was trying to re-launch GEORGE at all. The magazine was too identified with John. While John had the right idea, if I was going to do it, I needed to make it my own. Not an extension of John. Ted didn’t tell me that. Perhaps he assumed I understood it. I didn’t.

Mrs. Shriver had told me that, though. I respected and admired her, because my Dad and Mother did, and because when I was having a tough time in Washington, it was either Jackie or Eunice who I could count on. Always unasked, if you needed them they were there. They seemed to know, to sense when the shit was about to hit the fan, had already hit the fan or you just needed some direct advice. Mrs. Shriver, I never called her Eunice, always gave direct advice. When she heard about the launch of the magazine she called me. I thought to congratulate me. I was wrong.

“It’s a mistake,” she had said point blank. “The magazine?” I asked, hurt and surprised. Defensive. “No,” Mrs. Shriver said, “Not the magazine. Doing it the way you are doing it. Be your own person. Make your own mark. Make a name for yourself out there. On your own terms, then launch something like the magazine. In order to work, the magazine must reflect who you are, not who John was. You have it, but you need to look at Arnold. If you need a role model, it should be Arnold. Arnold is his own man. He has his own identity. He stands toe to toe with my family. He is not a supplicant to my family. He makes his own rules, runs his own life and is his own man. You have it Helen, like Arnold, but it won’t work until you are your own person. You need to get away from the Kennedy family and go be Helen.” I remember I was surprised, defensive and hurt. I also knew in my gut that Mrs. Shriver was right.

But, unsure how to do that, unsure how to accomplish what Arnold accomplished, sounds stupid now, but unsure how to be your own person, I had plunged ahead. Some action was better than none. Right? No. Not always. It was stupid. I still had lessons to learn. “Sometimes,” Michael had told me once, “You seem determined to learn things the hard way.” Well maybe that was true. I had been wrong. Mrs. Shriver had tried to warn me. Guide me. She had given me the best damn advice anyone had given me. Since Jackie, anyway. I had not listened. In the end I would pay a price for my arrogance, some of it deserved, most of it not and dished out by people who should know have known better. Still the mistake had been mine. What I learned is that you can carry on the spirit of George, of what John intended, but as your own endeavor, not as an extension of John or the Kennedys. That is what I intend The O’Donnell Report will be. A political column based on the spirit of what John intended, but very much my own words, my own vision, and my own future. I think Mrs. Shriver would be proud and pleased that I finally got it right.

When things got tough she was the only person that ever hung in there with you. She didn’t hold your hand or spare your feelings if you were wrong. She told you the truth. She never bullshitted. She never misled you and never ever deliberately hurt anyone. She was, if it can be said of a woman, my Dad’s kind of guy. My Dad and Mrs. Shriver were often at odds during the campaigns and in the White House years. In a way, she drove him crazy, because she was, as he once put it, “just as smart as the President, maybe smarter and twice as tough.” She never backed down. Never let my father intimidate her. She was a woman in a man’s world, and he could not handle her. She could stand toe to toe with him during a political argument and often she was right. She never went around him. She wasn’t that type. She was best described in the way people later described my Dad and Frank, she was someone who “came right at you. And you knew where you stood with her.” My Dad respected Eunice. Respected her. Eunice was like Jackie, “they were both tough as nails” my father once said, not in criticism, but respect. “Tough as nails,” was a compliment as far as my father was concerned.

None of this should be all that surprising. My family had a long tradition with the Kennedys and my father and Jack had been there from the start. By 1958 Jack Kennedy was gearing up to run for the United States Senate. While his election was a foregone conclusion, the number he won by was critical. Many in politics recognized that John Kennedy was "a man in a hurry" who had his eye on the White House in 1960. He needed to put up some big numbers in the 1958 Senate race in Massachusetts to demonstrate that he was up to the task of a national campaign. If his numbers were not large enough, the job of convincing an already skeptical Democratic Party that he had what it took to win in 1960 would become that much harder.

The task to achieve the goal of a convincing win in the 1958 campaign fell to my dad and the late Larry O'Brien, both trusted Kennedy political aides and good friends. Together s “Irish Mafia.” They were its core. “There was nobody better than Larry,” my Dad said once and the feeling was mutual. Together they made a hell of a political team for Jack Kennedy. Hard bitten and political, my Dad felt he could handle anything in the game of politics and nothing could throw him off the win. Nothing except a stunning brunette named Jackie Kennedy, now the candidate's wife, who swept my Dad and everyone around her off their feet. For someone who did not like politics, Jackie Kennedy proved to be a master of the art of politics. My father's first experience with her was in the all important Senatorial Campaign.
Up until the campaign, this would be the most extensive time he had ever spent with her. He approached the assignment with all the dread of a “guy's guy" who was not particularly well suited to dealing with a woman like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. He eventually came to dub her either “the Queen” or “Madame La Femme.” She was, in his view, beautiful, smart, savvy, wickedly funny and John Kennedy's best political weapon. The friendship that developed between them would last for the next twenty years. Through the good times and, more importantly, through the heart wrenching tragedy of John and Robert Kennedy's deaths, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and my father would remain mutual fans and friends forever.

Growing up, I remember my parents spoke often of John and Jackie Kennedy. John Kennedy, though long gone, was in many ways a living presence in our house. His death represented unbelievable tragedy to both my parents, not just in terms of personal loss, but also in terms of the loss of possibilities for this country. Given his close personal and professional relation with the President, my father believed John Kennedy represented the most extraordinary set of possibilities and hope for a better future not only for the United States but for the world. My dad remembered that the President, as the stories in my forthcoming book, "Not Your Turn, Not Your Time," will show, had a very firm and exciting future planned for Jackie and his children. John Kennedy may have been President, but as he often expressed to my father, he and Jackie had great plans for life beyond the White House. Sadly, they would remain only plans.

Jackie Kennedy was very much part of that hope and shared that sense of loss of a future that might have been. My father and she became deep and sincere friends, brought together by the good times, but their friendship became truly forged by the depths of their shared loss. They were like two returning war veterans nobody could understand the depth of their pain but one another. In each other and in their friendship, they found solace for the incredible heartache with which John Kennedy's sudden death left them both.

My father was always protective of Jackie. He loved her, wanted her to have her own life and though he himself was in so many ways unable to move on with his own life, he spent all his energies urging her to find and forge a new life for herself away from the Kennedys and the tragedy of the past. He wanted for her what he seemed unable to achieve for himself. He did not want her to become entombed by the Kennedy “legacy.” In helping her to become free, he never found the time to free himself and became another of its victims. For her part, Jackie worked tirelessly to get him to move forward, to let go of the past, but he could not and would not break free. Like many true Irishmen, he felt most comfortable in the tales and stories of past glory. He seemed to sense his time was limited, he had done his best, and his one final task, was to share his memories of the flesh and blood human beings who had achieved the beginning of a “sea change” in the way government of , by and for us was conducted. He especially wanted to pass along his memories of the real John and Jackie Kennedy with all of us, so that we too might one day understand, years later, what made them people who could touch the hearts and minds of Americans and people around the world with genuine hope and courage. Through his stories, like the Irish bards of yore, my dad wanted us to come to understand and appreciate “Madame La Femme” in all her uniqueness, beauty and originality. In a world of sameness and copies, Jackie, “Madame La Femme,” was truly an original.

I grew up hearing stories about Jackie everyday. I remember that my father always held her up as the woman to admire and to aspire to be like. No detail was too small from the hair color, to the makeup, to the style with which she dealt with other people, to the importance of being “mysterious.” Men, my Dad used to say, love mystery, and Jackie represented all of those things, most especially mystery -- that quality that left others wondering when she had left the room. When my father died, there were two moments that stood out for me the most. The first memory was of Ethel Kennedy, Bobby’s widow, standing in the middle of the chaos in our house after the funeral. She was the first one there for me when my Dad died and the last one to leave after the funeral. She remained loyal to the memory of my mother and my father, and that meant a lot to a young girl, orphaned by the deaths of both her parents in the same year. She was strong, in control and represented a connection to Bobby and a reminder that despite the tragedy and the differences of the past, we remained an extended family.

The second moment I remember was Jackie. Her presence in the church nearly brought the service to a halt. She tried to be discreet, but her mere entry into the church fixed the entire congregation's attention on her alone. She had true charisma and, try as she might, no matter the event, it followed her everywhere. Her presence at the funeral, along with Ethel, symbolized to me the respect in which their husbands had held my father. No amount of second generation revisionist's history will ever change that fact.

Later, after I had retreated to one of the limousines in tears, I remember Jackie climbing into the car and holding me, telling me she would always be there, she would never forget my father and never forget me. That they would always remain loyal to the past and the friendship and the history they had forged together. She never did forget me and always kept her word. I wish I had been older and had come to know Jackie better. There are so many questions I would have wanted to ask her. Still, in some ways, I feel as if I have come to know her through my recollections of her.

I rarely revisit these stories much anymore. I have, for many years, now resisted various attempts to get me to talk about the Kennedys and those days. In part because it is painful, in part because I feel that many people have misunderstood my intentions and as a result have mistreated me, especially after Michael’s death. I also do not want to, as Chris Lawford once said to me, “become a chronicler of the past and the Kennedys.” I also resisted it because it’s just all so damn sad. Finally, I have resisted this because I am moving on with my life. While I am currently working on a book on JFK and President Obama and a movie project on The Rat Pack, I simply don’t live there anymore.

Still, this is the time to say something. It was time to talk about the real people, not the plaster images or the People magazine versions, but the real human beings. While that life is now in my past, there was a time when it held, and they held a special place in my heart and in my life. They always will. They were not saints, they were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but, like my Dad and Mother, they loved their lives, they loved their family and they loved their country. They may not have always gotten it right, but they sure as hell tried, and they all had a hell of a good time when things where good. Their lives remind me of a wonderful quote from Frank Sinatra, “You gotta love livin', cause dyin' is a pain in the ass..” They would all certainly agree. Let us hope that with the passing of an era we recall their lessons that can move us forward, that we can learn from, but as Mrs. Shriver warned me some time ago, let us make this our own future, taking lessons from the past, but striving to make our mark on the future of this state and this nation.


Kenneth P. Oɽonnell Dies at 53 Key Adviser to President Kennedy

BOSTON, Sept. 9 —Kenneth P. Oɽonnell, former aide and close adviser to President John F. Kennedy, died at 3:15 A.M. today in the intensive care unit of Boston's Beth Israel Hospital. He was 53 years old.

Special to The New York Times

The death was reported by Dr. Peter A. Banks, a hospital gastroenterologist, who issued the following statement:

“Respecting the wishes of the family, no medical information will be given out by Beth Israel or by any other physician involved in Mr. Oɽonnell's case. He was admitted on Aug. 11 in serious condition and had been seriously ill and in intensive care since Friday, Sept. 2. A member of the family was at his side at the time of his death.”

In Coterie of Intimates

Philip Kenneth Oɽonnell, a thin, taciturn man with a wry sense of humor and a self‐effacing manner, was a member of the so‐called Irish Mafia, the small coterie of Kennedy intimates that included Lawrence F. Oɻrien, Theodore C. Sorensen, Pierre Salinger and David F. Powers.

Officially, Mr. Oɽonnell was appointments secretary to the President from 1961 until Mr. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. He planned the President's White House schedule, arranged his trips and decided to a large extent who would be allowed to see him.

Informally, however, Mr. Oɽonnell was known as perhaps the President's closest friend and confidant next to his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. He spent much of his time discussing politics and acting as a. sounding board for Mr. Kennedy's ideas.

After the 1963 assassination, Mr. Oɽonnell was one of the Kennedy aides who stayed on in the Johnson White House, lending continuity to the new Administration. He resigned in January 1965, and returned to Boston as a business and public relations consultant.

Problems More Than State Issues

Mr. Oɽonnell projected none of the Kennedy charisma and addressed himself to national and international problems rather than exclusively to issues of state. He was not well known in Massachusetts and had been out of touch with local politics for some years in his 1966 and 1970 races for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he made poor showings.

In 1970, during his campaign, an article he wrote for Life magazine caused something of a stir. He wrote that President Kennedy had decided in 1963 to order withdrawal of Americans from Vietnam after the 1964 election and that Mr. Kennedy had chosen Mr. Johnson for the Vice Presidency in 1960. The President did so because he feared, the Oɽonnell article said, that he would be unable “to live with Lyndon Johnson as the leader of a small Senate majority.”

The allegations were debated hotly by editorialists and political columnists, but never proved definitively.

In 1968, between his gubernatorial races, Mr. Oɽonnell joined Robert Kennedy's Presidential campaign and was present when Mr. Kennedy was fatally shot in Los Angeles. Later that year, he worked in Senator Hubert H. Humphrey's unsuccessful campaign for the Presidency.

Unswerving In Loyalty

Mr. Oɽonnell and David F. Powers, another former White House aide to President Kennedy, were the co‐authors of ghost‐written and frankly adulatory book of reminiscences of Mr. Kennedy called “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” published by Little, Brown in 1973.

A slender man with dark, close‐cropped hair, a thin mouth and high cheekbones, Mr. Oɽonnell had little of the heartiness of the classic Boston politician. He was not known as a speaker or campaigner, but he had a reputation for making quick, tough political decisions, and he was an unswerving Kennedy loyalist.

A native of Worcester, Mass., and the son of a Holy Cross College football coach, Kenneth Oɽonnell grew up with an Irish affection for sports and politics. In World War II, he flew 30 missions as a B‐17 bombardier over Europe and was shot down once, but escaped.

After the war, he and Robert Kennedy were football teammates at Harvard, and Mr. Oɽonnel, a back, was the team captain in his senior year. He graduated in 1949, a year after Mr. Kennedy.

The First Kennedy Senate Race

Mr. Oɽonnell jumped into politics in 1951 when Robert Kennedy asked him to work on John F. Kennedy's first race for the United States Senate. After the victory, Mr. Oɽonnell became Mr. Kennedy's state representative in Massachusetts.

In 1957, he served as administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy, the counsel to the Senate Rackets Committee. A year later, after Senator Kennedy's re‐election, he joined the Senator's Washington staff. In 1960, he and Robert Kennedy were among the principal organizers of the Kennedy Presidential campaign.

The closeness of Mr. Kennedy's friends and trusted political operators, as opposed to the administrators and acadeini‐. clans who formed the Cabinet, put Mr. Oɽonnell inside the circle of bright young associates who worked with the President rather than for him.

As the appointments secretary, it was Mr. Oɽonnell who planned and sent out the advance men for Mr. Kennedy's trip to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Mr. Oɽonnell was riding in a car right behind the President when the assassin's bullets struck.

“I remember the overpass,” he said in testimony for the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination. “And then the shots occurred—which, at that time, I did not know were shots. realized then that they had been shots. But as fast as that realization occurred, I saw the third shot hit. It was such perfect shot—I remembered I blessed myself.”

Mr. Oɽonnell later stood with Jacqueline Kennedy at Mr. Johnson's side as he I took the oath of office as President aboard Air Force One, and sat with Mr. Kennedy's coffin on the flight back to Washington.

Mr. Oɽonnell leaves his wife, Asta Hanna Helga Steinfatt Oɽonnell, and is children from a previous marriage, Kenneth P. Oɽonnell Jr., Kevin, Mark and Helen, all of Boston, and Kathleen Schlichenmaier of Texas. Mr. Oɽonnell's first wife, Helen, died earlier this year.

The New York Times

Kenneth P. Oɽonnell and President Kennedy at the White House in 1961


“JFK’s Pacific Swim” August 1962

One of the endearing charms of John F. Kennedy was the “free spirit” side of him that surfaced every so often, even as President. Throughout his life, Kennedy often battled with, and acquiesced to, his “inner boy,” with some of those moments proving more reckless and confounding than others. And yes, his much written-about sexual escapades were, for some, a little too much “free spirit,” thank you. But Kennedy, as we now know, compartmentalized, and he managed to function at an extraordinarily high level while doing so. The public, however, mostly did not know about his more reckless or darker moments while he was President. But he did have his public moments of more innocent and harmless fun where he could be a bit devilish, a bit adolescent, traveling “outside the lines” as it were bending protocol, and taking the public along as he went. His press conferences come to mind on this score, when his humor and joking with the media could take the edge off more serious matters while present-


Surprised beachgoers in Los Angeles are astounded to find President John F. Kennedy swimming on their public beach.. So were ten secret service agents charged with protecting him. Photo, Bill Beebe / Los Angeles Times.

ing himself as the very human person he was. Cavorting with a brood of Kennedy kids on a golf cart one summer at Hyannis Port is another of those “inner boy” moments where he appeared to be really having fun despite the weighty matters of state he bore. And certainly the moment captured above is part of that gallery too – where his face and smile say it all – i.e., being very pleased with himself for what he has just done. It was August 1962, while he was President, then staying at his sister and brother-in-law’s home by the sea in Santa Monica, California, escaping his presidential mantle and Secret Service agents for a dip in the Pacific Ocean.

Kenny O’Donnell is the narrator and writer of the 1971 book, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, which he wrote with Dave Powers, another close JFK aide. It’s a book about Kennedy’s run for the White House and his presidency, in which O’Donnell describes JFK’s “Pacific moment” in L.A. as follows:

…One Sunday on a trip to California, he spent the afternoon at the beach home of Pat and Peter Lawford at Santa Monica, sitting in his swimming trunks beside the pool, reading a book, but glancing from time to time at the ocean surf. “Dave, look at that surf out there,” he said to [Dave] Powers, who was stretched out beside him. The president returned to the lounge chair beside the pool, picked up his sunglasses and book, and said contentedly, “That was the best swim I’ve had in months.” Dave was silently hoping that the President would be able to resist the urge to plunge into the surf, because the beach was open to the public and crowded with Sunday visitors who would rush upon Kennedy if they spied him heading toward the water.

But after an hour or so the dark classes came off, the book was put down, and he was walking across the public beach toward the waves. Dave [Powers] jumped up and hurried after him, wondering if he should summon the Secret Service guards from the front of the Lawford house for protection. He heard one sunbather saying, “He looks like President Kennedy, but President Kennedy isn’t that big and powerful looking.” the President plunged into the heavy surf and swam out beyond it while a crowd gathered, shouting and staring at his bobbing head. One woman dropped to her knees and prayed. “He’s out so far!” she cried. “Please, God, don’t let him drown!” Another woman fully dressed, followed him into the surf before she turned back.

He swam in the ocean, about a hundred yards offshore, for ten minutes while a crowd of almost a thousand people gathered on the beach. When he was coming out of the water, a photographer in street clothes waded out to his waist to take pictures. Kennedy glanced at the photographer and said, “Oh, no, I can’t believe it,” The ten Secret Service men who were guarding him splashed into the water in their business suits, forming a protecting wedge around him with Dave [Powers] and Peter Lawford to hold back the crowd that struggled to touch him and shake his hand while he made his way back across the sand to the house. The president returned to the lounge chair beside the pool, picked up his sunglasses and his book, and said contentedly, “That was the best swim I’ve had in months.”


Photographer Bill Beebe, at home with the famous 1962 JFK beach photo he snapped, during an interview in 2011.


Eva Ban, the woman in the polka-dot swimsuit appearing with JFK in the 1962 beach photo, talks on the phone with friends reacting to the front-page story as her children look on.

The Times also received a volume of mail about the photo from all over the world. Comment ranged from amazement that a national leader could mix so easily with the populace in such an informal way, to rebuke from more officious observers who felt no national leader should put himself in such a position. Sill others objected to the Times using the photo at all, believing the newspaper should have stood against running it.

However, Bill Beebe noted that the overwhelming number of letters to the Times were positive and supportive about the photo and its publication.


JFK at one of his numerous press conferences, where he would often joke with the press or use pointed humor – this one in November 1962 at State Dept. photo, Abbie Rowe.

The woman in the forefront of the photo with JFK in the polka-dot swimsuit, Eva Ban, a 43-year-old housewife and mother of two, had some momentary fame as a result of the front-page exposure, as the Los Angeles Times later ran a piece on her as well.

“It was only by chance that I happened to be there,” Mrs. Ban would later tell the Times. “The reason I was in the water and in the picture was because I was looking for my 13-year-old son, Peter. He ran into the water after the President and went out farther than he ever had before. I was worried.”

She also explained that the reason she was laughing in the picture “was because of what one woman [in the crowd] was yelling, ‘Mabel, I touched him.’ The President was laughing about this too.”


Famous photo by Stanley Tretick who captured JFK giving Lawford, Shriver & Kennedy kids the ride of their lives at Hyannis Port, MA one summer. This January 2nd, 1962 edition of Look magazine sold out on newsstands.

The L.A. beach photo also captured the reaction of admiring bystanders – in some ways, surrogates for the larger nation – seeing their president mixing with the masses, doing what they normally did on a Sunday afternoon at the beach, and being one of them. It was, in a sense, a quintessential American moment.

But there is also poignancy in this photo as well, knowing what lies ahead for this bright young president only 15 months later – leaving that begging, lasting question: why did this promising light go out so soon?

For more on the history of JFK and his family at this website see “Kennedy History,” a topics page with 12 additional stories on JFK and RFK. See also, the “Politics & Culture” page for other choices.

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 March 2014
Last Update: 20 March 2021
Comments to: [email protected]

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Pacific Swim: August 1962”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 31, 2014.

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1970, pp. 409-410.

Joe Piasecki, “Remembering JFK: Friday Marks 50 Years since the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Whose Life and Death Changed America Forever,” ArgonautNews.com, November 20, 2013.

Scott Harrison, “John F. Kennedy Takes A Swim,” LATimes.com ( with video: “Bill Beebe Reflects on His 1962 JFK Image”), May 13, 2011.

Scott Harrison, “Swimming With John F. Kennedy,” LATimes.com, December 12, 2012.

Kitty Kelly, Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys, New York: Thomas Dunne/St Martin’s Press, 2012, pp. 134-135.

“Kennedy One Year Later,” Look (magazine), cover story, January 2, 1960.

“The Golden Years of Camelot: Intimate Photos of the Kennedy White House Capture Strolls Across the South Lawn, Golf Cart Rides and Playtime on Marine One,” Daily Mail (London), November, 13, 2012.


Inside the Kennedy White House

When Barack Obama moved into the White House, many felt a sense of optimism despite the vast challenges facing America. Such feelings, naturally, recalled January of 1961 when, on a bright, frozen Washington morning, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated, declaring that “the torch has been passed to a new generation – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.”

It wasn’t just Kennedy’s speech, youth and good looks that gave people a reason to feel optimistic. It was also the undeniable history of the occasion. Kennedy was the descendant of an Irish Famine survivor and America’s first Catholic president.

So, awareness of this “ancient heritage” was inevitably going to trickle down and change the kinds of people at the center of American power.

As a trailblazer himself, Kennedy opened doors for those who might otherwise not have made it to the corridors of power. Specifically, Irish American Catholics played a central role in early 1960s Washington. Who were these movers and shakers who were so close to Kennedy, so Hibernian in background and temperament that they came to be called “the Irish mafia”?

The Irish “Murphia”

Of course, there had been Irish powerbrokers in Washington before Kennedy. Both James Farley and Thomas (the Cork) Corcoran were close aides to Franklin Roosevelt, while Mike Mansfield (the son of Irish immigrants) was elected to the Senate the same year JFK became president. However, the Irish – even when they achieved great power in New York, Boston and Chicago – generally ruled over their native cities, rather than Washington. All that changed with JFK’s election in 1960.

The most prominent Irish Americans surrounding Kennedy were David Francis Powers, Dick Donahue, Kenneth O’Donnell and Lawrence O’Brien, a quartet of political wizards who were aiding JFK long before he ran for president. When you also consider that JFK’s brother, Bobby, was one of his closest aides (and his Attorney General), as well as the informal advice often given to JFK by his father, Joe Sr., you see why it was whispered that Kennedy presided over an “Irish Mafia” – or “Murphia,” as Jackie Kennedy once called them. (Kennedy confidant and biographer Theodore Sorensen once commented that despite the jovial nature of the term, the group actually disliked the term “Irish Mafia,” at least initially.)
“Powers” That Be

David Powers was the son of Irish immigrants from Cork who settled in Charleston, Massachusetts. Always humble, Powers once said he was merely “a newsboy who met a president,” referring to a childhood job. Powers – “Boston to his fingertips,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Irish in America – first worked for Kennedy in 1946, when JFK ran for Congress.

Powers “was recruited to add a sense of working-class realism to what the Harvard-educated Kennedy feared might be perceived as his own lace-curtain credentials as a political candidate,” the Washington Post once noted. Powers himself once said: “While Jack Kennedy was a completely new type of Irish politician himself, having come from such a different background, he was, at bottom, very Irish and he could never hear enough of the old Irish stories.”

Meanwhile, in recent years, Kenny O’Donnell’s legacy has grown in prominence, thanks in part to the Hollywood film Thirteen Days. Based on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film’s star was Kevin Costner who portrayed (you guessed it) Kenny O’Donnell, who tries to mediate between the “hawks” and “doves” in Kennedy’s inner circle. (For what it’s worth, Defense Secretary Bob McNamara later commented that O’Donnell’s role in the movie was “totally fictional.”)

O’Donnell also was from Massachusetts (Worcester). His father was a legendary Holy Cross football coach. Thanks to the GI Bill, O’Donnell attended Harvard where he met Bobby Kennedy, who became his roommate. O’Donnell and the Kennedys “couldn’t gain acceptance into any of the elite clubs because of (their) religion,” Thomas Maier writes in his excellent book The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings.

Finally, there’s Lawrence O’Brien, whose parents came from Cork. They were a deeply political family. Young Lawrence proudly recalled shaking the hand of Al Smith, when, in 1928, Smith was the first Catholic to run for president as a major party candidate. In 1952, O’Brien served as director for JFK’s Senate run, and was seen as so integral to Kennedy’s victory, that he was a natural to join JFK when he set his eyes on The White House.

The Election

The big question during the 1960 presidential race was whether Americans would elect a Catholic for president. If Kennedy’s Irish inner circle didn’t know this initially, they learned it quickly at a meeting in West Virginia. O’Brien, O’Donnell and Bobby Kennedy asked local voters to discuss any problems the Kennedys might face. A man stood up and said: “There’s only one problem. He’s a Catholic. That’s our goddamned problem.” O’Donnell later recalled: “(RFK) seemed to be in a state of shock. His face was pale as ashes.”
Of course, the campaign overcame this issue and won – in no small part thanks to the campaign’s Irish advisers. O’Brien was even put on the cover of Time magazine in September of 1961. “To the Kennedy team, O’Brien was and is more than a skillful political organizer. He has the experience and understanding to serve as a bridge between the Democratic Old Guard and the New Frontier,” the magazine noted.

“The bright, eager young men around Jack Kennedy have always baffled and often offended the (old machine) Skeffingtons of Massachusetts but Larry O’Brien can talk to politicians in their own language and win them over,” Time said.

Bobby Kennedy added: “He was the essential transition man for us with the Old Guard.”

O’Donnell, meanwhile, more or less controlled access to Kennedy, whose press secretary Pierre Salinger once dubbed O’Donnell the most powerful man on Kennedy’s staff. Another observer said O’Donnell – nicknamed “the Cobra” for the tight grip he had on access to the president – was Kennedy’s “political right hand, troubleshooter, expediter and devil’s advocate.”

Thirteen Days might have blurred the line between fact and fiction, but Kennedy’s Irish advisers did have a front row seat for the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
In one conversation with Powers, JFK pondered the vast questions of life and death.“Dave, we have had a full life,” Kennedy said, adding that he feared most for the lives of his children. On the brighter side of the Kennedy years, there was his famous trip to Ireland.

Interestingly, according to Maier’s book, Kenneth O’Donnell was not exactly sentimental.“It would be a waste of time,” he said, noting that the Cold War remained a demanding issue, and that civil rights also needed to be dealt with. “You’ve got all the Irish votes in this country that you’ll ever get. If you go to Ireland, people will say it’s just a pleasure trip.”
JFK responded: “Kenny, let me remind you of something. I am the President of the United States, not you. When I say I want to go to Ireland, it means that I’m going to Ireland. Make the arrangements.”

November 1963

Sadly, having been there for the historic moments of JFK’s brief presidency, the Irish Mafia was also there when it ended. Powers was actually in the car behind Kennedy when he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Powers even helped remove Kennedy’s body from the car. One observer, in Maier’s book, noted that the diverse cultural groups in Kennedy’s inner circle reacted to his death in different ways. “The Irish were having a wake, the Protestants were at a funeral, and the Jews were weeping and carrying on.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that as conspiracies have come to surround JFK’s death, the Irish Americans are said to have played a role in that, too.

After Kennedy was declared dead, doctors reportedly wanted to perform an autopsy in Texas. It has been said, however, that O’Donnell forcefully persuaded doctors to allow the autopsy to instead take place in Washington, raising questions about the accuracy of the procedure. Either way, O’Donnell took the death of Jack – and, in 1968, Bobby – very hard. He fell under the sway of alcohol and was just 54 when he died in 1977. His daughter Helen O’Donnell later wrote a book entitled A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O’Donnell.

Powers, meanwhile, became a driving force behind the JFK Library and Museum in Boston. He served as curator when it opened in 1979, and retired in 1994, before dying at the age of 85 in 1998. Finally, O’Brien became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1968, and later was targeted for investigation by Richard Nixon. O’Brien later left politics and became commissioner of the National Basketball Association, before dying in 1990 at the age of 73.

“The Irish,” JFK once said to O’Donnell, “do seem to have an art for government.” The president then paused, considered his company, and added: “Perhaps we are both prejudiced.”


Watch the video: VALORES HUMANOS NO TRABALHO - Ken ODonnell (May 2022).