Category Archives: John F. Kennedy

BOOK REVIEWS: “Upstairs at the White House” and “Backstairs at the White House”

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West (1973), Warner Books
My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House by Lillian Rogers Parks (1961), Fleet Publishing
Reviewed by Gregory Hilton
Margaret (Maggie) Rogers could not afford a babysitter so she often took her daughter to work. She was a maid and her daughter Lillian would follow her from room to room as she did her daily cleaning. One afternoon she was told to turn down the bed in the master bedroom. As soon as Mrs. Rogers finished, she was summoned to help the lady of the house with a dress fitting. Lillian, 9, was told to stay behind in the bedroom. Continue reading

Trivia Questions About the First Ladies by Gregory Hilton

1) Which brilliant First Lady used her own money to send 46 disadvantaged young people to college? The press never knew of her generosity and neither did her husband. He only discovered what she had done after her death. Continue reading

50 Years Ago Today: The First Kennedy/Nixon Debate

Opening statement of Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-MA):
“In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half-slave or half-free. In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half-slave or half-free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. . . The kind of strength we build in the United States will be the defense of freedom. . . If we fail, then freedom fails. . . . Continue reading

50 Years Ago Today: John F. Kennedy Accepts Democratic Nomination and Launches the New Frontier

"The old era is ending. The old ways will not do. One-third of the world may be free, but one-third is the victim of a cruel repression, and the other third is rocked by poverty, hunger and disease. "Communist influence has penetrated into Asia; it stands in the Middle East; and now festers some ninety miles off the coast of Florida. . . Our ends will not be won by rhetoric, and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves." - Senator John F. Kennedy, July 15, 1960

It was 50 years ago today that Senator John F. Kennedy (MA) accepted the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. He defeated Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) who had entered the race only one week before the convention. In responding to Johnson’s accusation, Kennedy denied having Addison’s disease, but it was later proven to be true. Kennedy had defeated liberal Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) in the primaries, and Johnson never came close to derailing Kennedy’s nomination. Continue reading

The Missile and Bomber Gaps: The Grand Deceptions of the 1960 Presidential Campaign by Gregory Hilton

Today in 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower gave his farewell address. The best known portion is when the departing President warned “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Continue reading

Back by Popular Demand: More Presidential Trivia by Gregory Hilton

1) A woman taking a tour of the White House was unexpectedly introduced to the President. He asked her to stay for tea and proposed marriage two months later. Who was her husband?

2) Why did Secret Service agents always want to avoid shopping trips with Mamie Eisenhower? For the same reason they did not want to accept gifts from Mrs. Eisenhower. They were not reluctant to watch her favorite soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” and to tell her about the plot when she was called away.

3) Why did Lynda and Luci Johnson carry flashlights in their bathrobes? Luci converted to the Roman Catholic faith while she was in the White House. Lynda had the first White House wedding in 53 years.

4) During her time as First Lady, how many states west of the Potomac River were visited by Jacqueline Kennedy?

5) Why did President Johnson’s 1965 party in honor of the U.S. Congress, which included several Hollywood stars, begin at 2 am?

6) Vice President Alben Barkley was elected in 1948 but he was not President Harry Truman’s first choice. Who was originally asked to be Truman’s running mate?

7) White House servants noted several significant differences between Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Can you name one of them? It had nothing to do with FDR’s disability.

8) Which President attended 6 Inaugural Balls, but despite pleas from the crowd never danced at any of them? He is the only President who always visited the basement level kitchen after formal events to thank the staff. The answer is not FDR who was unable to dance.

9) Which President never joined any church until after his election? He later said many important decisions were made “on his knees,” and in recent years he has been criticized for combining church and state.

10) President and Mrs. James Monroe enjoyed entertaining and there were frequent Wednesday evening parties at the White House. How did they avoid party crashers?

11) Dwight Eisenhower had never heard of Mrs. Thomas Preston when she was seated next to him at a dinner party. They discussed life in DC and he asked her where she had lived in the nation’s capitol. Mrs. Preston was a resident of the White House for 8 years when she was First Lady. Who was her husband?

12) Why was Ronald Reagan sworn in as Governor of California at midnight?
1) Woodrow Wilson. The first Mrs. Wilson died in 1914 and he was introduced to Edith Bolling Galt when she was taking a tour of the family quarters in 1915. She was waiting by the elevator when the President emerged after his tennis game. The second Mrs. Wilson died on the morning of December 28, 1961 at the age of 89. It was the day she was scheduled to officially open the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River.
2) Mrs. Eisenhower always asked her agents to buy presents for their wives when she was shopping. She could be rather insistent, and she wanted to see what they had purchased. Her gifts were often intended for their wives, and she frequently asked the agents to buy something that would go with it. For example, she would give the agent a bracelet and ask him to buy his wife a ring to accompany her gift. It was expensive for the agents to provide security for Mamie Eisenhower!
3) The Johnson girls carried flashlights because their father insisted on keeping all the overhead lights turned off. It was part of his economy drive, but household costs still increased significantly under LBJ. The big factor was that the White House was no longer able to use bootleg liquor. This was liquor which has been confiscated by the federal government.
4) Mrs. Kennedy frequently took a White House helicopter to her rented “Glen Ora” estate in northern Virginia for horseback riding in 1961. The family built their own estate, “Wexford,” in 1962, but President Kennedy only visited his home on three weekends. He preferred Camp David.
Ironically, Ronald Reagan spent more time at Wexford than John Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy also visited nearby Middleburg and other Virginia hunt country destinations. Until she left for Dallas in 1963, those were the only times she crossed the Potomac River. She never ventured west of northern Virginia prior to that fateful day.
5) The party started late because Congress was in session and LBJ did not want to begin until the House had passed the Lady Bird Johnson Highway Beautification Act which banned billboards on interstate highways.
6) Truman’s first choice for Vice President was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who turned him down because he thought the President would lose the 1948 election. Douglas had also been FDR’s first choice in 1944.
7) The Truman’s not only remembered names of all the servants but they insisted on introducing the staff to all of their guests. When the waiter brought tea to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, he was introduced to the royal couple. The Truman’s dined together and were often in the same room in the evening hours. That does not appear unusual, but no one could remember Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt being in the same room.
8) Richard Nixon. He did dance at his daughter’s wedding.
9) Dwight Eisenhower, who was responsible for adding “In God We Trust” to the currency.
10) A party crasher would not have had a problem in meeting President Monroe. The butler’s were told to admit anyone who was suitably dressed.
11) The first husband of Mrs. Thomas Preston was President Grover Cleveland. The dinner is described in “At Ease: Stories I Tell to My Friends” by Dwight Eisenhower.
12) Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer, Joan of San Francisco, said midnight would be the best time for an Inauguration.
13) This 1927 photo was taken during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Changed the World by Gregory Hilton

Many of my friends are associated with fundraising activities for Special Olympics or Best Buddies. Mrs. Shriver has left us but we will never forget her. Hero’s such as Mrs. Shriver are rare not because any single deed was so amazing, but because the culmination of her work changed the world forever. To the Shriver family, thank you for sharing her with us for so many years. She obviously loved her work but she loved you the most.
Jacqueline Kennedy said “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” By her yardstick, Eunice Shriver’s life was a tremendous success. Mrs. Shriver’s stories were wonderful and she was kind to share memories with us. She was a participant in events I could only read about.
In charitable organizations it is common to work closely with people who have a different political outlook. That was obviously true of Mrs. Shriver, and while we did not agree, her observations were always insightful. Our first conversation was in early June of 1992 when Bill Clinton was running third in the polls behind George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. I thought Clinton was a certain loser, but Mrs. Shriver had far more wisdom.
I watched her funeral on C-Span and they re-played some of Mrs. Shriver’s outstanding speeches from the past. Maria Shriver’s eulogy was well done and all four of her son’s head up non-profit organizations.
Mrs. Shriver’s work lives on through Save The Children, Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“When the full judgment on the Kennedy legacy is made — including JFK’s Peace Corps, Robert Kennedy’s passion for civil rights and Ted Kennedy’s efforts on health care — the changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential,” Harrison Rainie, author of “Growing Up Kennedy,” U.S. News & World Report.
“She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others.” – The Washington Post
Michael Barone of AEI: “The Shriver’s took the advantages they had in life, and their disappointments as well, and created two great institutions which will live on and serve people and enrich America for many years to come. The Peace Corps and Special Olympics share an important characteristic: they encourage and enable people to do things that they and those around them might have thought impossible.
“Peace Corps volunteers are empowered to spend two years living and working in a foreign country. Special Olympics participants are empowered to achieve measurable goals. Both teach the lesson that we can exceed limits that seem imposed on us.
“All of us should shed a tear for Eunice Shriver, and for Sargent Shriver too, a tear of happiness and gratitude for what they have given their country and the world.”
“She used her influence not to advance her own interests but to help others, to open a world of new possibilities to a population that had been confined to silence and darkness. Her legacy lives on in the millions of people she empowered to strive on the field of competition and beyond — and to be brave in the attempt.” – The Washington Post

Jacqueline Kennedy Left us 15 Years Ago Today by Gregory Hilton

Jacqueline Kennedy During the White House Years

Jacqueline Kennedy During the White House Years

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy. Her major legacy as First Lady was the restoration project and many items of historical significance were missing from the White House when she arrived.
She was never frugal with her own money, but the taxpayers can thank her. She was criticized for extravagance and the wall paper in the family dining room did cost $12,000. However, Mrs. Kennedy solicited private donations and she did not rely on government funding.
We can also thank her for creating the first White House Guide Book which funds the White House Historical Association. Her decision to avoid government funding was wise, and she is also responsible for the creation of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a permanent Curator of the White House, the White House Endowment Trust, and the White House Acquisition Trust.
Mrs. Kennedy was only 31 when she became First Lady and she was a definite asset to United States foreign policy. She was very highly regarded in France, where she had studied and learned the language. Tours of India and Pakistan would follow, much documented at the time, where Jackie and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, meet the leaders of both nations. She did enhance America’s image and she fostered our foreign policy goals.

Back to the Cold War: Did the U.S. Push Castro and Ortega into the arms of the Soviet Union by Gregory Hilton

Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega in Managua in 1985.

Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega in Managua in 1985.

Back to the Cold War: Did the U.S. Push Castro and Ortega into the arms of the Soviet Union by Gregory Hilton–A myth continues to circulate in leftist circles that the United States pushed both Cuba and Nicaragua into the arms of the Soviet Union. Sandinista supporters claim this happened because of embargoes and the cut off of medical, humanitarian and food aid.
The problem with the myth is that it conflicts with public statements of Castro and the Sandinista leaders. The FSLN was founded in 1961 by Carlos Fonseca, who always described himself as a Communist. In discussing the origins of the FSLN, Fonseca said it was “a successor to the Bolshevik Revolution. . . the ideals of Lenin are the guiding star in the struggle in which the revolutionaries in Nicaragua are waging.”
Human rights was the focal point of President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, and he made no secret of his opposition to the Somoza government. He clearly wanted the Nicaraguan opposition to be successful, and Carter imposed a ban on arms sales to Nicaragua during his first week in office. This was later over turned by the U.S. Congress, but President Carter was able to accomplish it through an executive order. In the FY 1979 budget submitted by the Carter Administration, Nicaragua would be listed as the only nation denied the right to purchase military equipment.
The U.S. government also vetoed funding for Nicaragua from the World Bank, the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank. Nicaragua was entitled to a $20 million line of credit at the IMF, but American opposition stopped it. The biggest blow was denying Somoza money from coffee and beef exports. The United States was able to work with the OAS to stop all cargo ships from entering Nicaraguan waters.
If the promises made by the FSLN during the civil war had been implemented it would have been a clear victory for Carter’s human rights campaign. Carter needed a success for his 1980 re-election where he was vulnerable on foreign policy issues after the seizure of hostages in Iran, the failure of SALT II and the setbacks to detente because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The U.S. embargo on Cuba is still in effect, but few nations have adhered to our action, and today America is the only country to maintain the embargo. Cuba can trade with everyone else. Fidel Castro has never said we pushed him away. He maintains that he was a communist going back to 1954. The USSR and Chairman Mao are gone, eastern Europe is no longer behind the Iron Curtain, Vietnam has adopted a free market, but Castro has not changed his ideology.
The situation in Nicaragua is equally clear and the FSLN was supported by the USSR well before they achieved power. The United States provided funding during the Somoza era to opposition labor unions and newspapers. America was also an active participant in the Nicaraguan power transfer process, including negotiations with the FSLN government in exile when they were based in neighboring Costa Rica.
America did stop arms shipments to Somoza, but the U.S. did not stop arms shipments to the FSLN from Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama or Venezuela. Venezuela was providing the funding, Soviet bloc equipment was sent through Cuba and transshipped on flights to Panama and later to the FSLN bases in Costa Rica.
The civil war began in September of 1978 but by the summer of 1979 the Somoza ammunition stockpile was almost depleted. The major reason Somoza’s National Guard stopped fighting was because they ran out of ammunition. An Israeli ship filled with 50 caliber ammunition and mortars was close to the coast of Nicaragua in June when the Carter Administration was able to cancel the order and the ship turned around. Somoza later wrote “This one ship could have easily turned the tide of the war.”
Nicaragua had not made a significant purchase of modern military equipment since 1957, and the arms used by the FSLN were far superior to Somoza’s National Guard. The Somoza government had a very small air force and navy, and their army lacked anti-tank and anti-personnnel grenades.
The four Somoza tanks were out dated and knocked out immediately by Chinese made RPG rockets. The same rockets caused havoc at National Guard installations. The sentries stationed at check points throughout Managua held automatic weapons but they were without ammunition. The FSLN also made effective use of French bazookas, Belgian mortars and hand grenades.
The Organization of American States passed a resolution on June 23, 1979 which demanded Somoza’s resignation. After that, any arms sale was impossible, and it would not have mattered because the government no longer had significant dollar reserves. No one would accept the Nicaraguan currency and payment had to be made in dollars.
With the advance approval of the FSLN, the US allowed General Somoza and members of his government to seek exile in Miami. On the afternoon of his arrival in Miami, Somoza was told by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher that he would have to leave the U.S. because his supporters in Managua were not cooperating. Somoza left after two days and was assassinated in Paraguay the next year.
The Carter Administration immediately recognized the new FSLN government and provided them with $10.5 million in aid which originally had been intended for Somoza before it was frozen. This was followed by emergency assistance of $8.8 million, $75 million in foreign aid and 100,000 tons of food in the first two years. Daniel Ortega was invited to the White House, and America had the power to block World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank assistance to the FSLN, but this did not happen.
These actions were taken despite the fact that the FSLN repeatedly lied to American negotiators. The only condition requested by the Carter Administration was a pledge from the FSLN to stop arms transfers to the FMLN in El Salvador. This did not happen and when the arms shipments increased many Democrats in the U.S. Congress urged a cut off in further aid to the Sandinista government.
President Carter took this step 12 days before he left office, and President Ronald Reagan froze all aid to Nicaragua two days after his Inauguration. Reagan’s action was reported in the news media as a continuation of Carter’s policy.
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the current Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has said “True to its revolutionary beliefs, the Sandinista leadership was more interested in promoting revolution in Central America than in cultivating better relations with the United States. . . With close ties to Fidel Castro, the Sandinista leaders went about the task of setting up a regime modeled on that of their mentor. They invoked press censorship, established a powerful secret police, mounted systematic attacks on the church, and built up a large military force.
“In a little over a year in power the Sandinista popular army was the largest in Central America, having grown from 5,000 to at least 24,000 men. All this, it should be noted, came about prior to the Contra insurgency. In fact it was these policies that contributed to the rise of an armed resistance movement, soon to be known as the Contras. ”
In May 1983, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence confirmed this point. It noted that: “A major portion of the arms and other material sent by Cuba and other Communist countries to the Salvadoran insurgents transits Nicaragua with the permission and assistance of the Sandinistas. . . . The Salvadoran insurgents rely on the use of sites in Nicaragua, some of which are located in Managua itself, for communications, command-and-control, and for the logistics to conduct their financial, material, and propaganda activities.”
In August of 1981, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders went to Managua to meet with the Junta. He promised a very generous aid package and no support for any opposition groups in return for one promise — a complete halt in arms shipments to the FMLN which was actively making progress in its effort to overthrow El Salvador’s government.
The American offer was rejected. Sergio Ramirez of the Junta told Enders: “Today we have revolutionary Nicaragua and revolutionary Cuba. Tomorrow we will have revolutionary Salvador.” Four months later the first $20 million in funding was approved for the Contras. Their first assignment was to stop arms shipments into El Salvador, and this was not a covert program.
In announcing it Reagan said: “Our purpose is to prevent the flow of arms [from Nicaragua] to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica.”
The U.S. Congress passed the Boland Amendment in May of 1985 which barred funding to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. The legislation was overturned in July of 1986 when Congress approved. $100 million in lethal and nonlethal assistance for the Nicaraguan resistance. Military success on the ground for the Contras was undermined by political scandal in Washington. In November 1986 the Iran-Contra affair broke. All efforts by the administration to build public support for its policy toward Nicaragua came to a halt. The momentum for continued military assistance to the resistance fighters was lost. This was confirmed in early February 1988 when by a vote of 219-211 the House of Representatives voted against further military assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance.
If the military pressure of the Nicaraguan resistance helped force the ruling Sandinista regime to agree to hold elections, equally significant was the economic embargo the United States placed upon Nicaragua in May 1985. Those sanctions on top of earlier Sandinista mismanagement of the economy took a heavy toll. By 1989, Nicaragua had been brought to economic disaster with widespread poverty, widespread shortages of consumer goods, an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, and an inflation rate of 36,000 percent, a world record.
It was obvious the Sandinista revolution had never benefited the poor. In fact, the opposite is true–the revolution benefited the ruling elite at the expense of everyone else in the country. The experience of Nicaraguans replicated the experience of the peoples of Eastern Europe who suffered under 40 years of Communist misrule. The people of Nicaragua knew who had made them poor by wasting resources on unproductive state enterprises in addition to the mansions and luxury automobiles for the commandantes.