The birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. did not affect me a great deal. I tended to be somewhat apolitical in those days of 1960, and my occupation at the time — first grade — was usurping all my available energies, including the ones with which I was hoping to dazzle the lovely Dolle Pulaski, who, had she even known the time of day, certainly couldn't be bothered to give it to me. Nonetheless, come the following January, when JFK, Sr. moved his brood into the White House, I noted that this President seemed to have Actual Kids, something I'd never have imagined of, say, James K. Polk.

Of course, in the fall of 1963 everything changed, at the speed of an assassin's bullet. There are few more indelible images of the death of President Kennedy — indeed, of anything in this half of the twentieth century — than that of little John-John, just turning three, giving a final salute to his fallen father. We didn't know it at the time, but we had already taken John Jr. to heart. For a generation growing up on television, we had an icon who literally was, well, growing up on television; whatever he did, date a starlet or botch a bar exam, was news.

When NBC's Robert Hager broke the story of the little Piper Saratoga that had disappeared into the fog somewhere over Long Island Sound this month, it should have surprised no one that all eyes would turn John's way once more. The Kennedys have always had detractors, even enemies, for any number of reasons, some of them reasonable, and there was grumbling from some mean-spirited folks (myself included) that there wouldn't be this much coverage if, for instance, Jeb Bush had been eaten by an alligator; at a Pentagon briefing, an NBC correspondent asked whether the Coast Guard would pull out all the stops for plane crashes involving ordinary people; the spirits of TWA Flight 800, which went down three years earlier in the same area, were duly invoked.

And when it was all said and done, not a whole lot new was said, and nothing new was done. John, his wife Carolyn, and Carolyn's sister Lauren were given a ritual burial at sea, and the media moved on to the next item of ostensible interest. Friends of mine were amazed that there was so much television coverage. I can only wonder where they were during the passing of Diana in 1997.

The Vent

25 July 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill