THIRTY-FOUR

John F. Kennedy
1961-63

When John F. Kennedy ( 1917-63) took the oath of office on January 20, 1961, he was, at forty-three, the youngest man ever elected President. He was also one of the wittiest. To a friend he once gave a silver beer mug with the following inscription on it:

There are three things which are real:

God, human folly and laughter.

The first two are beyond our comprehension

So we must do what we can with the third. 1

Kennedy's wit was not folksy like Lincoln's. It was plainer, directer, more urbane. But like Lincoln's it sometimes had ironic overtones and was wryly self-deprecating. And like Lincoln, JFK was bored by self-righteousness, false humility, and garrulousness. "It's a gift," said Arthur Krock. "He doesn't know how to be stuffy."2

Kennedy served in the navy during World War II. He was proud of his war record but never bragged about it. "Mr. President," a high school boy once asked him, "how did you become a war hero?" "It was absolutely involuntary," Kennedy responded. "They sank my boat." 3 Interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on television in the late 1950s, he called it "an interesting experience.""Interesting," murmured Murrow. "I should think that would be one of the great understatements."4 There has been some disagreement as to how much of a war hero Kennedy was during World War II, but this

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