As luck would have it, Big Freddy and I appeared at the door of our favorite eatery at the same time, and I said, “Apres vous, mon cher Gascon,” and he said, “Mercy bean,” as he forged ahead.
“The word is ‘bien,’ as in ‘much’” I said.
“Whatever,’’ he said as he waved at the waitress and headed for our booth where he parked his umbrella and settled in.
“You’re grumpy this morning,” I said as I wedged my into my seat.
“Not grumpy - just remembering what might have been if Oswald had missed killing Kennedy,” Freddy said.
“After half a century, and it’s still bothering you?” I asked.
“Why not?” Freddy said. “All that promise from one of our generation? Sixteen million of us settling in after fighting a really worldwide war, and one of us in the White House gets taken out by a back shooter just when he was getting us rolling?”
“Toward what?” I asked.
“Better than what we had,” Freddy said.
“Vietnam? Kennedy was already checking it out because of what was beginning to happen there, but we weren’t sending troops there when he was murdered.
“Johnson takes over big time, we lose something like 50,000 with no end in sight, and he throws in the towel after one term as President to Nixon whose so-called plan to get us out of there without egg on our faces goes haywire before we wind up cutting and running.”
“Well, I take your meaning for what it is despite you overlooking what both Johnson and Nixon contributed on the plus side,” I said.
“Johnson’s a loser and Nixon’s a liar, and both go home with black marks on their presidencies,’’ Freddy said.
“But you don’t have a clue as to what it would have been like if Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated,” I said. “You don’t even know if he could have won a second term.”
“What I do know is how he swallowed our loss in Cuba, but stood up to the Soviets big time,’ Freddy said. “What I do know is that our generation was loaded with men and women who had fought the greatest war the world had every seen, either in the armed forces or in the factories and on the farms that brought America together as it had never been.
“Jack Kennedy was a legitimate part of that as a first class hero who saved his men, took on all comers and won the presidency even as the first Roman Catholic to hold that office when the country was still tied in knots -- north to south -- over that.”
“What I do know is he was a breath of fresh air in post war Germany, where he declared himself and not incidentally this country as an ally to the nation we had just whipped in its struggle with the Soviets and us.”
“Well, I give you that, but how do you relate that to where we were at the time of his death,” I asked.
“He brought us together post war by showing we could be better than were,” Freddy said. “He was a breath of fresh air for the young before they got strung out on dope and whatever helped them escape from wherever, starting with the mess we were in so bad that Johnson had to quit.”
“Well, we weren’t exactly on that ‘City on the Hill’ path his handlers were reaching for when he was killed,” I said.
“But there was hope we could get there, and that went down the drain with the generations that followed ours,” Freddy said.
“No matter what Johnson did accomplish, or others that followed have -- here we are in debt up to the ears for our grandchildren to deal with while we’re still trying to make the Muddled East into something it doesn’t want any part of while Obama says we’re all through with that except we have to keep troops there long after he ends his second term.”
“Look at what we just celebrated. The lives and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln after 150 years of his murder, and 50 years of John F. Kennedy’s and ask yourself what we really lost if it wasn’t promise of what we could and should be as a nation pulling together instead of one divided against itself.”
You remember what Lincoln said about that?”
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” I said.
“Right, and here we are with a House divided one way and a Senate divided the other way, and no one around that comes close to what Lincoln and Kennedy were all about.” Freddy said.
Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.