Friday, November 29, 2013

John-John's Salute: Promise Unfulfilled

I watched President Kennedy's funeral on Monday, the viewing as somber in 2013 as it surely was 50 years ago. November 25, 1963 was a national day of mourning — no work, no school.  I played tag with grade school friends and roller skated the neighborhood as the events unfolded in Washington. I also remember wishing I could see the funeral but our family TV was broken. Thanks to this week's retro coverage on, I finally did.

The Kennedy funeral was a uniquely American blend of pageantry and simplicity. We're talking about the President of the United States, so a certain protocol and decorum were required. And yet, this was not the funeral of a king or emperor, with the pomp and circumstance of royalty. The President is elected from the people and for the people. In life and in death, he is one of us, and we have a right, no, an obligation to honor our President when he departs from this world. Still, there was cruel irony in the fact that it was John Kennedy's accessibility that got him killed.

An estimated 250,000 people filed past President Kennedy's casket as he lied in state under the Capitol Rotunda. More than 300,000 lined the streets of Washington as the funeral procession made its way around the city. 93 percent of America saw the funeral of television, the largest viewing audience ever recorded to that point.

There is something to be said about how the time between death and funeral is so important to a grieving family. From personal experience, I know the planning, the creative remembering, and the preparations keep the family busy and focused during a very difficult time. Mrs. Kennedy is to be commended for putting together, in a stunningly brief time, a funeral that went a long way in helping America to heal.

There are elements about the funeral that are forever seared into the collective memory of the Boomer generation: the simple and stark Rotunda service, as Mrs. Kennedy and daughter Carolyn knelt and kissed the flag-draped casket while soldiers stood at attention and wept; the clop-clop of the six white horses as they led the wheeled caisson that bore the casket while the military color guard followed, bearing the flags of the United States and the Presidential seal; feisty Black Jack, the riderless horse modeled after a similar equine who marched in Abraham Lincoln's funeral; the mournful tunes of the military bands and bagpipe brigades, whose drummers twirled their mallets with impressive precision. And then there was that funeral beat the drummers played to fill out the silence between band numbers. It echoed hauntingly throughout the streets of Washington:

Brrrrr rum-pum-pum.
Brrrrr rum-pum-pum.
Brrrrr rum-pum-puddy-bum. . .

I was fascinated to see how President Kennedy's funeral liturgy was conducted in 1963, exactly one year before Mass in English was promulgated in the United States under the mandate of the Second Vatican Council. The Latin Mass was rarely televised in the early Sixties, and there it was in all its glory. The majority of dignitaries packed into St. Matthew's Cathedral were probably not Catholic and were surely puzzled by a liturgy they could not understand. But for Catholics in the cathedral and watching on television, the Mass was a source of solace and consolation.

Mrs. Kennedy asked family friend Richard Cardinal Cushing to celebrate a Low Requiem Mass instead of the customary High Mass celebrated in parishes during a funeral. She was probably concerned that the length of a High Mass, where just about everything is sung in proper sequence, might be too much for the non-Catholics. There was usually no singing at a Low Mass but in those pre-Council days music could be sung "to foster the devotion of the faithful" throughout the liturgy. Interestingly, there was no requirement at Low Mass to match the music to the ritual action.

For example, at the Kennedy Funeral Mass, a soloist sang Schubert's "Ave Maria" during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the pre-Council version of today's Penitential Act. The Schubert composition was so long that it spilled over into the Epistle, which was read quietly by the cardinal in Latin and not proclaimed as readings are today. "Dies Irae," the Gregorian chant funeral masterpiece, was sung during the Gospel!

English was heard only twice at the President's funeral Mass: during a planned post-Communion reflection by Auxiliary Bishop Philip M. Hannan in which he quoted Kennedy's Inaugural Address; and during the rite of Final Commendation, when Cardinal Cushing spontaneously departed from the official Latin text and proclaimed the words in English, his voice shaking with emotion.

"May the angels, dear Jack, lead you into Paradise. May the martyrs receive you at your coming. May the Spirit of God embrace you, and mayest thou, with all those who made the supreme sacrifice of dying for others, receive eternal rest and peace. Amen."

Throughout that weekend of shock and heartache, Mrs. Kennedy was a model of composure. Surely, of all people, she deserved to be beside herself in grief. She cradled her husband's bloody head on her lap, after all. Yet, there she was on national television, quietly leading a grieving nation with poise and dignity.

Perhaps the most iconic image of the weekend was the President's son, little John-John, whose 3rd birthday was that very funeral day. At the conclusion of the liturgy, as the family and the funeral cortege departed from the cathedral, the worldwide audience was deeply moved by a touching and unforgettable moment. Author William Manchester captured it well in his 1967 book, The Death of a President.

It lasted but an instant. The momentum of the pageant had caught them up again, and even as Mrs. Kennedy put John to her left, in front of the Attorney General, the band struck up "Hail to the Chief." This was the last time it would be played for President Kennedy. Soldiers snapped from parade rest to present arms. Officers, policemen, and the lead rider of the matched grays saluted. The clergy folded hands; laymen straightened. Jacqueline Kennedy, remembering how the boy loved to play soldiers with his father, leaned over and said, "John, you can salute Daddy now and say good-bye to him."

The small right hand rose stiffly. Behind him Robert Kennedy's face crinkled in pain, and Bishop Hannan, glancing across the street, saw the spectators there crumple as though struck. Of all Monday's images, nothing approached the force of John's salute. Mrs. Kennedy, standing erect, missed it, and when she was shown the photographs afterward she was astounded. She had expected an unimpressive gesture; in the past his saluting had been both comic and, in her words, "sort of droopy."

But not now. Somehow the mood and meaning of the day had reached the President's son. His elbow was cocked at precisely the right angle, his hand was touching his shock of hair, his left arm was rigidly at his side, his shoulders were squared and his chin in. His bearing was militant, and to see it in a three-year-old, with his bare legs stiff below his short coat, his knees dimpled and his blunt red shoes side by side — to hear the slow swell of the music, and recall how the President had idolized him — was almost insupportable. Cardinal Cushing looked down on the small face. He saw the shadow of sadness crossing it and felt a burning sensation in his chest. Eight months later he could barely speak of it. "Oh, God," he whispered hoarsely, "I almost died."
Didn't we all?

John-John's iconic salute to his slain father. Cardinal Cushing is at far right, wearing biretta.

President Kennedy did not have the time to carve out a meaningful list of accomplishments during his all-too-brief tenure in office. And yet, his sudden unexpected death still haunts and defines my generation. Perhaps his legacy is one of promise unfulfilled. It would be up to our generation to keep Kennedy's fire burning, despite the sad repetition of death that would later visit upon his brother Bobby and even his own son John, Jr. If nothing else, President Kennedy inspired hope, and hope will never die.

"The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . and the glow from that fire can truly light the world . . ."

— Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy

Saturday, November 23, 2013


As mentioned in an earlier blog, my family's television set was broken on that unforgettable weekend of November 22, 1963. All we could do was tune in to the radio to stay on top of the continuing coverage of the assassination. I remember listening with my father to XTRA, the Los Angeles all-news station, just as Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base with the casket of the slain President. The Texas drawl of Lyndon Johnson was a striking change from the Boston brogue we had become accustomed to in the Kennedy years. The new President's words were reassuring but I could definitely hear the gravitas, even through my 10-year-old ears.

"I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask your help. . . and God's."

My family subscribed to the Herald-Examiner, LA's evening newspaper, and we opened it with eager expectation. On the front page was the now famous photo of a smiling President Kennedy and his beautiful wife Jackie, waving to the crowds from their limousine just moments before the cruel shots rang out. I read every word in the front-page story and read them again as a sickening feeling came over me. Since I admired Kennedy so much, perhaps it was just as well that our TV was broken. The continuing coverage would have only depressed me.

And it did, 50 years later. CBS News is showing the entire four-day coverage on their website, from assassination to funeral. Here was my chance to finally see what I missed as a child.

I meant to do some writing and other work as I watched but those plans quickly went out the window. It was just too absorbing.  TV news was raw and the technology still primitive in 1963, but it was there. The killing of Kennedy was the first national tragedy fully covered by television. The scrambling of the reporters for the latest updates, the grainy black-and-white images, the garbled sound and, most poignantly, Walter Cronkite's choked emotion as he announced the official news of the President's death — it was all quite riveting. I finally understood how the country came together as one on that fateful weekend. And I was beside myself in grief all over again, fifty years later.

Perhaps this was not such a good idea. After all, I live alone, with no one to share this experience with me. I found myself in tears as I watched Jackie's quiet composure, or as senators, congressmen and people on the street poured out their grief. I tried to connect with friends via email, texting and Facebook. But in the end, I was alone with my sorrow and heartbreak. A good man died fifty years ago, and I just relived that horrible day all over again.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

John F. Kennedy: American President (Catholic)

It is difficult for my younger friends to understand this, but there once was a very deep-seated anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States that can be traced back to the colonial era. Certainly, the natural animosity between Protestants and Catholics was carried over from Europe, an enmity born not only from religious differences but also from related political and class struggles. This was exacerbated by rulers who imposed one religion over the other, as King Henry VIII did in 1541 when he decreed the Church of England as the state religion of Ireland. The ensuing oppression and resistance festered over centuries. Mutual ill will became ingrained in succeeding generations.

The New World offered an appealing escape from religious oppression, a chance for a fresh start to rebuild a faith-based community unfettered by prejudice and misunderstanding. But as the colonial population mushroomed, those prejudices re-emerged. Such colonies as Virginia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island enacted legislation that restricted Catholic settlers or outlawed the practice of the Catholic faith. Edicts of toleration were eventually decreed during the Revolutionary period as the thirteen original colonies tried to find common ground together as the new United States of America.

But old prejudices died hard. Anti-Catholicism reached its peak in the nineteenth century as Protestant leaders became alarmed by a significant influx of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany. The parochial school system was developed as a way to foster Catholic and ethnic identity, even as it insulated Catholic youth from the influence of Protestant teachers and non-Catholic students. Catholic schools were eyed with suspicion by Protestant authorities who fought hard to strip public funding from these sectarian institutions.

The fear that “Catholics take orders from the pope” caused Protestants to question Catholics’ allegiance to the United States. This fear was especially evident during the presidential campaign of 1928 when Al Smith, a Catholic, became the Democratic Party’s candidate against Herbert Hoover, a Republican Quaker. Anti-Catholic rhetoric, enflamed by Ku Klux Klan involvement, played a large part in Smith’s defeat.

By 1960, Catholics had gained substantial ground in American society. Formerly an immigrant working class, Catholics had now reached the upper echelons of leadership in business, the military and politics, with Catholic CEOs, colonels, Congressmen and Senators. There remained one more barrier to break: a Catholic President. And when John Kennedy became the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, the old anti-Catholic prejudice once again raised its ugly head.

Americans had become more religiously tolerant since Al Smith’s 1928 campaign but Kennedy’s Catholicism still raised lingering doubts. Against the advice of his campaign managers, Kennedy took the issue head on by speaking to a group of Protestant ministers at a conference for the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960. Here is a partial video of Kennedy’s landmark speech:

Click here for the complete text of Kennedy's speech.

John Kennedy won against Richard Nixon with one of the narrowest margins of victory in the history of presidential elections (until George W. Bush’s victory in 2000). The Catholic vote may not have tipped the election in Kennedy’s favor but clearly the anti-Catholic vote was no longer a factor. Historians consider Kennedy’s election as a breakthrough that helped to thaw the icy relations between Protestants and Catholics in America.

President Kennedy visits Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, July 2, 1963.

Of course, as a child, history and politics were over my head. All I knew was that President Kennedy was a Catholic. I was just beginning to discover my own faith in a Church that continued to treat me well throughout my childhood. The President and I shared the same faith. That made me quite proud, and it made my sorrow at his murder all the more profound.

Friday, November 15, 2013

President Kennedy and Superman

Times have changed. The President of the United States is now the most vilified man in America, as evidenced by the way both Barack Obama and George W. Bush have been dragged across the mud by their political opponents. Seriously, why would anybody even want the job? But I digress.

It wasn’t that way in the early 1960s. President John F. Kennedy was respected not only by his own party but also by those who disagreed with his politics. The press even looked the other way when rumors circulated about Kennedy’s alleged affairs with other women, or about his alarming dependence on drugs and painkillers that he needed for his serious health problems. Nowadays, such issues would be fodder for the most salacious tabloid news. The Kennedy administration may have been the last to be treated deferentially by a media that had not yet grown its skeptical Watergate wings.

This aura of presidential respect extended even to children’s literature. President Kennedy made frequent appearances in the pages of Superman comic books. He would sometimes assign special missions to both Superman and his cousin Supergirl.

As time went on, Kennedy was portrayed as a personal friend of the Man of Steel, who entrusted the Chief Executive with the knowledge of his secret identity. Yes, President Kennedy knew that Clark Kent was Superman!

President Kennedy discusses his Campaign on Physical Fitness with Superman.

On one occasion, the President even disguised himself as Clark Kent so that Superman could appear on live TV with his alter ego! This foiled Lois Lane and Lana Lang, who were always trying to prove that Clark was Superman.

But don’t take MY word for it. Here is an excellent article that outlines the President’s many appearances in the pages of DC Comics:

Superman’s Pal, President Kennedy

The problem of this blurring of comic book fiction and reality is obvious. With all the power at Superman’s command, wouldn’t a President ask him to do more than just promote a physical fitness program for children? If there really were a Superman, chances are Kennedy would have asked him to round up the nuclear missiles in Cuba and blow the Soviet ships clear back across the Atlantic with his super-breath. But again, I digress.

As an avid comic book fan, I was delighted to read that my favorite superhero and my favorite President were good friends. Children of the early Sixties took solace in the notion that between Superman and President Kennedy, all was well and safe in our world. Alas, that fanciful idea was brutally shattered on November 22, 1963.

Next Blog: The Catholic President

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cuban Missile Crisis


If our teacher said this word, we were to immediately get under our desks, crouch down on our knees, lower our heads, and cover the back of our necks with our hands. Every generation has school fire drills but in the early 1960s we also had “drop drills.” Teachers in Los Angeles were instructed to say “Drop!” at any unexpected moment and students were obliged to respond accordingly.

Looking back now, this seems ludicrous — as if a school desk would adequately shelter a child from the devastation of a nuclear blast. But it made us feel better that there might be a possibility of survival in this scary Cold War.

Make no mistake. The constant use of the word “war” in Cold War was traumatic for a grade school student of the Sixties. Every now and then, we would walk by a newspaper rack and see a front-page photo of an atomic bomb test, it’s mushroom cloud searing into our youthful imaginations. In Southern California, on the first Friday of every month, the Civil Defense sirens did a 10:00am test, their mournful wails piercing our young hearts like a dagger.

Scary, isn't it?

So when President Kennedy made a television appearance on the evening of October 22, 1962 to discuss “matters of national urgency,” Americans stopped what they were doing and paid attention.

I have a distinct memory of watching Kennedy’s announcement on TV with my father. The President’s Boston-nuanced tone was grim. There was a lot of jargon that went over my 4th grade head, and I asked my dad what was happening. He explained that the Russians had nuclear missiles in Cuba and, if they were launched, the United States would do the same against the Soviet Union.


The next day at Stoner Avenue School, my 4th grade teacher pulled down a map of the United States. She pointed to Cuba and then to the Pacific Northwest. She said every place in America could be potentially hit by a Russian missile except Seattle. I realize now that she was trying to keep us informed but back then we kids were terrified by the possibility that a nuclear missile could rain down on Southern California at any time.

Later that day, the school assistant custodian came into our classroom to check the venetian blinds.  She pulled them up, then down, then loudly closed them shut, causing several kids to yelp. That’s how on-edge we were. It didn’t help that our teacher kept the blinds closed for the rest of the day — as if those little plastic slats would protect us from a nuclear blast.

Those fateful Thirteen Days of October unfolded at a torturous snail’s pace. I was scared out of my wits because I thought we might die at any moment. That was a frightening thought for a 9-year-old.

Our teacher Mrs. Holzer kept assuring us that President Kennedy would see the country through this crisis safely. The mere mention of the President’s name was a soothing balm. We kids had a deep respect for John Kennedy. He was our country’s leader. We trusted him.

The Cuban Missile Crisis has been well documented in books, essays and popular movies. President Kennedy showed admirable restraint against the gung-ho proposals of his hawkish military advisors. If not for Kennedy’s cautious coolness, I firmly believe we would not be here today. We were THAT close! Nuclear Armageddon might have been unleashed and the world destroyed. But that was not what Kennedy or Khrushchev wanted. Thank God!

As children, we heard that President Kennedy saved the country and the world from annihilation. That’s what the adults in our life told us. Kennedy was our hero. Can you blame my generation for our outpouring of grief on the day that he died?

Next blog: President Kennedy and Superman

November 22, 1963

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy. Everybody knows that. It is difficult to avoid, with all the newspaper and magazine articles and television specials. In today’s cynical climate, people are already getting turned off by the hype and hoopla. I am not. Please allow me to explain.

The murder of President Kennedy is probably the single most important, most shattering event of my childhood.

There. I said it. Kennedy’s murder is certainly a landmark for my Boomer generation, but it still depresses me when I reflect back on it half a century later. In my next series of blogs, I want to explore the assassination from various angles.

First of all, let me say that I am fully aware that Jack Kennedy was no saint. The man was a notorious womanizer who embarrassed and humiliated his wife Jackie through his open flirting and alleged affairs. He was addicted to painkillers that helped him deal with his fragile health. Historians say that in his brief tenure as President, he really didn’t accomplish much, at least from a policy or legislative point of view. I am not sugarcoating the man’s flaws, and I will deal with all this in future blogs. But when I was a child I did not know these things. My selective childhood memories and the generally positive outlook of the early 1960s give me a more sunny view of the Kennedy years — an outlook forever shattered on that fateful November day. So in this first blog, I just want to recreate what I experienced as a child fifty years ago.

I grew up in poverty, in a massive 62-building housing project in Culver City, California. The oldest of nine children, we somehow crammed together into a small four-bedroom apartment. My father worked to support the family as a waiter in a fine restaurant, with my mother taking on occasional side jobs. But as kids, we didn’t really know how poor we were. This was the only life we knew, and we had no way of comparing ourselves with anyone else since all our peers were in the same boat.

My parents did instill in me the importance of working hard at school. I excelled, bringing home straight A’s almost throughout my elementary years at Stoner Avenue public school. I was elected president of my class in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, something that made my parents proud. My classmates called me “President Kenny,” and I reveled in how much that sounded like “President Kennedy.”

John Kennedy was my hero. In 2nd grade, as I was beginning to discover my love for music, I remember how happy we were to sing “This Land Is Your Land” at school assemblies because our teacher told us it was one of President Kennedy’s favorite songs. America’s space program was just taking off and our principal let us watch the television coverage of astronaut John Glenn’s historic orbital flight in the Mercury capsule. I was mightily impressed when President Kennedy presented Colonel Glenn with a Distinguished Service Medal shortly after he returned back to Earth. Our teacher told us America was on its way to landing on the moon. How could a kid not be taken up by all this? The early 1960s was a very exciting time!

President Kennedy inspects the Mercury capsule as Astronaut John Glenn looks on.

In 1962, while in 4th grade, the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. I will write in more detail about that later, but suffice it to say that in the midst of those scary and traumatic thirteen days of October, our teacher kept our courage up by saying that President Kennedy would see the country safely through this calamity. And she was right.

This is the context in which I remember November 22, 1963. It was sunny that Friday, just an ordinary Southern California autumn morning. We were getting excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday the following week. I was once again president of my class and my teacher, Miss Plested, had sent me on an errand to deliver an envelope to the school office. Our school secretary was always so friendly and greeted all students with a smile. But that morning, she was listening gravely into an office radio as she sat at her desk. I overheard the crackling voice and couldn’t believe what the announcer was saying:

“We have unconfirmed reports that President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas and is gravely wounded. . .”

Our principal, Dr. Kravitz, gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Kenny, could you please let Miss Plested know that I will be visiting your classroom soon?” Our school was not equipped with a PA system, so I ran back to my classroom and gave my teacher the message. I also told her what I heard on the radio. She gasped in disbelief.

After 11:30, Dr. Kravitz entered our classroom as he had promised and whispered something to Miss Plested. She started crying. We had never seen our teacher cry before and it was a shock. Dr. Kravitz then went to the front of the class to address us. I could guess what he was going to say.

“Class, I’m afraid I have some bad news. President Kennedy was shot in Dallas this morning. The White House just announced that he died from his wounds a few minutes ago.”

We were a bunch of noisy and talkative 5th graders but at that moment we could hear the proverbial pin drop. I don’t remember any of us crying. No one would want to do that in front of the other kids. But there was a definite blanket of sadness that covered the whole classroom.

Dr. Kravitz continued. “Those of you who go home for lunch can stay home for the rest of the day. For the rest of you, we’re calling your parents now. You can go home when they come to pick you up.”

My friends and I walked home in silence, with our heads down. I met my brother Keith along the way and asked if he had heard the news. He said his teacher was crying. We were kids. We didn’t know how to react to such a horrific event. I really wanted to cry but did not want to lose face in front of my brother or my friends. So we just walked home, slowly and silently.

As we approached our apartment, my steps got quicker. I could no longer hold it in and I ran through the back door and into my bedroom. My parents followed me to see what was wrong.

“They shot the President,” I sobbed. “He’s dead.” My mother rushed over and embraced me. She knew how much I admired President Kennedy. I held on to her tightly and just cried and cried.

Next Blog: Cuban Missile Crisis

Monday, November 4, 2013


Here are links to all the blogs from my June 2013 Journey to Ghana, gathered on one convenient page. This arrangement worked well with the blogs for my October 2013 Pilgrimage to Turkey and Rome.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Monday 3 June 2013

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Thursday 6 June 2013

Friday 7 June 2013

Saturday 8 June 2013

Sunday 9 June 2013

Monday 10 June 2013

Monday 10 June 2013

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Thursday 13 June 2013

Reading these blogs again makes me realize how truly blessed I am to have gone on this journey with my friends. God is very definitely good! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Saintly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (recipe)

My friends have been asking about my recipe. Here it is! An All Saints Day tradition!

Saintly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
by Ken Canedo

While carving your Halloween pumpkin on October 31, put the seeds aside in a bowl.

Remove the pulp from the seeds. Boil in salt water for 10 minutes.

Spread boiled seeds out on a cookie sheet that has been aluminum foiled. Let them dry for roasting on All Saints Day.

On All Saints Day, preheat oven to 400.

Pour 3 TBS melted butter over the batch. Or olive oil. Your preference.

Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, ground pepper, paprika, Worcestershire sauce — whatever strikes your fancy! Give it a kick!

Bake in oven, 15 to 20 minutes. Keep your eye on them. Stir occasionally and let them get golden brown.

Eat them whole, shells and all. Remember YOUR saint while eating. Enjoy!

(Good source of fiber and protein!)