“Mr. President, hundreds of thousands of words have been published, and hundreds of thousands more have been spoken into the microphones of the world since John F. Kennedy was struck down in Dallas, but none of them were really adequate. Words never are in the face of senseless tragedy.
Words cannot describe how the American people felt when they lost their president. Not until the vacuum of disbelief was filled with the horror of comprehension did any of us realize how much we identified ourselves, even apart from personal friendship, with the president — this intellectual, vigorous young man — and he would have been that if he were eighty — expressing the very essence of the youthfulness of our nation. It seems of little consequence now that there were political differences, or objections to this or that legislative product, though as far as I am concerned there was a very large measure of agreement. What matters is that feeling of loss — that personal sense of emptiness — that all Americans feel because their president was cut off in the prime of life. As a nation, we have lost a president who understood the institution of the presidency, gloried in its overwhelming responsibilities, and discharged his duties with dash and joy, which were an inspiration to the youth of our nation.
But John F. Kennedy was more than that. He was a man filled with the joy of living. He was a husband, a father — and my friend.
For myself, I remember coming to Congress the dame day he did. We were sworn in together on the same January day in 1947. A photograph on my office wall shows that we two, returning veterans, looked a little uncomfortable at the moment in our civilian clothes. It shows us looking at the Taft-Ellender-Wagner housing bill, and it recalls the first job we did together when we called on the National Veterans Housing Conference of 1947, which we had organized, to back this bill. It was the beginning of an association which extended throughout our careers in the House and Senate. We collaborated in many bipartisan matters, as is not unusual in the Congress. Indeed, in our service together in the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, we worked closely — as did Senator Morse and others — on the minimum wage bill, the Labor-Management Disclosure Act, and other similar measures which were major aspects of Senator Kennedy’s legislative career.
I am a personal witness to the fact that he was resourceful, optimistic, and creative. He became and was my friend, and this is a deep source of gratification to me and to Mrs. Javits and our family.
Mrs. Javits, too, knew President Kennedy well and admired him greatly. She will, I know, always think of the president’s graciousness and the warmth of personal friendship which he exuded.
Only a week before his tragic passing, I saw him in the Oval Room at the White House when he accepted the report of the Advisory Committee on Medical Care for the Aged, in which Senator Anderson and I joined, and issued a statement offering encouragement and help.
He was vigorous and healthy and smiling and friendly — a complete human being, concerned about other human beings who were no longer as vigorous and not quite as healthy as they used to be.
This concern for the unfortunate by a many with all of the social graces and all the social status and as much power as America allows one man was what made him so much the symbol of the youth of our country. His wife, Jacqueline, who has given Americans so much reason to be very proud of her and of all American womanhood as she reflected in it, in these last mournful weeks, in the way she carried herself, has said the most beautiful tribute — that John F. Kennedy had the “hero idea of history,” and that she did not want people to forget John F. Kennedy — the man — and replace him with some shadowy figure in the history books.
She need not fear that. There are already thousands upon thousands of people in the world working to keep his memory alive. I have been privileged to join with many others in this body in cosponsoring a bill to rename the National Cultural Center and make it a living, vibrant memorial to this vibrant man who loved the arts. And with Senator Humphrey, I have joined in a bill establishing a commission to ensure that only the most appropriate memorials be created in his honor.
These are well-meaning, deeply sincere tokens — necessary, but still tokens. In reality it will be John F. Kennedy’s youthful freshness in his aspirations for our country that will keep his memory fresh.
In a real sense we, his former colleagues in the Congress, are the only ones with the power to write words which can transform these aspirations into memorials with meaning. We can write legislative acts, like a meaningful civil rights law, which would consecrate and perpetuate John F. Kennedy’s love for personal and national dignity. We can exorcise from our country — and the American people are doing that even now — those extremes of hatred and disbelief in public affairs which create a climate in which terrible acts become much more likely.
Acts such as these will be his final memorials. It is within our power to establish them. Perhaps his noblest memorial is that he would have wanted such memorials almost as no others.
So, in common with my colleagues in this solemn service — and that is what this is today — I bespeak for Mrs. Javits and my children — and I would place their names in the Record, so that as they read this Record when they grow up, I hope they will read their names in it and see that their father spoke with deep sympathy — Joy, Joshua, and Carla, to Mrs. Kennedy and the children, and to the president’s father and mother and his brothers and sisters and their families our deepest sympathy on this terrible bereavement, for our nation and for all mankind, and in the deep expectation that flowers will grow from his grave for the benefit of man.”