John F. Kennedy memories shared by Adlai Stevenson III, son of former senator from Illinois

November 21, 2013

Jack Kennedy wanted to be vice-president, No. 2 on the ticket with Adlai Stevenson in 1956 when the Democrats met in Chicago.

"And me and the family, we were all rooting for Kennedy," said Adlai Stevenson III.

At one point Stevenson, then in his mid-twenties, raced to Kennedy's room and said, 'You've won,' but the congratulation was premature. The delegates voted instead to nominate Estes Kefauver. Jack Kennedy would have to wait.

"There's so much accident in history, but he was brought then to the nation's attention, and he was fortunate not to have won because then he would have been implicated in a failed campaign for President of the United States," Stevenson said.

Four years later it was Kennedy's turn, and as president he named Adlai Stevenson Ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson didn't really want that job, and the Kennedy circle feared Stevenson might not be tough enough, but when the Cuban missile crisis came in 1962, it was a moment of historic toughness for a young president, and Stevenson who verbally filleted his Soviet counterpart after he hemmed and hawed about missiles in Cuba.

The son remembers that moment with pride. Stevenson, former senator from Illinois also fondly remembers the young President, the charismatic figure, the rational thinker.

"I keep thinking also about what might have been had he lived," Stevenson said. "We might never have been engaged in Vietnam."

Stevenson's logic there is that even though Kennedy did send a large number of advisors to Vietnam in the early 60's, he had some disdain for what looked to be a long term military challenge half a world away, and as a vet himself, he might have been of a mind to say no to the generals who were pushing an expanded involvement in Southeast Asia. Of course, we can only wonder about that.

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