Profiles in courage


    It doesn’t seem that long ago I sat staring at a different TV screen waiting for word about his father, not knowing if he was alive or dead. Then it was his uncle Bobby and that very long night at the Ambassador Hotel here in Los Angeles. And now it’s the son, whom I’ve never met but I’ve known practically all my adult life.

    As it became clear that hope was lost, and the three of them were gone, I had that same sense of grief you have when someone in your own family dies, particularly so young and so obviously before he had an opportunity to reach his prime. It’s promise unfullfilled, and once again that same dark, dark ominous cloud seems to hang over the entire Kennedy family.

    You can’t help but wonder why he made the flight. More experienced and more prudent pilots decided not to go. They reasoned that a nighttime flight, over water, carrying passengers, in a mist, was more than they wanted to chance, but not he.

    In that decision to risk it was the golden promise of the Kennedys and the Kennedy curse.

    Undeniably, he was a man blessed by nature — extraordinarily good looking, bright, rich, focused, naturally elegant and seemingly at ease with himself, and adored not only by his immediate family but by all of us who were his extended family. He grew up under our eyes. We suffered with him when his father died, a little boy saluting his father’s coffin going by. We watched him grow up and come of age, and there never seemed to be a moment when, like all the rest of us, he was gangly or pimply or acted just plain stupid.

    His uncle and cousins were constantly in one scrap or another, but not him. He was definitely different.

    When he found his bride, she seemed like a genuine woman, and we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief because she seemed so right for him — pretty and elegant but not too beautiful, and also easy and refined and very independent — and together they seemed like a real couple.

    There is another part of the Kennedy legend, maybe it’s the flip side of the same coin. Whatever they’re doing, wherever they go, they always push the limits. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is. His grandfather was that in both business and politics, and I guess you can say also in love. He pushed himself and his sons to go for the brass ring. Go for the best and go for the top, and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. No timid souls here. You head straight for the top of the mountain.

    It’s probably one of the things we all admired about them. These Kennedys were a different breed. They were men and woman who appeared to take charge of life, to challenge it, to take the big risks. The living on the edge also appears and reappears, clouding their judgment.

    It was Jack and his brother Joe, plunging into the middle of where the action was in World War II. I’m sure there were many sons of many rich and connected who did their entire war service in Washington, D.C. No soft National Guard berths for them. When it was happening, they wanted to be there.

    JFK Jr.’s grandfather took chances. His dad took chances in war and in politics and his women, and even the presidency didn’t change that. His uncle Bobby took on J. Edgar Hoover and the mob. Courage was important to them all, but sometimes it got in the way of their judgment, and this may have been one of those times.

    It was probably foolish and foolhardy to make that flight, but for a Kennedy it was probably all the more reason to do it.

    It’s very sad.