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President Kennedy had few more onerous duties than having to listening to pontificating high officials who once had held important offices. In August of 1962, Kennedy was listening to General Douglas MacArthur’s dangerous advice when the general’s monologue was interrupted by a cal from Joseph P. Kennedy, the president’s father. Mr. Kennedy could hardly talk and the president did his best to converse with his father and then Ann Gargan, who oversaw his care. (p. 620)


Book Excerpt
Audio Clip 4, p. 620

In mid-August 1962, General Douglas MacArthur sat in the Oval Office pontificating about the world. This was one of the president's more onerous obligations, listening to the great old men of other eras imparting their wisdom. The eighty-two-year-old general told the president that America should invent a new mini-atomic weapon to be given to every infantry soldier with an "atomic cartridge that would clear ten to fifteen yards in front of him." The aged general droned on in the authoritarian manner of a man who had lived his life around subordinates. The further some men stood from power the wilder their schemes became, and MacArthur advised the president that he should begin guerrilla intrusions into China. "There also should be maneuvers by the South Korean army itself…"

"Wait just a minute," Kennedy interrupted. "My father is calling. He isn't able to talk much, but every now and then he tries to make a call." It did not matter who sat with him, or what issue consumed him, when his father rang, his son took the call.

"He can't speak…Hello there, how are you…How are you getting along up there…How is everything?

Joe spoke scarcely more than grunts, but Kennedy imagined a dialogue, willing his father into verbal coherence. "I'm sitting here with General MacArthur, and he wants to be remembered to you…How are you getting on up there? Well, I'll be up the weekend after next, and we'll go out in the boat…good. Let me talk to Ann."

Ann Gargan had become Joe's keeper, jealously protective of any who got too near, rationalizing whatever she did in the name of her charge's health. Gargan took over the phone. "He seemed a little upset," Kennedy said. "Tell him I'll call tomorrow. All right. Good."