Yesterday was President Kennedy’s 100th birthday and it was celebrated by the over 4,500 that attended the Kennedy Library. The day’s long festivities even included a birthday cake for over 1,000 guests!
This was my third trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and it never disappoints. But given the current political climate in the United States, this visit was even more poignant.
The one thing that I took away from my visit yesterday was not only the enthusiasm of those that attended, but the messages that the museum offered. A world of hope, unity and democracy was what resonated with me. Look no administration is perfect and Kennedy’s had its issues, but at the end of the day civil rights, the arts, the space program and strong relations with our allies were the hallmarks that I reflect on.
I have been fortunate to have travelled most of Europe and have seen first-hand the good relations the United States projects to our allies. These weren’t just holidays, in most cases they were business trips where I worked with a variety of colleagues on numerous projects. Like Kennedy, I’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate but not when the wall was standing. For me, I drove in a convertible right under it. Or in this case, right through history.
At the Kennedy museum a piece of the Berlin wall stands alone in a corner. I can only imagine what the Berlin Wall looked like at the height of the Cold War never mind its intended purpose. We know from history that the building of walls does nothing to bring people together, it divides them.
I like to think that the word UNITED in the name of my country means more than just states but the world at large. On June 26, 1963 at the gate in Berlin, President Kennedy stated, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
One of the highlights from yesterday was the performance by the United States Navy Band. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hearing them play was truly something to be remembered.
But it’s important to remember that yesterday was Memorial Day. A day to remember those who died while serving in our armed services. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms of democracy today. Think for a moment living in a world where freedom of the press, religion, choice, assembly, and so many other rights that we take for granted not existing.
Today we live in a complicated world, but I wonder if it’s really any different from the world that existed during the Kennedy Administration. The difference today is that social media has illuminated all facets of society here in the United States and abroad. It’s what we do with that illumination as a country and as a society that will mark our place in history. As President Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The title of this week’s blog pretty much sums up my day yesterday in Newport, RI. No, I wasn’t back at the Naval Justice School, it was literally a day trip of cars, coffee and forts. With the warm weather back here in New England (for the most part), this is the time of year when I look for interesting day trips on the weekends.
The Preservation Society of Newport County and Audrain Automobile Museum teamed up for a terrific event at Rosecliff that brought together cars and coffee (thankfully it was Starbucks!). The one thing about car enthusiasts is we are passionate people. Yes, conversations start around a particular vehicle but then generally migrate to other topics. In the end we learn something new. In this connected (yet disconnected) electronic age we live in, events like this get us out of the house and into social settings.
Passion was also evident when I took a tour of Fort Adams. I’ve seen the signs for years pointing towards Fort Adams, but finally visited yesterday. The history of this fort is beyond impressive. From its founding, to how it was constructed to its unique place in American history, our tour guide was not only a wealth of knowledge but enthusiastic. I can’t recall when a tour guide conveyed such a diverse amount of information during a tour.
It is about passion how things move forward. If you’re one of those people that live in a “someday” world, you will miss out on things that inspire. When I travel, meet new people and learn something new that’s just one more idea for something I might build or create at some point. Rosecliff, built from a fortune made long ago, is now visited by tens of thousands a year. Fort Adams, built to defend the United States and known for its technical innovation is now being showcased by guides who share its enthusiastic history in a modern world.
Creating does take time and nothing happens overnight. The one thing that’s important is to surround yourself with people that are supportive. I know that sounds like some sort of off the shelf self-help book, but it’s true. It’s OK that you might not share my vision or passion for something, but you’ll forgive me if I steer my ship past your port.
Putting aside for a moment what drives our motivations to create, yesterday was also about the preservation of history. In parts of our world where museums and heritage sites have been destroyed by terrorism, yesterday reminded me about the importance of preserving history for future generations. So while you may read about history in a textbook, there’s nothing like experiencing it in real life.