Back Channel The Kennedy Years
Inside the John F. Kennedy White House

Hyannis Port and Work

This is a preview to the chapter Hyannis Port and Work from the book Back Channel The Kennedy Years by William Bertram MacFarland.
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Invitation to Hyannis Port


Apparently the jungles of Vietnam harbor some fairly pesky little microbe critters which have zero respect for Yankee antibiotics (or at least the antibiotics we had available at the time) because the wounds on my feet didn’t heal for more than two weeks. Frankly, I don’t think it was the repeated disinfections and re-application of antibiotics that did the trick; I think my body just figured out what it had to do to kill those microbes and then did it. It’s just the way my body works. I’ve been a very fast healer ever since I was a kid. I was wounded twice more in Vietnam and healed quickly both times while my companions suffered much more severely.

Anyway, the purpose of saying all that is to explain why I was still on crutches when the President asked me if I would attend the 8th SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) conference on Vietnam that was being held in Hawaii on May 8th. I told him of course I would go if he felt it necessary but pointed out to him that my usual modus operandi in high-level meetings was to try to keep as low a profile as possible. Say nothing, hear everything, don’t socialize, and try to melt into the wallpaper as much as possible. I told him I would prefer not to have a lot of people asking each other, “Who is that guy on crutches?” He laughed and told me he thought I was right and then suddenly asked me how my feet were doing. I told him they were finally starting to heal very nicely and that I should be off the crutches within 3-4 days.

“Good!” he said. “Then you can join Bobby and me and the family at Hyannis Port. We’re going up on Friday the 17th and will be there for about a week. It will be a good rest for you and I’d like you to meet my family and Bobby’s.” I’m usually uncomfortable in those kind of family situations as I feel like I’m intruding and I was desperately trying to think of some reason to decline when he said in his best “You are speaking to the President of the United States” tone of voice, “Bertie, you are not going to wriggle out of this one. You are going to join us.” He softened a little bit and said, “You’ll have fun. I give you my personal promise.” He (mostly) kept his promise.

The President and RFK were flying up to Hyannis Port with their families but I really wanted to drive. The weather didn’t cooperate, but even with the cloudy, overcast, and sometimes rainy weather I was happier than I could remember being for a very, very long time. I was probably still a carefree student at Duke when I last felt so happy and relaxed. It seemed like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders – I wasn’t going to have to be constantly on guard with my conversation, I might even get the chance to sit with Jack and Bobby and just “shoot the bull” and I’d get to see a real family interact. I think I had forgotten just how much I missed personal contact.

The “Kennedy Compound” (which isn’t a compound at all) is dominated by the main house that Joseph Kennedy Sr. purchased in 1929 and which had been built in 1904. It is surrounded by large (and very well tended) lawns and gardens and has beautiful views of the ocean from its long porches. It’s a big house. The main floor has, in addition to the living and dining rooms, the bedroom which Jack used before he bought his own house “in the compound”, a television room, a sun room, the kitchen and assorted pantries and utility rooms. The second floor has six family/guest bedrooms plus four servant’s bedrooms, a packing room and a sewing room. The basement has a sauna and a movie theater. There is an enclosed swimming pool (the enclosure can be removed in the summer), a tennis court, and a four-car garage on the grounds.
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What else is in the chapter 'Hyannis Port and Work'?

Evening Chat with Rose

Except for all the Secret Service agents who were swarming around the main house, I was alone when I tootled up to the front door in my little MG. I ...

Jack Goes too Far

I was stunned. I’d been set up. I’d been interrogated. That was the reason for the presidential directive that I be here for a “family gathering.” ...

Traumatic “Touch Football”

Life at the Kennedy compound was a real revelation to me. There didn’t seem to be any structure to anything at all - everybody just seemed to do whatever ...

An Evening with Bobby

Dinner at Bobby’s was a hoot. Besides the three adults there was Kathleen, Joe II, Bobby, Jr., David, Mary Courtney, Michael, and Mary Kerry. In addition, Ethel was ...

Operation Sunshine

May, 1963 was a busy month in South Vietnam. Given that the vast majority (80%+) of the Vietnamese peasants were Buddhist, their support was critical to any effort to ...

Vietnam Briefing to President

On June 3, I got a summons to meet with the President at 2:30 p.m. and when I arrived, he was, as usual, on the phone but he put his ...

Bertie Opens Up to the President

Look, particularly after last week – for which I again humbly apologize – I know I can’t use the presidential order thing to influence your personal life (incidentally, how in ...

Bastille Day – A Cause for Celebration

July wasn’t very interesting in South Vietnam, but it was really interesting for me. As I was leaving a short conference with the President, I turned to him and ...

Malware Crisis at the Pentagon

I think it was our third night together (Chantal had decided to move in) when my security phone rang around two in the morning. I told Chantal, “This is ...


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