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Inauguration

January 15, 2009

Cold War revisited: A story from JFK's inaugural

(Continued)

Nearly all the notables in the nation were here — governors, senators, representatives, supreme court justices. A few, including former President Herbert Hoover, were kept away by Thursday night's snowstorm.

But ex-President Harry S. Truman was on the inaugural stand, beaming to see a Democrat take over the White House again after eight years of Republican rule.

And Dwight D. Eisenhower, at 70 the oldest President in U.S. history, listened quietly as his youthful successor confidently said:

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a cold and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today."

There was no immediate explanation, but Kennedy, who had arrived at the Capitol early, did not come on to the Inaugural stand until 12:12 p.m., or 12 minutes late.

Even then the program wasn't ready to begin, and there was considerable milling about on the platform.

Eisenhower and Kennedy didn't seem to mind. They chatted amiably and at times energetically.

Neither smiled much. Mostly, Kennedy listened soberly, squinting into the sunlight made exceptionally bright by the snow.

The program finally got under way — 20 minutes late.

There were the prayers from leaders of four faiths, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Greek Orthodox.

There was the stirring, martial music, the singing, and, curiously, there even was comedy. At the most inappropriate moment. During the invocation by Archbishop Richard Cardinal Cushing smoke poured from the lectern. Whatever the origin of the fire, it was quickly extinguished. Cardinal Cushing was undisturbed. A flitting smile crossed even Kennedy's face.

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