Recently we marked the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the PT 109 and the courageous efforts of its commander, Navy Lt. John Kennedy, to save himself and his crew.
Twenty years later, in his final year in the White House, President Kennedy began planning a state visit to Japan in 1964. He would have been the first sitting American president to do so.
That trip was never to be. And now, a half century later, his daughter is our nation's first female ambassador to Japan.
In that position, she will live out values bequeathed to her by her parents: a dedication to public service; the advancement of human rights and democracy; the promotion of American arts, commerce, and culture.
In a visit to Berlin in June to mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, I was struck by how quickly our two countries, once bitter foes, had come together as allies in the democratic cause.
While there I met with Harald Leibrecht, a member of the German Parliament. Approximately the same age, we soon realized our fathers had fought on opposite sides during the final months of World War II.
Mr. Leibrecht's father, Walter, had been conscripted into Hitler's army with the other male members of his high school class. He was 16 years old.
That same year my father volunteered for military service, at age 17, after graduating from Marlborough High. He became a tank driver and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Both "boy soldiers" survived the war's last gasp and lived their lives ever thankful.
Walter Liebrecht went on to study theology as an antidote to war. He came to the U.S. on a scholarship and stayed on as a professor. America became his adopted home and he dedicated his life to sowing seeds of reconciliation.
In 1963, he founded Schiller College in Germany to facilitate opportunities for American students to study in his native land - naming the school for a German poet whose poems promoted tolerance among nations.
Harald Liebrecht recounted how fortunate his father felt to have lived through the war and to have benefitted from the opportunities the United States afforded him.
Those words had a familiar ring for me — echoing sentiments I heard throughout my childhood from my dad, who attended Boston University on the GI Bill and lived a full life devoted to his family, church, and community.
My father attended Mass daily though, unlike Walter Leibrecht, was not disposed towards theology. His faith and generous spirit came naturally to him and having survived WWII he took each day as a blessing.
"Life is unfair," President Kennedy once remarked. "Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded. ... There is always inequity."
Page 2 of 2 - And in another speech — one of the last of his presidency ±— he returned to this theme. "The blessings of life have not been distributed evenly," he began, and each of us has "an obligation to help our fellow man" especially "those less fortunate. "
These obligations, JFK continued, "stem from our wealth and strength, from our devotion to freedom, and from our membership in the family of man."
A few days later on Nov. 12, 1963, the president sounds discouraged in his last dictation recorded in the Oval Office. He is disappointed by a recent failed attempt to repeal the poll tax in Texas, concerned with rising foment overseas, and exasperated with Congress for their "hatchet job on foreign aid."
Which is why these words, spoken on Nov. 8, 1963, and echoing a phrase from JFK's inaugural address, are so arresting.
Let "the word go forth from the United States," he proclaimed, "that we are not weary in well-doing."
Helping our fellow man — doing well in the world — these are the ultimate obligations bequeathed to us by the generation of people like my father, Walter Leibrecht, and President Kennedy.
We must never grow weary in those efforts.