Greetings from former U.S. Congressman Cornelius Gallagher to Schiller Institute Concert of W.A. Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, A Remembrance of President John F. Kennedy on the 50th Anniversary of His Death & A Recommitment to the Principles of His Presidency
Former U.S. Congressman Cornelius Gallagher represented the state of New Jersey in the House of Representatives from 1958 to 1972. Congressman Gallagher was a close personal friend of President Kennedy’s and an equally close political ally. He was the primary sponsor of the Peace Corps Act, on top of being responsible for the creation of the Freedom of Information Act, in his capacity as a member of the Congressional Privacy Subcommittee.
Congressman Gallagher was so close to President Kennedy, that he was asked to accompany the Speaker of the House to the airport on the day that the President was shot, to receive the coffin as it arrived back from Dallas. In an interview that he delivered earlier this year, Congressman Gallagher describes seeing Bobby Kennedy pacing, walking alone, crying all by himself, as he waited for the plane to come in. He walked over, and silently put his arm around Bobby, and he remembers him saying, “I don’t know what happened, but I know that old man’s hand is in this someplace,” referring to J. Edgar Hoover.
Gallagher went on, in later years, in his continuing courageous career in Congress, to challenge Hoover directly on the issue of government surveillance of American citizens. Congressman Gallagher is now 92 years of age, and he couldn’t make the trip down here from New Jersey, but he recorded an audio that he would like us to hear from him now. Directly after the audio, the music will begin.
Text of Congressman Neil Gallagher’s Comments at the Requiem Memorial for President John F. Kennedy
Former Congressman Neil Gallagher (N.J.) delivered the following comments via audio recording
I‘m delighted to participate with you in the Mozart Requiem celebrating the life of President John Kennedy. Just the mention of it, it seems like yesterday, rather than the 50 years that we now commemorate.
I was very fortunate in having time to know President Kennedy before he was President, and up until the time his unfortunate death occurred. He was a wonderful friend, he was a great leader; the question is whether or not he was a great President. Maybe his time was too short to evaluate the greatness of his Presidency at this point in history. Certainly he was a great man. Few men in history really are touched with greatness, which we all know to be a combination of many talents, wisdom, courage, knowledge, purpose and dedication, and understanding, and the compassion that he had in abundance. I think that showed early in his life when his boat was crashed into, and he went back, saving the lives of his crewmen rather than worrying about his own life. I think that was a sign of the kind of man that he was, and grew to be.
We live in difficult times now, and of course, we lived in difficult times then; they were perilous times – times where the powers had the most awesome weapons ever created by man, to destroy mankind. Kennedy had a feeling that we had to find ways of peace, to live with each other. In a land of plenty he sought an equal share, the good for all men, to aid the aged, to care for the ill, to educate the illiterate, to assist the under- privileged, to guarantee the constitutional rights of every citizen. Which I might say, are seriously under attack today, as we develop into this police state, that is not based on the hope that Kennedy gave. It is based on fear, and maybe the inability of America to participate in the kind of world that we now find ourselves.
As we look back at President Kennedy, his greatest contribution certainly, was providing hope to all of us. We were a generation that came out of the war. Whether you were a private or a five-star general, I think the common thread was that we all had a responsibility towards our country, and when we were needed, we filled that responsibility. I think that was a common thread that ran through America during the days of John Kennedy, and I think he symbolized that. We all looked up to him whether we agreed with him politically or not, people looked up to him. He represented what America was, that we all hoped it would be, and he was our leader. And I guess that was the real problem that occurred upon his death. Suddenly this vibrant, strong, good looking, intellectual man, our leader, was struck down in a matter of minutes. I think one of the things that we all shared then was our own mortality. And while he gave us the hope, the commonality of hope for all men, his death dashed our own view of life, and the need to participate in life, before our own mortality kicked in, as it did so suddenly with Jack Kennedy.
As we look upon the question of terrorism today, which is certainly a very serious condition in the world, but in those days, we had Communism and the Cold war, and the ability to destroy the entire world in a misjudgment by one of the leaders who possessed that power. I think Kennedy’s greatest contribution was showing that American would resist, could resist, and the ability to fight back intellectually to prevent such a war. I would really hope that in these days of the war on terror, that we would look at the strength of America, and try to find that common thread of our own courage, of our own desire, to find a peaceful way out of this war on terror, the effects of which are devastating to the rights and liberties of every citizen in the united Sates. Maybe it’s time to think of an international gathering to find out what really are the gripes around the world. To see whether or not we can bring reason and intellectual power to zero in on the problem, exactly the way that Jack Kennedy brought together those people in the world, his meeting with Khrushchov, the showing of the ability of America to resist, but also the ability of the United States to find reason, to perpetuate the human race on this earth.
So as we commemorate, and I want to certainly compliment your group on this Requiem, and as we celebrate the sadness of it all, I think it’s time to think about the good part of America, the good part that was in the days of the hope of John Kennedy, and hope that we can reinstate that hope for the young people in this country, so that the dream of Kennedy, of a free United States and the ability to participate and equality for all men and all people, I think is the dream that I believe will reawaken, as we also pass along our concern for the death of John Kennedy, a great man, a dear friend and someone that the American public would like to see stem from his death, the beginning of a new way of the American fight for its liberty, its freedom, and for the people of the United States, descended from that sad day in Dallas.
So once again, I thank you very much for inviting me to participate. I certainly have great admiration for the great work that you all do, and especially renewing the day of hope on the day that we commemorate the death of John Kennedy. And may we all find a way in peace; and the contribution that you all are making, certainly is leading the way in that direction.