Bloomberg News

Johnson Snubbed as JFK’s Body Left Plane: Lewis Lapham

May 12, 2012

Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in aboard Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy, widow of the assassinated president, John F Kennedy. Photographer: Cecil Stoughton/Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in aboard Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy, widow of the assassinated president, John F Kennedy. Photographer: Cecil Stoughton/Universal History Archive/Getty Images

When Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office on Air Force One, he made sure that at his side was President Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, still in her blood- stained pink suit.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

On the flight back to Washington D.C., Johnson sat in the President’s chair, making notes: “1) Staff; 2) Cabinet; 3) Leadership.” At a time of such grief and uncertainty for the country, he knew it was important to take charge right away.

When the plane arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Robert Kennedy slipped aboard and took over. The two had been involved in one of the great political feuds of the 20th century, with Robert Kennedy humiliating the vice president at every turn.

As America watched on television, a truck lift pulled up to the rear door and the dead president’s big bronze coffin, accompanied by his widow and brother, was loaded onto it. Lowered to the ground, the coffin and the Kennedys were driven away by a Navy hearse.

When Lyndon Johnson and the new First Lady approached the rear door, expecting to follow the body down, there were no stairs. They were stranded at the top, and when they finally did make their descent, no one paid any attention.

I spoke with Robert Caro, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power,” on the following topics:

1. Assassination

2. Mr. President

3. Robert Kennedy Feud

4. Kennedy Team to Stay

5. “Let Us Continue”

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include a preview of the best weekend events in NYC and a theater review.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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