© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

John F. Kennedy Diary Reveals Shift From Journalist To Budding Politician

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the summer of 1945, John F. Kennedy traveled across Europe working as a journalist. This was after his military service and before his first campaign for Congress. JFK kept a diary during those months on the road. His words reveal a future president trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world. As New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman reports, tomorrow that diary is being put up for auction.

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: Deirdre Henderson held onto the book for nearly six decades.

DEIRDRE HENDERSON: Senator John F. Kennedy gave me the diary in 1959 so that I could better understand his ideas on foreign policy.

BOOKMAN: Henderson was then an overworked campaign staffer. She was tasked with coordinating one of JFK's advisory committees.

He gave you this diary. I assume you went home and read it.

HENDERSON: No, I did not. I shelved it. You've got to realize the pace of the campaign. I simply said to myself, I'll read that later on.

BOOKMAN: You're kidding. This sat on your bookshelf.

HENDERSON: It did.

BOOKMAN: After the assassination, Henderson says the diary was too painful to consider. But eventually she did pore over the three-ring binder with a leather cover and in 1995 published its contents. The writings document a 28-year-old JFK sitting in on history. As a journalist for Hearst Newspapers, he attends the opening of the United Nations, covers Churchill's re-election bid in England and the Potsdam Conference where he watches Stalin and Truman interact. Bobby Livingston is with New Hampshire-based RR Auctions.

BOBBY LIVINGSTON: Here he is, this war hero who is recovered from his injuries. He's become a reporter. He's not yet a politician. And he is intersecting with the giants of the 20th century.

BOOKMAN: Livingston is coordinating the auction. He shows off the yellowing diary. Some of the 61 pages are typed, others handwritten. The entries are both formal and personal, including his reflections of a bombed-out Berlin.

LIVINGSTON: He writes, the devastation is complete. The streets are relatively clear. There's not a single building which is not gutted. On some of the streets, the stench, sweet and sickish from dead bodies, is overwhelming.

BOOKMAN: By the end of the diary, there's a shift from JFK the journalist to JFK the budding politician. He writes of ethics, loyalty and frets over his inexperience. Throughout the text, historian Fredrik Logevall says Kennedy comes across as a passionate observer.

FREDRIK LOGEVALL: For me, what the diary shows is an inquisitive mind. I think he has a curiosity about the world around him that comes through and I think is one of his most attractive qualities.

BOOKMAN: Bidding on the diary is expected to top $200,000. For NPR News, I'm Todd Bookman in New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.