Editor’s Note: The following is from a letter written by C. Robert Dickerman in 1963 to his father, Dr. Charles P. Dickerman, in the wake of the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Bob Dickerman, now a resident of Swoope in Augusta County, was overseas in the Foreign Service at the time of the assassination. The letter is included in the collection of the Kennedy Presidential Library.
How remarkable a President Mr. Kennedy was perhaps none of us realized until he was gone. Here (as in Finland, where I was on that tragic Friday – and in London, where I was a few days later) the feeling of personal loss on the part of leaders and men and women of the most ordinary existences was deep and profound. Europe and Africa had truly accepted him as their own leader. Somalis and Finns felt they had been robbed of a personal guardian and friend – as so many Americans had felt when Roosevelt died. His warmth, ideals, vision, and leadership had won an acceptance abroad that perhaps they did not in America. Abroad, persons probably considered opponents of Kennedy to be fanatics of one sort or another – the immediate supposition on learning of his death was that the right wing had inspired what it has preached….
Mr, Kennedy was in some ways seen as the enlightened defender of both world and national interests against a less-informed, over-simplifying, poisonous minority of Americans who had in the past been historically powerful, and who could perhaps become powerful again. Fortunately for us in the Foreign Service, Mr. Johnson has emphatically taken up the burden and the responsibilities where Mr. Kennedy had to leave them. There is a realization that the greatness of a nation does not depend upon one individual. Specifically, if the civil rights bill is passed and is effective, and if East-West relations proceed along the same course that was so promising, then America will (abroad) have overcome what at the moment of the assassination could possibly have become an international disaster.
As you wrote, Dad, the Oswald killing created a double travesty of mature government. One becomes suddenly humbled when one recalls one’s recent impatience with new nations who weren’t perhaps politically mature, and with the miscarriages of justice in other lands. It seemed so important during that weekend that Oswald’s perverted motivations be discovered – allegations of plots of one type or another would then have been cleared up or confirmed. Not knowing creates a situation that presumably can be exploited by the irresponsible of several political persuasions.
I, at any rate, will never forget the shock and tears in the eyes of Finns upon disbelievingly hearing the news – the stillness of mourning for days afterwards – the blue and white Finnish flags at half-mast on virtually every building in Helsinki – the heartfelt, piercingly sincere remarks made to me everywhere in the city; the Union Jacks at half-mast over a stunned London, and the loss that Somalis clearly felt five days later when I returned to Mogadishu. Perhaps everyone grew a little over that weekend So many seemed so determined to shoulder themselves a little of the responsibility they had so willingly delegated to a young leader.