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JFK IN A NOVEL: A PROFILE OF COURAGE

Affair & Honor: Based on the True Story of JFK in World War ll - Batt Humphreys

This novel captures a part of the life of John F. Kennedy that focuses on his military service in the Second World War. (Unlike his older brother Joe Jr., who enjoyed robust health and was the one designated by their father for a political career postwar that would culminate in him being elected President of the U.S., JFK was at times sickly and suffered from a bad back. He had tried to enlist in the Army a few months prior to Pearl Harbor, only to be rejected. It took the influence of JFK's father to get him a place in the Navy, serving in Naval Intelligence in Washington DC.)

 

The story begins in Charleston, SC in April 1942, where JFK had been reassigned, perhaps because of the affair he had had in Washington with Inga Arvad, a Danish journalist suspected by the FBI of being a Nazi spy. A journalist by the name of Sam Marlow of the New York Herald Tribune was also there, ostensibly to get the scoop on JFK's relationship with Arvad, who had come to Charleston to spend some time with him. The author cleverly inserts Marlow as a Zelig-like character (together with his girlfriend, Ashley Chambliss, a popular singer with family in Charleston), who meets both JFK and Arvad. Among some other real historical figures who play roles great and small in this novel are Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (JFK's sister, with whom he was especially close); George Mead, a Marine lieutenant and son of a wealthy paper magnate; Tommy Hitchcock, a First World War air hero and renowned as America's finest polo player; J. Edgar Hoover; Joe Kennedy Sr.; Charlie Chaplin; and Joe Kennedy, Jr.

 

At that stage of the war, Charleston is representative of the country as it went about the process of throwing off its prewar lethargy and fully immersing itself in the war effort. Rationing had yet to firmly take hold in this grand old Southern town. I liked the way the author fleshed out Sam and Ashley's relationship and their friendships with the Kennedys and their social circle in Charleston. Eventually JFK, after persistent efforts to get transferred to a more active command that he hoped would get him into combat, wangles his way into training and service with a PT boat squadron in the South Pacific during the spring of 1943. PT boat service is regarded as especially hazardous, as these are fast-moving ships largely constructed from plywood with some armor protection and armed with machine guns and torpedoes for harassing Japanese shipping in hit and run missions. (Sam, however, gets into the war a bit earlier, as a war correspondent. His dispatches help to push the novel along.)

 

My only major complaint with "Affair & Honor" is that it could have stood for some rigorous editing. Otherwise, this is a novel that gives the reader a glimpse into the character of the man who would later be elected in 1960 as the 35th President of the U.S..