Remembering JFK in the Central Valley

November 22, 2013 5:06:20 PM PST
John F. Kennedy's most notable visit to the Central Valley came in Aug. of 1962, just 15 months before his assassination. He launched construction of one of the region's most important water projects.

"It is a pleasure for me to come out here and help blowup this Valley in the cause of progress," President John F. Kennedy said

President John F. Kennedy's sense of humor showed before he undertook the serious job of pushing the detonator to break ground on the San Luis Reservoir Dam near Los Banos.

"This is a fast trip but if it had no other benefit than to permit us to look at this Valley and other like it across the country where we can see the greenest and most richest earth producing the greatest and richest crops in the country and then a mile away see the same earth and see it brown and dusty and useless and all because there's water in one place and not in another," Kennedy said

Democratic Congressman Jim Costa notes Kennedy's words then reflected on what was part of his progressive political agenda.

"President Kennedy wanted to move the country forward it was the new frontier and investing Americas infrastructure our water system was a high priority," Costa said.

Among those at the groundbreaking near Los Banos was former Fresno Congressman John Krebs, who was then a leader in California's Democratic Party.

"I remember him as an extremely charismatic person," Krebs said.

Krebs had been with Kennedy on his earlier visits to Fresno and the Valley. He remembers JFK as the greatest communicator.

"President Reagan, Bill Clinton and now President Obama they all had their strengths and their weaknesses, but I think Kennedy in terms of charisma and oratory I think beats them all," Krebs said.

That charm, and charisma endeared a nation to JFK and for Political Historian Lori Clune of Fresno State believes that's one reason his death remains such a tragic event in our history.

"The sense of vibrancy and optimism and hope that he captured in so many young people around the country, so I think 50 years later for many people who lived through it, it still feels very real, very immediate and very painful," Clune said.

And for the younger generation, like Fresno State senior Sean Kiernan marking this 50th anniversary of his assassination provides a sobering history lesson.

"It's a reminder to us that absolutely horrible things that shake the foundations of our country and the world are possible even though we don't expect them to happen at any particular moment," Kiernan said.


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