Arts + Culture

The Presidents as Travelers

by Ted Widmer

John F. Kennedy

Where The Eagle Landed: Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia

Home and abroad: JFK was one of the better-traveled presidents even before he came into office in 1961. Thanks to his wealthy father, he had access to lavish vacation homes in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, and Palm Beach, Florida. As a young man, he journeyed across Europe during the tense days leading up to World War II, then saw a bit more of the South Pacific than he expected when his PT boat was sunk by the Japanese. After his election to Congress in 1946, Kennedy traveled to out-of-the-way places like the Middle East and Southeast Asia to investigate their future relevance to Americans, which earned him a reputation as a foreign policy savant well before his run. From 1962, JFK traveled in style on a plane that was soon painted in the colors we now recognize on Air Force One. But it was more than the paint job—Kennedy's youth and "vigah" excited foreign audiences in ways that no American politician ever had. No moment conveyed this more clearly than the outdoor speech ("Ich bin ein Berliner") the president gave to tens of thousands of euphoric Germans in Berlin on June 26, 1963. On the same trip, he flew home by way of Ireland, visiting his great-grandfather's hometown of New Ross, and thrilling the locals with a bit of blarney. Whether sailing off of Cape Cod or visiting cousins in the Old Country, JFK had a knack for making his vacations seem like a natural part of the job.

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