Last JFK Secret Recordings Shed Light On Personal, Professional Life

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President John F. Kennedy as he held a news conference at State Department auditorium in Washington on Nov. 14, 1963. (AP)
President John F. Kennedy as he held a news conference at State Department auditorium in Washington on Nov. 14, 1963. (AP)

On Tuesday, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is releasing the last secretly recorded tapes from the Kennedy White House. The tapes shed new light on President Kennedy's professional and personal life.

The tapes are the final 45 hours of 248 hours that Kennedy secretly recorded while in office. These tapes are from his final three months of his life in the fall of 1963.

"It symbolizes we've reached the end of a huge milestone at the Kennedy Library. This is something we've been working on for the last 10 years," said Maura Porter, a declassification archivist at the Kennedy Library.

Porter said it's unclear why exactly JFK set up the secret recording device in the White House in the spring of 1962, but she said what can be learned from these recordings is invaluable. For example, the recording of this meeting in September of 1963 with Kennedy and a Defense Department official and a State Department official. He asked them why they have conflicting opinions on the Vietnam War:

You both went to the same country?


One is military and one is civilian. This is what we've been dealing with for three weeks. On the one hand you've got the military saying the war is going better, on the other hand, what is the reason for the difference?

"It must be incredibly frustrating," I said to Porter.

"It's historically frustrating to know the president was trying to come up with answers but he wasn't being given the pieces from his advisers," Porter said. "I think a lot of historians will find it not surprising but interesting to hear how this plays out in the president's own voice."

The tapes also show Kennedy as a father to then-6-year-old Caroline and 3-year-old John Kennedy. Here he is introducing the children to Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko:

You can just open the door there –- just have you say hello to my daughter and son. Come in a minute and say hello. Want to say hello to the minister? Do you want to say hello to John?

These final tapes contain other moments that now seem especially poignant. One of the last recorded meetings was Nov. 19, 1963 — the day before JFK left for Dallas. Here he is arranging a meeting, possibly for Nov. 26:

I will see him, when is he here? Monday?

Answer: Monday and Tuesday.

Well that’s a tough day.

Response: It’s a hell of a day, Mr. President. He’ll be coming back here though, I understand, on Friday, because I offered to entertain at dinner.

The president then stated, “I’m going to be up at the Cape on Friday –- so I’ll see him Tuesday.”

Of course, Kennedy never made it to that meeting, or to the Cape. He was assassinated on Friday, Nov. 22 1963.

This program aired on January 24, 2012.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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