by John G. Miller
It's not often that I review books in my column, but I want to share my thoughts on a new book out on President John F. Kennedy.
"... Ask What You Can Do for Your Country -- The Memory and Legacy of John F. Kennedy," by West Virginia native Dan B. Fleming Jr., captures the impact the life and death of the 35th president of the United States had on this nation and world.
Fleming accomplishes this tall feat by using vignettes from a variety of people. And while he talks to a number of national and international figures, the book shares a true reflection of Kennedy's impact because it deals with so many "common" people, from school teachers and students to Peace Corps volunteers.
That's important because Fleming didn't have a wealth of personal accounts to draw on. He met Kennedy by chance in the Hyannis Airport in 1958, later working as a volunteer county campaign chairman in Kennedy's successful primary run in West Virginia.
As many of you probably remember, Kennedy's success in the Mountain State was crucial to his earning the Democratic Party nomination.
Fleming also worked as a legislative assistant in 1962-63 as part of the Congressional Fellowship Program of the American Political Science Association.
Fleming, who has undergraduate and master's degrees in political science from West Virginia University and a doctorate in teacher education from George Washington, is professor emeritus of social studies education at Virginia Tech.
But unlike some writers of history who have been on the fringes, Fleming didn't dwell on his own memories. Instead, he sought out and shared the views of 90 individuals from a wealth of backgrounds.
Three prominent West Virginians were interviewed -- Homer Hickam of "The Rocket Boys" fame, NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff and longtime Secretary of State Ken Hechler. The book mentions Kennedy's campaign stops in Clarksburg and Fairmont as well as elsewhere in the Mountain State.
Other notables who share their views include former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, John Glenn, Barry Goldwater, James A. Michener, Lena Horne and Cliff Robertson.
It's also worth noting that Fleming appears to be a natural writer. This book doesn't get bogged down by unnecessary historical references that other academia-minded authors tend to fall prey to. And because of the short anecdotal style, the book's flow is reader friendly.
Available from Vandamere Press, Fleming's "... Ask What You Can Do for Your Country -- The Memory and Legacy of John F. Kennedy" is a must for Kennedy and history buffs. It also serves as a valuable tool to future generations who will have a better understanding of the events of Kennedy's time because of the many views shared in this book.