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In 1960 I watched Kennedy during his grueling, endless Inauguration Day, both on and off the public stage. He never faltered. At midnight, he stood in that snow-laden landscape in front of the White House, tugged a couple of times on an expiring cigar, then literally skipped up the portico stairs and into the White House. In June 1961 Kennedy returned from a U.S.-Soviet summit in Vienna on crutches and was lifted onto Air Force One by a cherrypicker, the most graphic public display of his physical problems. But two nights later, he was in Palm Beach sipping daiquiris while Frank Sinatra records played in the background, telling amusing and frightening stories of his encounter with Nikita Khrushchev. The back spasm of two days earlier never came up. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, which roused the most thunderous audience response I have ever witnessed or felt, came after hours of touring the Berlin Wall while standing in the back of an open-air limo with Germany's Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
So what to make of the newly released medical records? They are indisputable, but they don't give the whole picture and do leave the impression that Kennedy was little more than a chemical shell ready to self-destruct. I have my doubts. John Kennedy was a strong, determined President partly handicapped by a weakened body. But he was never an invalid.