Saturday, August 26, 2006

Countdown to 40: From the New to the Final Fronter

by William S. Kowinski

1960 was the first time the Democratic National Convention would be held in Los Angeles. The party and the city had been preparing for many months (including the Los Angeles Police Department, where Gene Roddenberry used to work, and where his father and other family and friends still did. ) Not only would there be thousands of delegates, politicians and reporters, but by then the television networks had learned how to cover a convention.

This one was shaping up to be especially dramatic, perfect for the TV cameras. Television was an especially effective medium for the young Senator from Massachusetts and front-running candidate for the presidential nomination, John F. Kennedy.

Gene Roddenberry had been raised a Democrat---his father was uncompromising on the matter. But GR had another reason to be watching closely. Some 17 years before, Navy Lieutenant John Kennedy had also served in the South Pacific. In 1943, just a few hundred miles from where GR was stationed, Kennedy’s PT boat had been cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Planes from Roddenberry's base joined the search and rescue, and if GR hadn’t been involved in an accident that disabled his plane, he might well have been in the air looking for Kennedy and his men that day.

After six days, Kennedy was found. He swam three miles to a small island, leading two of his men, and towing an injured man with a rope held in his teeth. He kept them alive until they were rescued. After recovering from his back injuries, Kennedy ran for Congress and then became a Senator from Massachusetts. After nearly being nominated for vice-president in 1956, Kennedy entered presidential primaries in 1960 and became the first candidate to earn his way to the national convention through votes rather than the approval of party bosses.

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