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President John F. Kennedy

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

Last year at this time, I wrote a column celebrating words. I feel compelled to share another homage this year. This may start a new annual tradition. I hope you enjoy.

Words dart away, just out of reach, like a fish in the ocean, a butterfly in a meadow or a Frisbee lifted overhead by a sudden breeze.

Words emanate from nearby, startling us while we lay in bed, coaxing us to search the house, the closet, the garage for the source of elusive sounds.

Words give strength to our arguments, power to our convictions, and a method to share our hopes, desperation, dreams, fears, needs, wants and cravings.

Individually and collectively, words enable us to invite others to share experiences.

Words form the backbone of a democracy always challenged by new words, concepts, people and ideas.

When we hold an infant, listen to the sound from the air leaving the lungs of a whale surfacing nearby or gaze from the top of a volcano at the rising sun over the horizon, we hope the words we choose to describe what we see, feel and experience bring us back to these magic moments.

Words grow into unmanageable bundles as jargon triggers a metamorphosis that confounds and clutters their meaning, turning them into a sesquipedalian mess — that is the practice of using long-winded, obscure words.

Words tell tales, show emotions and reach out across time from generations long since past, urging us to pay attention and learn lessons from those who came before.

We select rhyming words that sing like chirping birds. 

Words make us laugh, offering a salve to suffering and transportation out of intransigence.

When we can’t understand something, we name it, giving a word to the unknown that allows us to refer to something in the cosmos, in our minds or buried under our fingernails. Ancient Romans used words to construct fantastic stories about the stars, the heavens and the gods, who exhibited a wide range of emotions that seemed remarkably human.

We remember the words from our favorite movies: “May the force be with you” (“Star Wars”) and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” (“Casablanca”). And from our favorite presidents, such as John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” (1961) or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (1933).

We carry with us the words that mean the most from our own lives. We don’t need to check them at the airport when we are in group 9, stuff them in an overstuffed backpack when we go to school or keep them from getting waterlogged when the evapotranspiration cycle decides to dump rain, sleet, hail or snow upon us. We remember the person so critical to our existence that he or she “ruined us for all other” men or women.

The words that elevate, inspire and encourage us to do and be our best allow us to stand straighter and taller, enabling us to wear a cryptic smile that those who know us best perceive immediately.

Words give us hope, help us believe in ourselves and allow us to feel connected to someone halfway across the world.

We pause from uttering words during moments of silence, as we pay respect with the unspoken words in our minds.

We are surrounded by paper thin walls of meaningless, angry, spiteful, hateful words. We can combat those messages with words that reflect the best of us and our country. Words fill the toolbox with the parts to build the world as we choose.

As you ponder words that matter at this time of year, I’d like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, left, guards then-Senator John Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Photo by Kevin Redding.

As soon as you set foot in the second-floor town hall office of Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), you’re absorbed by the New York City cop-turned-public servant’s accomplished and historic career, on full display in frames and cases around the room. 

“You’ve got to take a look at these walls,” the 86-year-old says proudly, from behind his wooden desk.

Dozens of black-and-white photos of famous politicians, public figures and entertainers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s decorate the walls, all of which feature a younger yet instantly recognizable Vecchio, side-by-side with everyone from astronaut John Glenn to Queen Sikrit of Thailand to Marlon Brando to Prince Charles to Sammy Davis Jr.

The photo that stands above the others, both in placement and impact, is the giant one that hangs on the wall behind his desk, which shows then-Senator John F. Kennedy (D) and Jackie Kennedy sitting on the back of a convertible waving to a Manhattan crowd while a 30-year-old Vecchio, serving in a special security squad that protected visiting dignitaries, stands alongside the vehicle patrolling his surroundings.

“That was October 1960, a week before he [Kennedy] was elected president, in the lower end of Broadway,” Vecchio recalled.

Vecchio works at his Smitthown office. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a member of the Bureau of Special Services from 1959 to 1966, the Smithtown supervisor said he was assigned to Kennedy on numerous occasions when he was senator, president-elect and president, as he visited New York often. Overall, Vecchio said he guarded Kennedy — whom he considers one of his favorite presidents — about 10 times.

“Occasionally, he would go to a play in Manhattan and so three or four Secret Service men, myself and others would go with him to the play,” he said. “He would come into the city, sometimes alone, and his plane would land at Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia and he would go directly to the Carlisle Hotel.”

While Kennedy and Vecchio never exchanged words, as the young New York City cop took his job providing security very seriously, he said he remembers Kennedy well.

“I could describe him as my mother once did: He looked like a Ken doll, Barbie’s boyfriend,” he said with a laugh. “I always remember he had a golden tan, he was slim and tapered, and he would smile and give a nod to all around him as he entered or left a room.”

Before Kennedy, Vecchio guarded President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in late 1959 and early 1960, to whom he was introduced personally. The photo of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder hangs on the wall.

“I have a vivid memory of Ike coming down the elevator inside The Waldorf Astoria New York hotel in Manhattan,” Vecchio said. “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn and the Secret Service agent, a guy from Queens who headed the Secret Service at that time, said to the president, ‘Mr. President, this is detective Vecchio, he’s been on board with us for three days,’ and Eisenhower reached over and shook my hand.”

Vecchio said he couldn’t help but be elated.

“Let me tell you, for a young guy from Brooklyn never having seen a president, no less meet a president, for him to shake my hand was just … awesome,” he said. “I was [starstruck]. The only other person there was the general that accompanied him … so it’s just me, the president of the United States, the general and a few Secret Service men.”

It was in 1967 that Vecchio moved to Long Island and served as head security of former New York City Mayor John Lindsay, who would help steer him into politics. From there, Vecchio went on to make his own impact as a leader, starting in 1978 when he was appointed Smithtown supervisor.