Courage. Honor. Sacrifice. These values guided John F. Kennedy through his life in the military and political office, said Ted Robinson, who served in the Navy alongside Kennedy during World War II. Robinson spoke before the Lodi Rotary on Thursday afternoon and shared anecdotes and stories about one of the country's most popular leaders of the 20th century.
He was a radar officer and helplessly watched as Kennedy's PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese Destroyer during World War II. He was one of 12 men involved in Kennedy's rescue, and after Robinson's boat was sunk a month later the two shared a room in a dilapidated house as they rehabilitated from their injuries.
The 91-year-old Robinson, who serves as the commissioner of the Sacramento Department of Regional Parks, spoke at length about Kennedy's bravery during combat, civility to others and thoughtful outlook on life.
"During the war, Jack didn't talk about the future because we didn't know if we were going to have one," he said. "He talked about his mother, Rose, and his sister. When you are surrounded by people dying every day, you want to think of something clean and decent."
A Republican speaking before a largely Republican audience, Robinson said Kennedy's brilliance commanded respect, his courage was unparalleled and his selflessness was an inspiration.
While the two were recovering from their injuries, Robinson noticed how Kennedy befriended the chiefs of the native tribes the two were living near. Kennedy's compassion for the impoverished people guided him in his future endeavors, Robinson said.
Kennedy told Robinson one day how the citizens where they were had a low life expectancy and could die from something as simple as an infected cut. Kennedy wanted there to be an organization or country that could help people in desperate situations like that, he said.
"It was the start of the Peace Corps," he said.
After the speech, he sold copies of his book, "Water In My Veins: The Pauper Who Helped Save A President," and talked with members of the audience.
Nick Bokides bought a copy of the book and said the speech was engaging and entertaining. He also agrees with the values Kennedy lived by.
"Sacrifice is part of our country," he said. "It's something that we should all admire."
Another audience member appreciated how candid Robinson was.
"He's very direct," said Sherry Cotta. "He just lays it out there and says 'This is how it was.'"
As he closed his speech, Robinson urged the audience to glance at inaugural addresses from various presidents throughout history. With all of them, he said, there is a common theme.
"See how many promises they made," he said.
Kennedy didn't promise anything and asked for service and sacrifice, he said.
"He said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,'" he said. "Read his. He promises nothing."
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org