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Once elected, Kennedy counted heavily on Feldman, one of only 18 members of the White House staff. (The Bush administration, by contrast, has hundreds.) Feldman wrote presidential messages to Congress, recommended and wrote vetos, supervised all the independent government agencies, and acted as White House liaison to several cabinet members. He also handled Middle East policy and, most dramatically, played an important role in the Cuban missile crisis.
In October 1962, the CIA released photos that showed Russian missile installations in Castro’s Cuba, touching off a 10-day standoff during which Kennedy, after warning the Soviets to remove their missiles, set up a blockade to stop Russian ships from delivering more weapons.
As Feldman remembers, "We had evacuation plans for the White House, and we had to prepare for the deaths of members of the government (by charting a line of succession). That was my job."
Thirteen months after the Soviets backed down, giving Kennedy his greatest triumph, Feldman had another job to do – one he wishes had never come to pass: He was asked to help with preparations for President Kennedy’s funeral.
While campaigning for reelection in Dallas on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. Feldman says he got the news as he flew to Japan with six cabinet members to meet with the prime minister and his cabinet to mend policy differences between the two countries. Following the assassination, Air Force One, on which Feldman was flying, immediately turned around, accompanied from Hawaii by a number of military planes, so as to protect it against potential Japanese or Soviet attack. (Another Air Force One plane had flown Kennedy to Dallas.) As the plane headed back to Washington, everyone fell silent.
"All of us, who had a great sense of loyalty, would rather have taken that bullet," says Feldman.
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