Tuesday, June 30, 1964 - 5:35pm
Lyndon Johnson, Edward Kennedy
Oval Office

On the night of 19 June 1964, a plane carrying Senator Edward Kennedy crashed in Western Massachusetts in poor weather conditions. Pulled from the crash by fellow Senator, Birch Bayh [D-Indiana], Kennedy suffered severe injuries, including fractured vertebrae, a collapsed lung, and fractured ribs. The pilot and one of Kennedy’s aides, Ed Moss, died in the crash.

Kennedy was initially taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton and later moved to Boston's New England Baptist Hospital. Refusing, apparently at his father's urging, his doctors' recommendations to undergo complicated spinal surgery to fuse his lumbar vertabrae, Kennedy opted for the alternative: months of being confined to a specially designed bed so that his lumbar could fuse naturally.1 Despite being bed-ridden, Kennedy continued his campaign for reelection with aides setting up offices near Kennedy's hospital room and his wife Joan taking on many of the public speaking events.2 [photo]

Kennedy ultimately won reelection in November 1964 handily. He was discharged from hospital in  December that year and still needed to wear a back brace. 

President Johnson: Hello?

Edward Kennedy: Oh, Mr. President?

President Johnson: My friend, I’m sure glad to hear your voice.

Kennedy: Well, thank you so much. Listen, I wanted to call and tell you how much we appreciate it. Joan [Kennedy] appreciates everything you’ve done.3 And you’re [unclear]—

President Johnson: I haven’t done anything. I haven’t done anything, but I’m sure ready and willing.

Kennedy: Well, no. Well, you sent all those wonderful people up from the Army—[Deputy] Secretary [of Defense Cyrus] Vance did, and they made a great deal of difference. And everyone has been so kind down there. And they’ve taken great care of me. So, I’ve been really, really coming along now, making some progress.

President Johnson: Well, you got a bad break, but it’ll—my mother used to tell me that things like that develop character. It’ll make you stronger when you get older.

Kennedy: Well, I don’t know.

President Johnson: [Laughs.]

Kennedy: I don’t know. You know, you’re ready to trade a little of that for [unclear] right now, I should say. But, anyway, that’s what I keep reading in all that mail. They say “Well, you’ve got to . . . after all that, you get on that back a little, and think, and do a little suffering, you’ll be a better man.” So, I guess I’ll take my chances with that, anyway.

President Johnson: Well, you’re a great guy and you’ve got lots of guts. And stay in there in and pitch, and anything we can do, we’re ready.

Kennedy: Well, really appreciate it, Mr. President. And Joan wants to thank you for everything. [First Lady] Mrs. [Lady Bird] Johnson called, and you’ve been awfully kind during this. And we’re very much appreciative. And my parents are too.

President Johnson: You just tell them we’re ready to do anything and everything that you want done, and we’ll elect you by a bigger vote than you got before.

Kennedy: I know it. God, now we’re going to have to—you’re going to have to pull me through up here.

President Johnson: Well, tell them—just tell them that I’ll fill your speaking engagements.

Kennedy: [laughs] Well, I certainly shall. That was all so kind of you, but we’ll be looking forward to getting back down there.

President Johnson: Thank you. Give Joan a hug for me.

Kennedy: Certainly will, Mr. President.

President Johnson: Bye.

Kennedy: Thank you very much.

President Johnson: Bye. Thank you for calling.

  • 1. Peter S. Canellos, ed., Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), p.104.
  • 2. Edward Kennedy's election in November 1962 was a special election to fill the seat vacated by his brother, John. The regular election cycle for that Senate seat was set for the 1964 election.
  • 3. Joan B. Kennedy was Edward Kennedy’s wife.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.