Ted Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, sons of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, said that “True Compass” — the massive memoir the late senator was racing to complete before brain cancer took his life — uncovers details of his life even they didn’t know. “This book is an enormous revelation for us in many respects because these are stories we’ve never heard before,” Patrick Kennedy told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York.
In addition to candidly describing his painful emotions about the untimely deaths of his three brothers and admitting his failings over Chappaquiddick in the 532-page autobiography, the late senator reveals that after the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, any sound like gunfire made him freeze. The book is also remarkably candid about his failed marriage to Joan Kennedy, her alcoholism, and his own drinking.
“The real story of this book is how someone kept going in spite of otherwise being paralyzed,” Rep. Kennedy said. Referring specifically to Chappaquiddick, he added, “All of us could have hung it up at that point. I certainly would have. And yet he carried on, and he did a terrific job.
“That is what I think America’s story is all about. I think in spite of all the biggest obstacles you could face, you could still be one that could make a difference in life,” the congressman added.
Both sons told Lauer that their father didn’t like to talk about his emotions. Learning that he had terminal brain cancer and writing his book gave even those who knew him best new insights they never otherwise would have had.
There are the confessions of being all but paralyzed by the grief of losing his older brothers: Joe in World War II, Jack to an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Bobby to an assassin in California. In the case of President Kennedy’s assassination, the senator wrote of how he tried to suppress his own emotions because he felt he had to carry on for his brother, Bobby, who was even more devastated by the loss:
“In that moment, the world lurched apart from me. I felt unmoored. But I knew that I had to keep moving. I had to put one foot in front of the other. People were depending on me,” the late senator wrote. “I think often of Bobby's grief over the loss of Jack. It veered close to being a tragedy within the tragedy. Ethel and my mother feared for his own survival; his psychic survival at least ... Hope seemed to have died within him and there followed months of unrelenting melancholia.
Five years later, while running for president, Bobby suffered the same fate. “My mind went black,” Ted Kennedy wrote of learning of Bobby’s death. “Life and politics went on. But not in the same way. Not for me. I was shaken to my core.”
He would confess in his book that after his brothers’ deaths, the sound of gunfire made him freeze.
“As I walked in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Lawrence in March 1969, a burst of popping firecrackers caused me to freeze in my tracks and prepare to dive to the pavement. I stayed upright by an act of will,” Sen. Kennedy wrote. “Years later, on another occasion, I was enjoying a walk in the sunshine near the capitol with Tom Rollins — then my chief of staff — when a car backfired down the street. Tom recalls I was suddenly nowhere to be seen. Turning around, he saw me flattened on the pavement. ‘You never know,’ Tom recalls me saying.
“Even now I’m startled by sudden noises. I flinch at 21-gun salutes at Arlington to honor the fallen in Iraq. ”