Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Wheeling, West Virginia, April 19, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

No State in the country has suffered more from the neglect of the federal government than West Virginia. And nowhere has this neglect been more evident than in our government's unjustified unwillingness to award West Virginia a fair share of defense contracts.

All over the country the military is spending vast amounts of money to build and maintain our enormous defense establishment. In many areas this spending means the difference between distress and prosperity, poverty and abundance, unemployment and fruitful labor. But West Virginia has not been allowed to share in this great national effort. West Virginia ranks high among the states in productive capacity, natural resources, and available skilled manpower. Yet of all the 50 states, your State is last in defense payrolls, last in defense employment and last in the amount of money spent by the Defense Department. As a result, many of West Virginia's plants lie idle, your skilled and vigorous men are out of work, and your resources are untapped.

Of course, West Virginians do not want charity or special treatment. The people of the City of Wheeling - the City which produced the leader of West Virginia independence, Archibald Campbell - are not interested in giveaways and doles. But you are interested in an even break - a fair opportunity for your industry - an equal chance to contribute to our defense. You have a large skilled labor force, available plants, limitless natural resources, and an ideal geographic location. You can produce for the nation, you want to produce for the nation, and I say you must and will be allowed to produce for the nation. There have been other times in our history when our country's security was imperiled, when we struggled to build a strong defense. And we did not forget West Virginia then. It was West Virginians who led the American forces to France in World War I. Thousands of your citizens fought and bled on the far-flung battlefields of World War II, including one of my closest buddies in the South Pacific. And West Virginia again led the nation in Korea, where a higher proportion of West Virginians shed their blood in the fight against Communism than those from any other state.

Yes, when there were battles to be fought, when men were needed, when bravery and patriotism and strength were in demand, the nation turned to West Virginia. But now - with money to be spent, with contracts to be awarded, with factories to be built, the Pentagon has forgotten West Virginia. But I promise you that you will not be forgotten very long. For this year we are going to elect a new Administration - a Democratic Administration - an Administration which will remember what West Virginia has contributed to our country's strength in the past, and which will realize what you are capable of contributing in the future.

Certainly the people of West Virginia need increased defense spending - and need it badly. You have thousands of men out of work - substantial areas of poverty, hunger and distress. But our economy and our national defense also need a strong West Virginia. Surely thousands of unemployed workers in Wheeling or Clarksburg or in other areas of the State drawing unemployment or assistance payments and living on surplus foods are not contributing to our economic health. Surely the many idle mines and factories are not contributing to the efficiency of our defense effort. Surely it is inefficient and uneconomical to waste and dissipate skills and facilities and human and material resources which could otherwise be utilized in our national production if only a fair share of our defense contracts were given to them.

West Virginia wants to contribute to our nation's defense - it has the manpower and the resources and the productive capacity which we need - and under the next - Democratic - Administration the strength of West Virginia will once again be summoned to the nation's service.

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