As a child in the 1950s, I was aware from my parents that government had ended the Great Depression that they had struggled through and in doing so had built infrastructure across the nation. Government had mobilized the entire country, including my parents, to create and arm a military that had simultaneously liberated a captive Europe from Nazi rule and pushed back imperial Japan from its occupation of most of Asia and the Pacific. My father spent four years in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific, while my mother gave up an executive assistant job in the private sector to make artillery in the Watertown Arsenal. Along the way to wartime victory, government had organized the colossal effort that was the Manhattan Project and had given birth to the nuclear age.
In my own lifetime, government had sent the World War II veterans to school, financed their new homes, and linked the country with interstate highways. It had created an entirely new human endeavor, space flight, had laced the skies with satellites, placed humans on the moon, and sent probes to the planets. As an eight-year-old watching the Echo satellite move through the night sky and later following in detail the manned space flight missions, I was thrilled at what thousands of skilled and hardworking Americans, including my older cousins, were doing together, "to go to the moon and do the other things … not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
On that bitterly cold day when John F. Kennedy was sworn in, he appealed to us to "ask what you can do for your country." I was an impressionable ten-year-old who believed that government service was a high calling. The public school I was to attend a few months later led Kennedy's inaugural parade that day, its band tramping down Pennsylvania Avenue in the snow. When I did enroll in Boston Latin School later that year, the headmaster pointed to the names of alumni carved on the frieze above the auditorium: John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and on through the years to more recent graduates such as President Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy. He told us that we followed in that tradition, to serve the nation. For six formative years in that school, the lesson was repeated that public service was both demanding and a duty.