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Air Force Official JFK Called ‘Silly Bastard’ Immortalized on Film

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AP file photo

It has to go down in history as one of the great presidential phone calls of all time. It took place on July 25, 1963, after the Washington Post reported that the Air Force had spent $5,000 to refurbish a room at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts in the event the pregnant first lady needed to use it to give birth. (That’s about $40,000 in today’s dollars.) Upon seeing the story, President Kennedy picked up the phone and called Air Force Gen. Godfrey McHugh at the Pentagon.

What followed was a heated, mostly one-sided conversation in which JFK railed in particular against an Air Force officer who appeared in a photo accompanying the Post article. Listen for yourself:

Some of the more choice tidbits from Kennedy’s tirade:

Kennedy: The Air Force has caused itself more grief with that silly bastard. Did you see the Post this morning?

McHugh: Yes, sir…

Kennedy: Did you see that fella’s picture by the bed?

McHugh: Yes, sir.

Kennedy: And you see that furniture they bought from Jordan Marsh? What the hell did they let the reporters in there for? Are they crazy up there? Now you know what it’s going to do. Any congressman’s going to get up and say, ”Christ, if they can throw $5,000 away on this, let’s cut ’em another billion dollars. You just sank the Air Force budget! You’re crazy up there! Are they crazy? That silly bastard with his picture next to the bed? …

Kennedy: That fella is incompetent who had his picture taken next to Mrs. Kennedy’s bed, if that’s what it is. I mean, he’s a silly bastard. I wouldn’t have him running a cathouse. …

McHugh: Well, sir, this is obviously…

Kennedy: Well, this is obviously a fuck-up.

In 2012, the “silly bastard” in question identified himself as Bill Dupuy, who by then was working as news director at KSFR, a public radio station in Santa Fe, N.M. Back in 1963, he was a second lieutenant in the Air Force who handled media relations at Otis Air Force Base. He had nothing to do with redecorating the hospital room, he said, and only ended up in the photo because “reporters insisted I get into the picture to provide a human touch.”

Now, more than 50 years later, he’s being immortalized in a documentary short film.  The film, The Silly Bastard Next to the Bed, is being screened at a film festival in Durham, N.C., next month. Filmmaker Scott Calonico is raising money to finish post-production on the documentary and do some marketing.

Update 3/13/14, 2:43 p.m.: Calonico says in a tweet that Dupuy is not in fact the "silly bastard." Guess we'll have to wait for the film to find out who is. 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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