"To hunger for use and to go unused is the worst hunger of all. . . Presidents quickly realize that while a single act might destroy the world they live in, no one single decision can make life suddenly better or can turn history around for the good."
Lyndon Baines Johnson
HE ate a leisurely lunch at the L.B.J.
Ranch one day last week and then donned his pajamas for an afternoon nap. Shortly after 3:30 p.m., stricken, he snatched up his bedroom telephone and gasped out one last order: "Send Mike immediately." Two Secret Service agents sprinted 100 yards to Johnson's bedroom and found him crumpled on the floor. His face was already blue from lack of oxygen, his right eye and cheekbone bruised from the fall. Too late, the agents attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, then tried external heart massage, then carried him to his private turboprop at the ranch landing field. By the time the plane reached San Antonio a quarter of an hour later, the agents knew that the 36th President of the United States was dead.
In the three days that followed, the nation paid tribute to the memory of Lyndon Johnson's gargantuan presence. As his body lay in state at the L.B.J. Library in Austin and later in the Rotunda of the Capitol, tens of thousands stood in line to pay homage at the bier and to be thanked for coming by Lady Bird Johnson and her daughters. The dirges and the caisson and the white horses provided the traditional ingredients of a presidential funeral, but the rhetoric was somehow peculiar to the nature of Lyndon Johnson, as when Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk declared that "in another age, he might have been known as Lyndon the Liberator." Another old friend, W. Marvin Watson, declared that Johnson "was ours, and we loved him beyond any telling of it." Metropolitan Opera Soprano Leontyne Price sang Precious Lord, Take My Hand. Finally the body of Lyndon Johnson was borne home to the Texas hill country aboard the presidential jetliner that was once known as Air Force One (and is now called The Spirit of '76), the same plane that had carried the body of John Kennedy from Dallas to Washington, and on which Lyndon Johnson had taken the oath of office nine years before.
His admirers might talk of having loved Lyndon Johnson, but that was hardly the universal reaction to his presidency. During his last days before retiring from the White House, he was a virtual prisoner. He could scarcely venture out even to the National City Christian Church without risking an encounter with angry youths chanting, "Hey, hey, L.B.J., how many kids did you kill today?" Yet, as the funeral service ended last week, small groups of young people came forward seeking the autograph of Dean Rusk. The incident suggested that the bitterness of the nation's longest war was just beginning to fade, and as President Nixon said in announcing the ceasefire: "No one would have welcomed this peace more than he."
Plot. Few Presidents have escaped vilification while in office, but L.B.J. got more than his measure. He was denounced as vain, tyrannical, vindictive, sly, crude. The attack was so harsh and sweeping because Lyndon Johnson resembled a cast of characters more than a single person.