- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy insists in a posthumously published new book that he was not romantically involved with young Mary Jo Kopechne and that he never escaped the despair he felt after she died in the 1969 car crash that has been seared into the national consciousness as “Chappaquiddick.”

Mr. Kennedy, who died last week of brain cancer at the age of 77, acknowledged that he enjoyed women and drink - sometimes too much so - but said reports of wild Kennedy excesses were exaggerated.

The memoir offers an intimate look at the personal failings, tragedies and triumphs of the famed Kennedy family’s last surviving brother. He said he agreed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he gunned down then-President John F. Kennedy.

He also recounted how his other assassinated brother, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, asked then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to make him an envoy to try to broker a peace deal to end the Vietnam War. If President Johnson had agreed, Edward Kennedy speculates, Robert Kennedy might have not have run for president in the 1968 campaign, when he was assassinated.

Among his regrets, Mr. Kennedy included his zest for what he considered to be the good life, but he mocked the exaggerated reports of his personal excesses.

“I have enjoyed the company of women,” he wrote. “I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three, and I’ve relished the smooth taste of a good wine. At times, I’ve enjoyed these pleasures too much. I’ve heard the tales about my exploits as a hell-raiser - some accurate, some with a wisp of truth to them and some so outrageous that I can’t imagine how anyone could really believe them.”

He writes that he always has accepted the conclusion that a lone assassin killed his brother John and that Kennedy family members had worried about the emotional health of his brother Robert Kennedy following John Kennedy’s death in Dallas in 1963. He said it “veered close to being a tragedy within a tragedy.”

Yet it was the specter of Chappaquiddick that Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother, never could shake.

“That night on Chappaquiddick Island ended in a horrible tragedy that haunts me every day of my life,” Mr. Kennedy writes in the memoir, “True Compass,” to be published on Sept. 14.

Mr. Kennedy said his Catholic faith helped sustain him as he wrestled with guilt over the events of July 18, 1969, when he drove a car off a bridge into a pond on the tiny island. His own anguish, he said, paled in comparison with the suffering endured by Miss Kopechne’s family.

“Atonement is a process that never ends,” he wrote.

The memoir is to be published by Twelve, a division of the Hachette book group. The 532-page book was obtained early by the New York Times and the New York Daily News.

In it, Mr. Kennedy said his actions on Chappaquiddick were “inexcusable.” He said he was afraid and “made terrible decisions,” and had to live with the guilt for more than four decades.

The Massachusetts senator drove off a bridge into a pond. He swam to safety, leaving Miss Kopechne trapped in the car.

Miss Kopechne, 28, a former worker with Robert Kennedy’s campaign, was found dead in the submerged car’s back seat 10 hours later. Mr. Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a suspended sentence and probation.

He writes that he had no romantic relationship with Miss Kopechne and hardly knew her. He said they were both getting emotional about his brother’s death and decided to leave the party that was hosted by Robert Kennedy’s former staffers. He made similar statements in the days following the crash.

In the book, Mr. Kennedy discusses candidly his battle with brain cancer and his “self-destructive drinking,” especially after the 1968 death of his brother Robert.

He also explains why he decided to run for the presidency in 1980, saying he was motivated in part by his differences with President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Democrat. He criticized Mr. Carter’s go-slow approach to providing universal health care, an issue Mr. Kennedy described in his later years as the “cause of my life.”

The book was written with the help of a collaborator and was based on contemporaneous notes taken by Mr. Kennedy throughout his life and hours of recordings for an oral history project.

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