INKLINGS: What were you doing . . .
Fifty years ago today? I was ironing. Of all the mundane things to be doing while the President of the United States was being shot!
But that was part of the horror of that day. Most of us are doing ordinary things on days of disaster. Things like raising the flag at Pearl Harbor or attending a meeting at the World Trade Center. Even John F. Kennedy. He was on one of his political trips – often taken for different reasons – but always part of his ordinary business.
He traveled many times to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod via Otis AFB where we were stationed. This was just a few miles from the Kennedy Compound. We got to see Air Force One deliver the presidential party often and frequently saw the First Family come and go. One of us got to shake the president’s hand. The other has a special memento from November 25, 1963. Jim did the former; I have the latter.
On Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963, Jim was flying. Our daughter Cathy was in kindergarten and 18 month-old David was napping. And I was in the finished basement of our two-story base housing duplex, pressing Air Force uniforms and watching the soap opera, “As the World Turns.”
Suddenly a black and white “CBS Bulletin” logo flashed on the screen followed by the appearance of the newsman known as “The Most Trusted Man in America,” a coatless and dark haired Walter Cronkite. A report, he said – unofficial – was just in, saying that shots had been fired at President Kennedy in Dallas. Then the soap opera resumed until Cronkite returned telling us in a near-breaking voice while removing his dark rimmed glasses and looking at an off camera wall clock, that it had now been confirmed that the president had died “some 38 minutes ago.”
Over the last several days as the assassination was being recalled, one report said the most common immediate reaction was threefold: shock, disbelief and tears.
That was me. And it was the same for a dozen of my neighbors as we all made our way outdoors to meet in the middle of the cu-de-sac. It just couldn’t be. But it was.
Unaccountably it was then that I remembered a happy moment. At a recent arrival of Air Force One at Otis, flight crews from F-101 fighter planes, known as the Voodoo, stood at attention, resplendent in orange flight suits, to welcome their Commander in Chief. President Kennedy, I like to think, recognized another Irish face and stepped over to shake my husband’s hand. There was a photo taken to preserve the moment.
My memento is a small black bordered Mass card. I don’t remember how I got it but imagine it was a thoughtful gesture by The First Lady to have it distributed at places which were special to the president.
The card was given to attendees at Kennedy’s funeral. It shows a profile of JFK on the front, and is inscribed on the back with Mrs. Kennedy’s words: “Dear God, Please take care of your servant John Fitzgerald Kennedy.” It read, below are excerpts from his inaugural address, beginning ironically with the words: “Now the trumpet summons us again . .”
Like the handshake and the photo, this card, on this particularly wrenching Friday, is again – to quote former TV anchor Dan Rather: “A hammer to the heart.”