Civil War Photo Contest
Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
It seems one can't turn on a television these days without seeing some reminder of the events of now fifty ( ! ) years ago; members of my and earlier generations say they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, much as a later generation did for "9/11" and earlier ones did for Pearl Harbor and probably Fort Sumter as well. In my own particular case, though, I have a little "help" in the form of one of the very first publications commemorating that event, the U P International/American Heritage Magazine combined venture, FOUR DAYS, which went through many editions since its publication early in 1964. The above double-page spread says it all: Welcome in Dallas; and there down in the left corner preserved for posterity is my High School Senior self, which I have circled!
Remembering this was a time people actually dressed for important events, two of my best school friends, Joe Michael Puckett and Katherine Hoskins, and I "played hooky" for this momentous occasion, the visit of a President; he and I wore our suits and Kathy dressed similarly appropriately. "Joe Mike" as we called him, now gone from this earth thirty years or more, was positively a "celebrity junkie", going to see every personality possible who visited Dallas, from John Wayne to the notorious episode with Adlai Stevenson that proceeded Kennedy's visit. I was generally disinterested in politics back then, but was easily persuaded to "skip school" and go to Love Field that day, with my mother's collusion: she called saying I was "sick", and it was her car we took.
We arrived at least a couple of hours before Air Force Two ( carrying the vice president ) and Air Force One touched down in that order from their short flight from Fort Worth. We were therefore able to get a good place along the chain-link fence dividing the waiting area from the tarmac in this age before the "tubes" used today; at least we had the fence itself to lean on during the long wait! Even back then, I thought the Civil War the most important event in our nation's history, so it was natural my mind would go to that "other" U.S. president: looking over my shoulder, I saw a van with one of those large TV studio cameras mounted atop it, and said with unknowing ( and unintended! ) prescience, "Looks like this will be the first televised assassination."
You can easily see why this particular photo wound up being used, but perhaps oddly enough there was absolutely NO hostility from the crowd, evident in part by the signs you can also see. The kids with the flags had climbed up on the fence and stayed there as long as I can remember. Unfortunately for my friends and much to Joe Mike's disgust, he and Kathy were cut out of this picture when it was published. However, you can see my mother's umbrella, which I hung on the fence in case of rain, and which I teasingly suggested Kennedy and company could be hit with, in reference to the incident with Stevenson. We stood there for a couple of hours waiting through one "false alarm" when Air Force Two touched down bringing Lyndon Johnson and his party, but at last Air Force One landed and the Kennedys emerged to the cheers from the crowd.
There has been a lot of description about how the President deviated from plan and came to the fence to shake hands, but I have never seen any reason WHY this happened. An unmentioned fact is that there had been pushed out onto the tarmac a lady in a wheelchair - who this was or why I have no idea. Kennedy and his entourage walked over to greet her, and it was then that seeing how he was nearer the fence anyway and the crowd was obviously enthusiastic that he continued on to us! I was nearly crushed by those behind me as everyone reached to shake hands with the group of five, in this order: President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Texas Congressman Ralph Yarborough. Even then I couldn't help but think how tanned and vibrant Kennedy looked, especially in contrast to the flaccid and yellow-looking despised "Landslide Lyndon"! I managed to shake hands with all 3 of the men but "missed" the ladies.
After they passed around the corner of the fence and out of sight, it seemed everyone there had the same idea: bolt back to our cars and try to get out of the airport in time to see at least a little of the motorcade or go to the Trade Mart where the luncheon was to take place. Of course that didn't work, creating a traffic jam from the parking lot to Mockingbird Lane and the route taken by the motorcade. After twenty minutes or more we finally reached the street when a woman in the car next to us motioned for me to roll down my window. ( Remember it had become by then a cool, clear, beautiful fall day. ) She hesitantly said something like "Ah... er, the President... um, the President's... been ... shot." Naturally we didn't believe it - after all we'd just seen him, and he was fine! But quickly turning on the car radio, we learned the awful truth.
Now there was no reason to try to go anywhere; I turned in the opposite direction and headed for the nearest Kip's "Big Boy" Restaurant where we could at least try to sort things out in our minds. On the way inside Joe Mike fumblingly told a man exiting what had happened, only to get an unbelieving and fishy stare. Once inside though, a radio was quickly turned on broadcasting to all patrons the news. We ate lunch then decided to drive downtown to Dealy Plaza which was fast becoming the Mecca it remains to this day. Since this was a Friday, we had the rest of the weekend to watch as events continued to unfold on TV. Only later was our "cover blown" once the book appeared, but I never heard anything about the day at school I missed!
Below, my original edition of FOUR DAYS, sans dust jacket; plus a photo taken of happier times wearing the same suit, along with other officers of the Irving High School Thespian ( drama ) Club, of which I was president my senior year.