Tag Archives: President John F. Kennedy

Retro Quote – John F. Kennedy

“Life is never easy.  There is work to be done and obligations to be met – obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.”

John F. Kennedy

Sadly, today marks the 56th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination here in my beloved home town of Dallas, Texas.  I feel that, despite his short life and even shorter presidency, Kennedy helped to cultivate and enhance the concept of a true democratic society and successfully challenged Americans to work hard for those goals and to make their own lives better.  We desperately need such leadership and forward-thinking ambitions today.

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One More Hero – Officer J.D. Tippit

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President John F. Kennedy certainly wasn’t the only person to die on November 22, 1963.  But, only one other individual associated with his death also lost his life that day, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.  Moreover, Tippit died at the hands of the same madman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot the officer on a street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas less than an hour after Kennedy died.

Born to a farming family in Red River County, Texas on September 18, 1924, Tippit grew up hunting and making do with life in a rural community, often devoid of telephones and electricity.  In July of 1944, he joined the U.S. Army, like so many young men of his generation.  After being injured in the Rhine Valley in January 1945, he returned to the U.S. to await deployment to the Pacific.  But, in 1946, he was discharged and returned to Texas.

On the day after Christmas that same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Frances Gasway.  Shortly afterwards, the young couple moved to Dallas to start their life together.  They briefly moved back to Red River County, but returned to Dallas in 1952.  With 3 children to support, J.D. quickly found his true calling: police work.  Being a police officer in Dallas, even in the 1950s, could be dangerous.  He almost lost his life at the hands of a demented man in April of 1956.

On November 22, 1963, Tippit returned to his home to have a quick lunch with Marie.  Then, word came about the shots in Dealey Plaza and a description of the suspected gunman.  Tippit didn’t stand a chance against Oswald’s lunacy.

On November 20, 2012, the city of Dallas honored Tippit’s sacrifice with a historical marker.  A few days ago I was surprised to learn that Jacqueline Kennedy had sent a letter to Marie Tippit shortly after the double tragedy, expressing her condolences.  At the same time, both women became widows, each with young children, under the most horrific of circumstances.  Each man died doing their jobs: Kennedy making a goodwill visit to Texas as president of the United States, and Tippit hunting a killer.

This is for all the law enforcement officials whose lives often end amidst such horror.  Their watch may end on a certain day, but their legacies of service and responsibility go on forever.

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Kennedy’s Presidential Limousine – The Lincoln X-100

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I mentioned this last year, on the 49th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, but I wanted to bring it up again on this special occasion.  My car fetish knows few bounds, even though it’s limited to most anything pre-1980.  That includes the vehicle Kennedy was riding in that fateful day: a 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100.  It was a 4-door convertible, and X-100 was its Secret Service code name.

Ford Motor Company assembled the car at its Lincoln plant in Wixom, Michigan in January 1961.  Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio customized the vehicle to function as a presidential parade limousine; literally cutting it in half, reinforcing it, extending it 3½ feet in length and making numerous other modifications.  Ford Motor Company and Hess & Eisenhardt collaborated on engineering and styling.  It debuted at the White House in June 1961.  The car remained the property of the Ford Motor Company, which leased it to the Secret Service for $500 per year.

The car, equipped at the Lincoln plant, would have retailed for $7,347.  Custom built, it cost nearly $200,000.

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Special features on the limousine included:

  • Removable steel and transparent plastic roof panels
  • Hydraulic rear seat that could be raised 10½ ” to elevate the president
  • Massive heating and air conditioning system with auxiliary blowers and 2 control panels
  • Dark blue broadcloth lap robes with gray plush lining and hand-embroidered presidential seals in special door pockets
  • Four retractable steps for Secret Service agents
  • Two steps on rear bumper for additional agents
  • Flashing red lights, siren
  • Blue Mouton rug in rear
  • Indicator lights when door was ajar or steps out
  • Two flagstaffs, two spotlights
  • Auxiliary jump seats for extra passengers
  • Two radio telephones
  • Interior floodlights

I have a replica of this car by Yat Ming, which is part of its “Presidential Limousines” collection.  Yes, it’s made in China, but I love it anyway.  And, I know owning such a thing sounds macabre, yet the vehicle is an indelible, albeit tragic, part of our nation’s history.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

The Strange Saga of the JFK Assassination Car.”

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Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.

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That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?

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My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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Now Dallas, You Can Move Forward

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For the past half century, the city of Dallas, Texas has been defined by three elements: the Dallas Cowboys, the television show “Dallas” and the assassination of the country’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy.  I’ve always admired Kennedy.  He was a true military hero who barely survived World War II.  He was witty and charming with a strong vision for America’s future.  In his inaugural address, he uttered the most inspirational words I’ve ever heard: “And so, my fellow, Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  It was a challenge for a country that – although already accustomed to them – to do more.  It’s certainly something this nation, filled with self-righteous individuals, needs today.  It’s why I vote regularly and speak out when I see injustice.  If you want your society to work for you properly, you have to be willing to do something right for it.

Several years ago, while working my first job as a package clerk at a nearby grocery store, a woman from California asked me how I felt about the city of Dallas.  It was a curious question.  But, it was her first trip to Texas, and she just wanted to know.  She mentioned that, in her native California in 1963, her fellow citizens immediately came to loathe the city of my birth and the entire state of Texas.  She saw people hurtle rocks and bottles at a couple of cars that bore Texas license plates.  Then, I told her I was only 17 days old on the day Kennedy died and that my mother had seen the presidential motorcade race by the garage apartment where we lived on its way to Parkland Hospital – though at the time, she had no idea what had just transpired.  She was nursing me and had sat down to watch “As the World Turns” – a program she’d become addicted to while on maternity leave – and just happened to hear the sirens in the distance; blaring through the open bathroom window.  Not until she returned to the front room to resume watching her show and Walter Cronkite interrupted did everything change.

The California woman – a blonde in her early 40s – froze.  The event became personal again.

It’s a good thing for a city to be associated with a great sports team.  After the horror of the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys had the burden of transforming the city into “America’s team.”  Its image as a real estate and oil metropolis were certified in “Dallas,” one of the cheesiest programs the American entertainment community has ever produced.  Fortunately, I know the real Dallas, and I’m happy to announce it’s not that bad.  This place of nearly 2 million people is a blue enclave in a red state.  The city boasts a non-White majority population that still trends Democratic in presidential elections.  In 1995, Dallas elected Ron Kirk as mayor, the first Black to hold that office.  In 2004, Dallas County elected Lupe Valdez as its first Hispanic, female and openly gay or lesbian sheriff.  Two years later it elected Craig Watkins as its first Black district attorney.  There are two schools named after Kennedy here: Kennedy-Curry Middle School and John F. Kennedy Learning Center.  It’s a city with a diverse population and an international reach.  Yes, it boasts its share of crackpots.  Show me a city this size that doesn’t and I’ll show you a pile of rocks.

When word about Kennedy’s death spread throughout my father’s workplace, a printing company on the edge of downtown, an older man groused that Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was Catholic.  My father, then in his early 30s and unafraid to speak his mind, snapped back, “You son of a bitch!  He was our president!”

Several years ago, while working as a contractor for a government agency, my company’s liaison – a hard-right Republican who almost got teary-eyed whenever he mentioned Ronald Reagan’s name – unexpectedly commented that the Kennedy assassination was “one of the best days in this country’s history.”  The three of us standing there with him – my supervisor, a coworker and me – were literally startled.  The statement had come out of nowhere.

Even I who despised Ronald Reagan got scared when he was shot in 1981.  “No!” I announced to the man, while standing beside my supervisor.  “The day Kennedy was shot was one of the worst days this country has ever experienced!”  I reiterated how, on the day Reagan fell victim to a crazed gunman, I was glued to the television.  My mother arrived home from work and sat down to watch a local broadcast – and began to cry.  It had only been a little more than 17 years since Kennedy’s death, and the nightmare had been rejuvenated.

I stormed out of my supervisor’s office, genuinely pissed off, and returned to my desk.  The man, twice my size with an equally imposing voice, followed me and meekly apologized.

Every major metropolitan area has its extremists; its cache of lunatics who are filled with vile against anyone and anything they don’t like.  There were certainly plenty of them in Dallas in the early 1960s.  But, the nation was at the start of a cultural tumult, and such types filled a lot of cities, especially in the Deep South.  It had been a century since the start of the Civil War, and many White Southerners didn’t like the thought of Negroes gaining equality.  When Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Claudia (whom Lyndon affectionately dubbed “Lady Bird”), visited Dallas in September of 1960, they were met, in part, by a hostile crowd.  Although a native Texan and then-Senate majority leader, Johnson was vilified by some folks as duplicitous in a liberal Yankee agenda (e.g. civil rights for Negroes) by agreeing to run on the Kennedy ticket.  As the Johnsons exited a downtown theatre, a young woman lunged forward and snatched Mrs. Johnson’s white gloves from her dainty hands.  Lady Bird’s face turned as white as the gloves that ended up in a sewer.  The senator hustled his wife into a waiting car and hurtled an invective back towards the angry crowd.

When Kennedy died, it had been 13 years since someone made a concerted attempt to assassinate a sitting U.S. president; 18 years since one had died in office; and 62 years since one had been killed.  At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency, the first born in the 20th century – and the last to die in office.  His death shocked the nation – and the world – into a new, more brutal reality.  Few could fathom such evil in those days.  Kennedy’s vision for a better nation held so much hope.  That a lone gunman with a Napoleonic complex could possibly destroy the beautiful stones of Camelot with three bolts of lead hadn’t entered the public conscious.

When I was a senior in high school, an English teacher told me everything that erupted in the 1960s had been brewing the previous decade; a time many still view through a delicate stained glass window.  Historians and various cultural observers now agree that Kennedy’s assassination is when the 1960s actually began.  The moment a bullet pulverized the skull of the handsome, young president and compelled his beautiful, glamorous wife to clamber onto the back of the limousine to gather the bloody fragments – like a tomboy collecting rocks – is when that stained glass window shattered.  The patriotism of the 1940s and the economic security of the 1950s collapsed into the reality of a cold, dispassionate universe.  As a whole, Americans realized the nation hadn’t lived up to its ideals of equality and freedom for all.  The Watergate scandal then seemed to confirm things aren’t always how they seem, and we needed to start questioning authority.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

What’s often ignored about Kennedy’s visit to Texas is the overwhelming joy with which he and his wife, Jacqueline, were greeted.  When the couple arrived in neighboring Fort Worth late on November 21, a large, enthusiastic group had gathered in the rain to see them.  As the motorcade cruised through downtown Dallas on that bright, sunny Friday afternoon, hundreds of people lined the streets; waving and cheering.  At one point, Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas governor John Connally, turned to the president and gleefully pointed out that Dallas enjoyed the First Couple’s presence.  They did; they really did.

Several years ago someone painted a white X in the middle of Elm Street, identifying the exact spot where Kennedy was hit.  Somehow that dubious insignia withstood rain, sleet, triple-digit temperatures and Dallas drivers.  Recently, however, the city paved over it as part of a concerted infrastructure improvement plan.  But, it was also a symbolic move.  No, Dallas can’t just get over what happened here on this day five decades ago; pretending it was nothing more than a rough afternoon.  Yes, we grieve today about one of the most tragic events of the 20th century.  That’s the honorable thing to do.  But, we also need to consider Kennedy’s view of a better world – and then move forward.  We have no other choice.

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John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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In Memoriam – John F. Kennedy: May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963

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“Freedom lies in being bold.”

–  Robert Frost

 

John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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Lincoln X-100 – The Kennedy Presidential Limousine

On the day he died, President John F. Kennedy was riding in a 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100.  It was actually a 4-door convertible, and X-100 was its Secret Service code name.  Ford Motor Company assembled the car at its Lincoln plant in Wixom, Michigan in January 1961.  Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio customized the vehicle to function as a presidential parade limousine; literally cutting it in half, reinforcing it, extending it 3½ feet in length and making numerous other modifications.  Ford Motor Company and Hess & Eisenhardt collaborated on engineering and styling.  It debuted at the White House in June 1961.  The car remained the property of the Ford Motor Company, which leased it to the Secret Service for $500 per year.

The car, as equipped at the Lincoln plant, would have retailed for $7,347.  Custom built, it cost nearly $200,000, according to Randy Mason in The Saga of the ‘X-100’.

Special features on the limousine included:

  • Removable steel and transparent plastic roof panels
  • Hydraulic rear seat that could be raised 10½ ” to elevate the president
  • Massive heating and air conditioning system with auxiliary blowers and 2 control panels
  • Dark blue broadcloth lap robes with gray plush lining and hand-embroidered presidential seals in special door pockets
  • Four retractable steps for Secret Service agents
  • Two steps on rear bumper for additional agents
  • Flashing red lights, siren
  • Blue Mouton rug in rear
  • Indicator lights when door was ajar or steps out
  • Two flagstaffs, two spotlights
  • Auxiliary jump seats for extra passengers
  • Two radio telephones
  • Interior floodlights

I have a replica of this car by Yat Ming, which is part of its “Presidential Limousines” collection.  I know that may sound macabre, but the vehicle is an indelible, albeit tragic, part of our nation’s history.

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