It was 50 years ago last Thursday that John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president of the United States.
Thanks to the new vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, my husband Ray Greene and I had tickets to the inauguration and associated events.
The evening before, on Jan. 19, 1961, we had attended one of several “galas,” the one Texans were assigned to, at a hotel near Rock Creek Park.
Waiting for the presidential party to appear caused the party to run late, and it was after midnight when we got a taxi back to our hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., about halfway between the capitol and the White House.
TO GET A timely taxi that weekend you needed to wave at least a $50 bill, so these newspaper folks walked to the inauguration day events. Eight inches of snow had fallen and the temperature was in the teens. At least it was sunny.
As many video recordings have shown on TV in the last few days, the male dignitaries wore formal morning dress and top hats while their ladies shivered in coats. (Lady Bird Johnson and Mamie Eisenhower wore furs; new First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had a cloth coat.)
THE 14-MINUTE Kennedy inaugural address has been well remembered for its image of a torch being passed to a new generation, and for its admonition to “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
And there were those most familiar closing lines: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
I REMEMBER thinking as I heard those words that JFK must have had in mind their being engraved in marble some day. Unlike some modern presidents, he actually wrote much of his address instead of leaving the task to his regular speech writer, Ted Sorensen.
According to a story in Friday’s Dallas Morning News, that speech would be a hard sell today because cynicism about government is much higher and the country is more polarized, with right- and left-wing factions dominating the political discourse.
After the noon inaugural ceremonies we started walking to the White House where we had tickets in bleachers set up for the presidential party and other invited guests.
THERE WERE many interesting floats, including a replica of PT-109, the president’s Navy torpedo boat that was sunk in the South Pacific, from which he heroically rescued three sailors at the risk of his own life.
The new First Lady was seen leaving the bleachers and walking into the White House not long after the parade started. Just two months earlier she had given birth to a son, John Jr. (A younger son, Patrick, lived for only two days in August, 1963, and John Jr. died at age 38 when the plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.)
FAST FORWARD to Nov. 22, 1963, when 2,600 people were gathered in the Dallas Trade Mart awaiting the arrival of President and Mrs. Kennedy and Gov. and Mrs. John Connally for a luncheon, part of the president’s tour of the largest Texas cities.
I was seated at a balcony table looking down on the head table, where a fruit cocktail appetizer was in place.
The dignitaries were late arriving and those present were served their entrees.
Some time around 1 p.m. a crowd made up mostly of newsmen burst in through a front door. The fatally-shot president had been taken to Parkland Hospital and the luncheon crowd was soon dismissed as the sad conclusion leaked out.
As I was leaving for my car, facing a long solo drive back to Gilmer, I saw one woman (in a fur coat) crying as she said, “Dallas will never live this down.”
And thus were bookended my experience of JFK’s now-historic thousand days.