Sunday, March 18, 2018
Letters To The Editor

Friday's letters: Joy turns to anguish on Nov. 22, 1963

Readers remember President Kennedy

Collegian's joy turns to anguish

The coverage marking the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination has brought back vivid memories of seeing JFK in person at Houston International Airport on Nov. 21, 1963, the day before he was killed.

I was a senior at the University of Houston and vice president of the student body. The dean of students asked me and the student body treasurer to represent the university at the airport when Air Force One landed. We enthusiastically agreed and took our school flag. We got there early and were at the front of the group behind a barrier about 50 feet from where the plane stopped. My excitement was immense. JFK and the first lady stepped out of the plane. A person ran up the moveable steps and gave Jackie Kennedy a dozen yellow roses. The first lady was stunningly beautiful. JFK's salt-and-pepper hair was a surprise to me because it didn't show up on black-and-white TV of the time.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson then stepped out of the plane. All four waved to the cheering crowd and walked down the steps and along the red carpet until they got to the barrier. I was about 4 feet to the left of the carpet. When JFK got to the barrier I wanted to shake his hand, but he and Jackie turned right. LBJ and Lady Bird turned left and I shook LBJ's hand. It seemed the size of a catcher's mitt. All four looked at our university flag, which made us feel very proud.

The next day, while I was eating lunch in the cafeteria, someone ran in and yelled, "The president was shot!" We went into the student building, where there were televisions. The president was announced dead. Classes were canceled. I went to my fraternity house to watch TV all day and evening in disbelief.

A few hours after going to sleep that night, I woke up and sat at the side of my bed and relived the feelings of deep remorse and pain of his killing. I cried myself to sleep.

The next day, the dean of students asked me to give my thoughts and remarks as a representative of the students at a eulogy for the president later in the week. I agreed. I remember saying that we're all mourning but our mourning may be inadequate if we don't rededicate ourselves to the principles of peace, equality and social justice for which JFK stood.

On Nov. 21, 1963, I was a naive college student overwhelmed with joy and excitement at seeing JFK in person. On Nov. 22 I grew up, realizing the depth and extent of evil in our country, which would show itself again a few years later with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. Texas Gov. John Connally, who was in the same car as JFK in Dallas and was also shot, survived and spoke at our graduation ceremony in May 1964.

Looking at my county 50 years later, while I'm pleased at our progress, there are still too many of us whose mourning then and now for JFK has proved inadequate, as his principles have been ignored by many, who exhibit visceral anger and hatred. Yet I try to wake up every day to do my small part to make us a more perfect union, as JFK championed.

Frank Lupo, St. Petersburg

The patient who listened

In 1952 as a new registered nurse, I was working the night shift at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. It was necessary to make hourly rounds, and the last room I entered was that of a patient with back complaints. As I entered the room, there were many papers strewn around. I began to pick them up. A voice from the bed said, "Don't bother. They will be back on the floor."

I asked the patient why he wasn't sleeping, and he said he couldn't relax. I offered a glass of warm milk and back rub, which he accepted. As I rubbed his back, he asked my name and hometown.

Six months later, I attended a political dinner with a friend, and as I approached the receiving line the man of honor pointed at me and said, "I know you. You are a nurse from New England Baptist Hospital who gave me warm milk and a back rub."

He proceeded to say that I was from Haverhill, Mass., and pronounced my name — Dorothy Papoojian — better than some of my closest friends. I was so impressed that this man was interested enough in common people that when he ran for senator against Henry Cabot Lodge, he earned my very first vote. The man was John F. Kennedy.

Dorothy A. Liskow, Pinellas Park

Charm knew no bounds

November 1963 found me well into my tour as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Nine months previously, armed with only rudimentary Spanish, I had been dropped off in a town an hour's drive east of the capital, Santo Domingo, with no specific mission, which is to say I was expected "to find something useful to do."

As I soon learned, my hometown for the next two years — San Pedro de Macorís, a sugar exporting port of some 30,000 inhabitants — was not so much in need of development as rescue from decay. During the sugar boom years after World War I, it had become a wealthy little city, the first one in the country to have electric lights, where Enrico Caruso had once performed at its opera house, now a burned-out shell. But that was all well in the past when I arrived.

After making contact with municipal authorities, local businessmen and professionals, I learned that despite producing some of the country's first major league baseball players, the town lacked facilities for other popular sports, especially basketball and volleyball. So it was decided that I would attempt to organize youths interested in those activities and, with the help of town officials and businesses, build a series of multipurpose courts at five sites.

On Nov. 22, as I was walking back to my rooming house from one of those sites, one of the youngsters participating in our project called out: "Hey, they've killed your guy!" Shocked but uncertain that what he had said was accurate, I hurried home and turned on my short-wave radio. Sadly, I learned that President Kennedy had indeed been assassinated in Dallas just a few hours earlier.

The days that followed were among the saddest I have ever experienced, yet I was pleasantly surprised and gratified by the number of Dominicans who made a point of personally conveying their condolences to me. Their expressions of genuine sorrow were evidence that JFK's charm and charisma, which had prompted me to become a volunteer, had transcended geographic, linguistic and cultural barriers.

Their sympathy and support encouraged me to redouble my efforts and complete the projects we had undertaken together by the time I left the following year.

Fred Kalhammer, Sun City Center


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