This chair …
His chair …
Will remain empty forever more.
YOU PROBABLY LEARNED ABOUT IT IN SCHOOL …
I LIVED IT
Times were different, then.
Check that. People were different then.
Hundreds of thousands of young men returned from fighting a horrible war against Germany and Japan. My father came home after four years of constant fighting in Europe. His time concluded starting at D-Day +4 and culminated with the Battle of the Bulge.
About three years after his return, my parents learned that I was on the way. Just like millions of other young couples, they were to be parents to an entirely new generation of Americans.
I was born in Bend, Oregon. Just after my third birthday, my parents decided to return to Detroit where they were both raised. For a time, we lived in a house near my grandparents.
The country was regaining its footing. Babies were being born at a record rate. I heard that after being away, sex was all the rage for those young couples who had spent five years apart as the war dragged on.
You’ve likely heard of the ‘baby boom’ and I surely was one of them.
New homes were being built as fast as workers could erect them. EVERYONE was a patriot in some form or fashion. For his part, my Dad was a member of a couple of marching brass bands. I think he knew ALL of the military marches by heart.
I recall being in first grade when our teacher informed us that Pledge of Allegiance had been changed by Congress.
Congress? What’s that? No matter, we must now remember to add the words, “under God” to our newly-memorized daily recitation.
I recall that everybody in school lived with their Mom and Dad. No exceptions. Dad worked and Mom stayed home and took care of the kids. Made sense to me.
1960 CAME ALONG
I was now in ‘Junior High School.’ It was a whole new kind of school experience. We hadn’t hardly gotten settled when along came an election. It was time to elect a new President.
Gee, I was pretty happy with President Eisenhower – everyone called him, ‘Ike.’ He seemed an OK guy as far as I knew. No matter. He would be retiring and be replaced either by Nixon or Kennedy. Mom and Dad liked Nixon. So, when we had a ‘kids’ election’ in school, I chose Nixon, too.
The big worry back then was that Kennedy was a Catholic and he might take orders from the Pope on how to run the country. That turned out to be a lot of worry about nothing. Kennedy won the election.
I remember talking with Mom about what we should do now – because the guy who won isn’t the one we wanted. She gave me some profound advice that every American would do well to follow now.
WORDS OF WISDOM Yes, son, the man we wanted lost the election. But, the election is over, now. Mr. Kennedy will be our President come January. He will work for all the people and it’s important that we respect and follow his lead.
On January 20, 1961, President Kennedy was inaugurated. There are a few things he talked about that I recall to this day:
A new generation of Americans are coming into their own with a new vim and vigor in their patriotism. He seemed a whole lot younger than President Eisenhower; a lot like the difference between Grandma & Grandpa and Mom & Dad.
The new President wanted us to join forces as a nation, and put a man on the moon by the end of the current decade.
This would be a new era for Americans to treat every one of our countrymen with respect and a genuine concern for their wellbeing.
He closed with this clincher:
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Instead, ask what you can do for your country.”
I wanted to stand up and say, “Amen” when I heard those words.
THAT ROCKING CHAIR
Everyone knew the President had that chair. We knew he sat in it to settle himself in times of stress. And he had his moments.
I particularly remember the Bay of Pigs incident when he went nose-to-nose with Kruchev of the Soviet Union. He stared them down.
We were Americans.
We could do anything.
He was our young President and he would lead the way.
We were excited.
It was a cool, crisp, sunny Friday morning in Detroit. I was in tenth grade. It was my first year in high school.
That Friday, my homeroom class was scheduled to be on an all-day FIELD TRIP to the Detroit Institute of Arts. (YIPPEE)
We left early in the morning and returned about 1430 (2:30PM for the civilians).
WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?
Two busloads of us knuckleheads arrived about an hour before school was scheduled to be dismissed. But wait … the halls were full of students. Nobody was in class.
The Public Address System was blaring a local radio station’s news. The mood of my fellow students was weird – to say the least. Then, I spotted someone I knew who had not been on the field trip. He had a crazed look in his eyes when I asked what was happening.
“President Kennedy has been shot. He might be dead by now – I’m not sure.” WTF?
It felt like my world was coming unglued. I wanted to know more.
My focus then turned to getting home – to my parents and my brother. Once there, we were all glued to the TV for news. As with most emergencies, when there wasn’t anything new to say, the newscasters just repeated themselves.
That was OK.
Everything was canceled. No one cared. The world had came to an abrupt, sudden halt.
Everyone, everywhere were stopped in their tracks. At 15 years old, one’s view of the world can be narrower than it is in later years. But, for me, STOP was the word of the day.
And, things stayed in a STOP mode for many of the days which followed. We learned that Dallas Cop T.J. Tippit who had been killed by Oswald, as well.
Saturday was spent mostly in front of the TV, talking with my parents about what it all meant and trying to figure out how it would affect my future. The only other people I saw were the neighbors – who were very close friends with my parents.
Sunday was much the same until I watched nightclub owner Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald at point-blank range and kill him. Then, all Hell broke loose – all over again.
Americans lost their child-like naiveté that day. We could no longer believe that bad things only happened in other countries.
We’ve had some tough moments in the fifty-six years since you left us, President Kennedy. But, we’ve had some very good ones, too. In your short time of being President, you showed us how to live and love life vibrantly. For that, I salute you, sir. You served in uniform – as did I. You understood. Thank you for having the backs of my brothers.
In the years following, we would lose your brother, Bobby and Martin Luther King, as well at the hands of assassins. We learned that marriage was no longer sacred to many and sex was no longer reserved for the marital bed. We fought internal battles over the war in Vietnam. We endured a Presidential impeachment/resignation.
Yet, John Kennedy taught us to have and keep a Positive mental attitude no matter how tough the adversary. He also taught us that – if we band together – we can accomplish anything.
One year after Kennedy’s assassination, I was given a gift by my Grandmother. It is a book, titled, “Four Days.” This year, that book is 55 years old. It has many pictures which are complete with some great narratives. I would like to share those with you here.
“WHY THIS STORY NOW,” you ask. It reminds us that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone – even a President, and especially a cop.
Is there something on your heart that you want to say to someone? Possibly something you have wanted to do, but haven’t gotten around to it?
Please, brother: do it. Do it, say it, write it, and make it happen NOW. Don’t delay. Please. Now is the time.
FROM THE BOOK, ‘FOUR DAYS:’
The President had been in Texas overnight. Crowds there seemed to really like him. Governor Conelly, seated in front of the President was shot that day, too.
In 1963, instant video from anywhere simply didn’t exist. Pictures like these had to be put on video tape or film and flown to a network ‘feed’ point (like New York or Los Angeles) where they could be sent across the country.
For the first hours, AP teletype was sketchy and that was it.
On the left, one of our brothers from those many years ago, Dallas Officer T.J. Tippit. He was killed by Oswald as Tippit attempted to arrest him.
On right is the defiant asshole, Lee Harvey Oswald.
This is Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as our new President aboard Air Force One as it sat on the tarmac in Dallas.
He is flanked by his wife (lleft) and Jackie Kennedy who is still wearing the dress with her husband’s brain matter on the skirt.
On the left are Jackie & children leaving the White House for the last time as they go to JFK’s funeral.
In the middle are the Kennedy brothers with Jackie and Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson in the rear.
On the right is the horse-draw casson with Kennedy’s casket.
In the left picture are the Kennedy family: JFK’s brothers Bobby and Teddy flank Jackie.
The picture on the right froze the hearts of the entire nation when it occurred. It happened as his father’s casket passed in front of him on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was two-year old John Jr., more affectionately called, John-John. It broke our hearts.
This man served under President Kennedy. He is/was kin to us cops as a member of the military. Every one of us who has attended the funeral of a fallen brother knows exactly what was in his heart. God bless him for being there and allowing his heart and feelings to be revealed to the nation.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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