Nov. 22 always brings memories of JFK in Dallas

`Today is Thanksgiving and it happens to be Nov. 22.

I’m sure we all will enjoy this traditional holiday with a very delicious feast among family and friends and giving thanks to God above. A football game or two was thrown in and the day was topped off with the tastiest of ever pumpkin pie. It is always great to be with family at this time of the year.

My mind, however, drifts back to another Nov. 22 in 1963, some 55 years ago, which was on a Friday. I was in the Navy aboard the Destroyer Leader USS Mitscher DL-2, at her home port of Newport, R.I. I was a signalman and was outside the pilothouse gazing at the piers as some of my friends were getting discharged carrying their sea bags. I waved goodbye to them.

Just then, it was announced throughout the ship that President Kennedy had been mortally wounded in Dallas and Gov. John Connally was also wounded in the motorcade in Dallas.

I tried in vain to tell my friends on the piers by waving to them to draw their attention to tell them of this grim news. They thought that I was still waving goodbye, and I was unable to tell them of the news.

The news kept trickling in and by liberty call, we all seemed to know the extent of the assassination of our 35th president.

Those of us who were alive during this time can remember exactly where we were when this news broke.

I did have liberty that Friday evening, and everything was so silent in the city of Newport. In the bars, everyone was glued to the TV screens awaiting more news of this tragedy, as teary-eyed patrons were saddened with disbelief.

I ran into my good friend Bruce Oerke, who was also shaken and saddened and in no mood to have fun that evening. Harrison Prather and I decided to go to a dance at a place simply called The Tavern, where college kids hung out. The mood there was also blue as guys and gals just sat motionless listening only to the music with no dancing. Prather and I returned to the ship.

It was announced that Saturday was a day of mourning, and no unnecessary work should be performed. Captain Usina instead refused the official day of mourning and continued his plan of having a full-dress personal inspection on the piers. I was duty signalman and was excused from the inspection.

The admiral on the tender ship, Arcadia, saw the inspection on the piers and went ballistic and immediately sent a message to me by flashing light to inform Usina to see him immediately after the inspection. I handed Captain Usina the message and assumed he got chewed out badly for his performance on this day of mourning.

The next day, Sunday, right on TV was the shooting of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. I was on the signal bridge when signalman Pete Rome rushed up to tell me he witnessed the shooting on TV in the ship’s lounge.

We all watched JFK’s funeral at the Newport YMCA and the salute from his young son John-John. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room during the funeral. Our flags were at half-mast for a month.

They say the reason the president went to Dallas was to broker a peace between Texas Governor Connally and U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Since then, there have been many theories and conspiracy stories which were never really proven, and even today, new ones are constantly woven.

Contact Whited at olebert1@aol.com.

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