I will never forget where I was at 12:40 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. I was watching the Divorce Court television show on KMBC Channel 9 when the program was interrupted with a bulletin that reported that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.
The president was visiting Dallas to heal some very deep political wounds in the Texas Democratic Party. He was to give a keynote speech at a luncheon that day.
One week later, almost to the hour, I was at Love Field in Dallas where President Kennedy had been. I was on my way to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, where I would report for duty as an air reservist.
I recall the comments of my tactical instructor, Sgt. Tommie Prothro, who said those then going though basic training were lucky—that things had slowed down because of the assassination of the president and the holiday season.
Part of the “academic” part of our training was to memorize the chain-of- command—all the way from our drill sergeants to the commander-in-chief of the military. There had been a change at the top with Lyndon Baines Johnson becoming president.
I didn’t detect much love nor respect for Kennedy in the rank-and-file of military personnel. One of my drill sergeants—a smart aleck from West Virginia—arrogantly used his bully pulpit to declare that he didn’t like President Kennedy, but that he wouldn’t have shot him.
I felt rather sorry for one of my fellow basic trainees—a fellow named Oswald; I believe he was from suburban Chicago. The first day of our training, Sgt. Prothro called us all into the day room on the second floor of the barracks. The sergeant called the roll and paused for a few moments after calling Oswald’s name.
“Oswald,” the sergeant said again, this time in a loud voice. “I’m going to keep my eyes on you.” This Oswald was no relation to the Lee Harvey Oswald who was charged with killing the president. But, like most of us, he made it through basic training and went back to his hometown reserve unit.
Like many persons, I often wondered what the United States—and the rest of the world—would have been like had President Kennedy lived. The election of 1960 was not decided until the wee hours the following morning. This nation was deeply divided as liberals supported Kennedy and conservatives supported Richard Nixon. Some presidential historians say Nixon lost the election because he didn’t look good in the presidential television debates. Anyway, Kennedy was able to attract just enough moderate voters to squeeze out a victory.
Because this country had been so sharply divided, I question how effective President Kennedy might have been. I believe he would have had difficulty in winning a second term. There were many conservative Democrats—such as those in Texas—who were not happy with this East Coast liberal in the White House.
I recall overhearing conversations at my wedding reception in suburban St. Louis County in the summer of 1962. Yes, that area was and remains a solid conservative Republican stronghold; many of the guests were defense contractors who worked for McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft. Some were saying it was time to impeach Kennedy because of his anti-military policies.
The Kennedy Administration was embarrassed following the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961. The Central Intelligence Agency had backed an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuban communist government. To be fair, this is something that Kennedy had inherited from President Dwight Eisenhower who had approved a plan to overthrow Castro in 1960; however, Kennedy approved its continuation.
Kennedy was a good-looking Irishman who had an attractive wife and cute kids. He attracted some of the best and brightest minds to advise him. Simply stated, he knew how to inspire and motivate people—and that is the core of being an effective leader.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.