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November 19, 2013

Bloody Remembrances

Roy Meachum

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg’s battlefield, the blood remains; memorized by most students: “Four score and seven years ago…”


Friday will bring the 50th anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination. JFK was brought down by an Italian carbine in the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald – maybe. The official report says. In Lincoln’s case, the murderer was John Wilkes Booth: he jumped from the balcony on stage. He was well-known as a Shakespeare actor. He had performed more than once on Washington’s 10th Street.


About Mr. Oswald, doubt exists. He’s never been regarded as a marksman. To confuse further, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was – in the face of his reluctance – appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the committee of fact-finding. Furthermore, he was named as chairman. He felt the panel might intrude on the nation’s highest court.


Mr. Warren worried, and not without cause.


The entire U.S. Secret Service shut its mouth absolutely; considering the worst day in its history. In no measure did they look good – from the open car: inviting the assassination; the abrupt slowing down right before the Texas Book Repository building, in Dealey Plaza. The only saving grace: Agent Clint Hill climbed on the limousine after the shots were fired. That was “after.” I had known Clint when he was assigned to Jackie Kennedy’s detail; he came along when Caroline took ballet lessons.


At the time President Kennedy murdered I was having lunch in Broadcast House with WTOP News managing editor Jack Jurey. When my old friend Walter Cronkite cried at his announcement the president died, Jack abruptly left for the fifth floor and the newsroom; I soon followed.


Lloyd Dennis lured me back with a cultural Sunday night radio show that I called “Symposion,” featuring such programs as “The Devil, He Said:” a view of Satan in the modern world. Whatever I planned for went out the window; there was time between Friday and Sunday. I read Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Courtyard Bloom’d;” the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s last train ride and other items I have trouble remembering. After all, it was half-a-century ago!


On my personal ties I have written before: once meeting First Lady Jackie; on the other hand, I was not involved in the Kennedy Administration. I certainly was in Lyndon B. Johnson’s. Social Secretary Bess Abel called me shortly before Christmas, to help with choosing the proper entertainment for a State Dinner. It was a delicious time in my life: going, dancing and dining in the White House. I became friendly to most of the staff.


There was a Sunday show that sets nicely in my aged bald head: Bobby Kennedy was the hatch man for his brother, and JFK’s source of many women. As former State Secretary Dean Atchison, commenting on Joseph McCarthy, said of the Wisconsin U.S. senator: “No harsh words of the dead.” That applies to the good man who died in Dallas 50 years ago. Certainly, that applies to his attorney general.


Around LBJ, I never heard a hint blaming anything on the last administration, but there were rumors and innuendoes. When Bobby Kennedy announced he was ready for the big job, the president abruptly announced he would not be a candidate for the White House: “If elected. I will not serve…”


Still, the president I stayed with for the five-plus years remains my favorite of all the men presidents. He was warm and sympathetic. Once at a State Dinner, I caught him staring, over the heads of the invited guests. I replied silently, to hell with you!


Lyndon B. Johnson proved a difficult man, on Capitol Hill and in personal life. Still, he did things greater and more numerous; certainly, in the field of Civil Rights.


Requiescat in Pace, Jack F. Kennedy.


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