Friday, November 22, 2013

fifty years ago

Bill stood waiting about a mile away when this photo was taken.

Fifty years ago today, my husband Bill and I were just 200 miles apart when news broke of President Kennedy's assassination. Bill was a freshman at Hiram College in Ohio and I was .... a third grader in Detroit! (Our kids get a laugh out of that.)

November 22, 1963 was also a Friday, and class was suddenly interrupted. An early dismissal was announced; I don't remember if we were told of the President's death, or just sent home to find out. I had just returned to school because I walked home for lunch each day. My younger brother remembers coming home to find mom ironing, with tears in her eyes. Bill's experience is much grander.

He seems to remember being in his dorm that Friday afternoon. As funeral plans became public, Bill and a college buddy, Charlie, decided to be a part of history. The next day they got a ride to the Ohio turnpike and patched together a series of rides to Washington, D.C. Bill, Charlie and their driver rode through the night as Kennedy's body lay in repose at the White House. By daybreak, the trio pulled into Gettysburg, the battlefield awash in the dawn of November 24. Then it was on to D.C. where the wide-eyed young men were given a tour by their chauffeur: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, White House and appropriately, Arlington National Cemetery. "Absolutely amazing," remembers Bill, seeing Washington for the first time as it prepared to bury the nation's Commander-in-Chief.

By mid-morning, the procession with a horse-drawn caisson carrying Kennedy's body left the White House en route to the Capitol where the President  would lie in state for 24 hours. Bill and his companions found a spot on a curb to witness history. "I will never forget the somber, rhythmic echo of the horses' hooves down Pennsylvania Avenue, seeing the flag-draped coffin and riderless horse," Bill says.

Afterward, Bill and Charlie's driver said, "I'm headed west, you guys want a ride?" Knowing they had classes the next day, they accepted and rode back to Ohio that afternoon.

Bill doesn't have an impetuous bone in his body, so I find it amazing  he gave no second thought to a 24-hour adventure. At the invincible age of 18, he probably didn't realize the magnitude of tasting and witnessing such an historic day.

I imagine the kind driver saw the bigger picture and the sacred role he played in walking a couple of Ohio boys through 24 hours of history.

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