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Back and Forth: Memories of President John F. Kennedy

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 1962 file photo, U.S. President John F. Kennedy looks over notes at his desk in the White House. (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs)

In just eight days will be the 50th observance of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I don't like calling it the anniversary since it was so tragic — a young president shot down at 46 in the prime of his career.

I want you to reflect back on what you were doing and where you were on that Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. Then I'll share my memories of that day.

But first I'll move back to mid- August 1962. My wife, June, and her father, John Jury from London, and I were on a trip through the southwestern United States.

We had left Sunday morning, Aug. 5, in our 1962 Chevy Impala convertible, shocked by the radio news that Marilyn Monroe had died during the night. On the morning of Friday, Aug. 17, as we left the Black Hills for home we heard on the radio President Kennedy would be coming to Pierre, S.D., that morning to speak at the official opening of the new Oahe Dam on the Missouri River at Pierre. I made a quick decision to leave Interstate 90 and head 50 miles north to Pierre.

It was a nasty, rainy morning. We arrived at the Pierre airport about 9:45 a.m. We had heard his plane would arrive at 10 a.m. Cars were backed into a shallow ditch along the road from the airport to the dedication site not far from Crazy Horse Mountain.


There was a slight break in the long entourage of vehicles following the President's car. I gunned the motor and out of the ditch we went. Strangely, our car parked right behind his new Lincoln Continental convertible. We got out and stood nearby as we could see him addressing the crowds from quite a distance, probably 500 feet away.

A Secret Service man talked briefly with me as I stood leaning on the JFK car, crutches in hand. He didn't seem worried about me. Moments later the president came back to the car surrounded by many.

I put out my right hand and said, "Mr. President" and we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries for a fleeting moment, and they were gone. June did not have a camera in hand so I have no visual documentation. Little did I realize that 15 months and five days later he would be gone.

Now to the fateful day, I was on the midday break of my KROC radio shift, and was home having lunch while watching Bernie Lusk on Channel 10 TV. He stopped the Frank Evangelist trio of Frank, John Lyman and Jerry Tupper and read a bulletin from the United Press International that the President had been shot in Dallas, Texas. That was around 12:20 p.m. A few minutes later the word came officially that the president had died.

When I went back to work at 2:30 p.m., KROC manager Bob Fick told us to play no more commercials until after the President's funeral on Monday, Nov. 25.

We played honorable, respectful music all day, from 6 a.m. to midnight. During that weekend, I can't recall if we had any football games on. A remote broadcast had been scheduled earlier at Clements Chverolet, 320 First Ave. S.W., just across from Bilotti's. I did the light chatter with no "hard sell" of cars, talked with owner Jim Madden and our community's respect while suffering the loss of our nation's president. Today, can you see a commercial radio station discontinuing all its advertising?

On the following Monday morning after my first shift ended, I walked up First Avenue to the Green Parrot Café for coffee and one of those mouthwatering sweet rolls baked by Ruth Drummond.

Served to me by waitress Alice Refsland as everyone watched the President's funeral on TV, with the long procession, the riderless horse with boots reversed in the saddle's stirrups, and the view of Jackie Kennedy, daughter Caroline and little John-John saluting the passing procession.


Earlier, as the Mayo Clinic custom, the great doors on the west side of the Plummer Building were closed out of respect for the fallen President.

Next week:My 4-H Club Memories from 70 years ago – The Sumner Sunbeams

Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to news@postbulletin.com or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903. His column runs on Thursdays.

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