It was early on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, when a soldier burst into my personnel office at the 116th Intelligence Corps Group in Tempo Building C in southeastern Washington, D.C.
While I normally have problems remembering dates, I remember this one, because it was the fifth month anniversary of Mary’s and my wedding. Newlyweds remember stuff like this.
Our unit had planned an officers’ party that night at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Mary and I were going to make that our fifth month anniversary celebration.
“Somebody shot the president!” shouted our unexpected visitor.
His announcement was greeted with hoots of disbelief and statements of low regard for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose withdrawal of air support for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and general liberal policies did not endear him to the military.
“No! Really! It’s on TV!” My six- or eight-member staff and I went next door to the dayroom, sort of a break room for soldiers that had a small black and white TV. The program on the air, which nobody was watching, was a game show.
Our informant changed channels, and sure enough, there was a live telecast from Dallas. JFK had been shot, and his condition was unknown. A short time later, his death was announced.
American military units around the globe were ordered to stand fast until a determination was made if the assassination of the president signaled the start of a foreign invasion.
When it was determined that this was not the case, Washington responded as it always did to any crisis, large or small: by sending home federal employees.
Sending federal employees home in Washington, D.C., is like sending UF fans home from Gator Growl; there aren’t many folks left in the stadium.
As I headed home to our second-floor walk-up apartment on Barnaby Terrace, Southeast, I had two thoughts: (1) Presidential assassinations were a thing of history: Garfield, McKinley, and Lincoln; there was never supposed to be another one (2) I was no great fan of Kennedy’s policies, but I was an Army officer and he was my commander in chief; no son-of-a-you-get-the-idea had the right to murder him.
Our plans for a fifth-month anniversary celebration forgotten (the party was cancelled), Mary and I watched history unfold on the TV in our $98.50 a month apartment.
Air Force One landed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base, and two helicopters took off. One carried Jackie and the other members of the Kennedy retinue and the newly sworn in President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The other carried the Kennedy casket.
We watched as the two choppers left Andrews AFB, then looked out of our second-story living room window as they flew overhead en route to the White House.
However insignificant our vantage point, it made us feel like we were on the front row of American history.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. In his two years of Army duty in Washington, he experienced the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination, and the MLK March on Washington. As to the assassination, he believes there probably was a gunman on the grassy knoll.)