My recollection of Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28,1963, starts with the weather: It was bitterly cold, especially at about 7 a.m. Nevertheless, I was filled with a variety of emotions as I stood at Arlington National Cemetery that day and viewed the grave of President John F. Kennedy, just three days after he was buried, just six after the assassination.
The experience evoked a plethora of emotions in me, ones that I can still feel 59 years later. Our family had been spending Thanksgiving Day in the Baltimore/D.C. area for six years since my brother entered St. Mary’s Seminary in 1958.
My sister had attended IUP and then was working for the Naval Department in D.C. in 1963. She was living in Arlington, Va., and was dating a young man at the time. Since her apartment was not large enough for all five of us, I slept those two nights at the apartment of this man, whose name was John.
I had never met him before this, but he was very personable and kind. When I arrived at his place on Wednesday, he asked me, “Would you like to go to Arlington to see President Kennedy’s grave tomorrow morning?”
The answer was obvious, and I have been grateful to him for that experience.
Four Conrad siblings on Thanksgiving Day, 1963: Jim, Patsy,
Mary Kay, Hugh
The compelling gravesite
I wrote this previously about the emotions that enveloped me as I entered that area,
Nothing dramatic occurred there, but I still felt a spiritual connection to the spot after saying a prayer and talking softly, respectfully, with some of the people who were there. They said that some of the family had been there earlier, either Teddy or Bobby, but not Jackie.
None of that mattered on that Friday morning. Just being there and seeing the eternal flame that Mrs. Kennedy had placed at the grave site was enough for me. It sort of brought closure to the intense feelings that I had experienced as a young 16-year-old.
My emotions over that week ranged from fear at first hearing the news, to shock at someone being able to kill our president, to pity for the Kennedy family, particularly to Jackie, those sweet little children Caroline and John, to anger at killing the first Catholic president, to anger at the city of Dallas -- and particularly to their police department -- for allowing the assassination to take place and for failing to protect his assassin.
That day, none of th mattered as I felt something special that I have never forgotten. I remember all of our Thanksgiving trips, but that one remains at the top because of that visit.
Wix post, October 2021
Remembering the entire experience
JFK Assassination experience started for me as I entered my American History class at Lilly-Washington High School on Nov. 22, 1963. Our teacher was Leo Krumenacker, and I heard him say something about President Kennedy being shot. At that point, everything was hush-hush — but you cannot keep something like that quiet for long.
Shortly after that, the school placed a radio news story on the all-call system, and all of a sudden, a deathly silence enveloped the room. Remember, this was a time when the fear of a nuclear attack was realistic. Just a year before that, the Soviets placed nuclear warheads in Cuba and President Kennedy set up a blockade and forced them to remove the ones that were set up.
The Cuban Missile Crisis had brought us to the brink of nuclear war, and that fear still permeated much of America. Was this a retaliation for what Kennedy did in that instance?
That is a question that has remained unanswered after all these years. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was in cahoots with some other people who were Cuban die-hards and associated with the CIA.
In any event, this was CBS radio, and just about 2:40 p.m., Walter Cronkite uttered those words that we did not want to hear, “From Dallas, Texas, a flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”
We were stunned. Our American president had been assassinated — probably by the Russians.
In a community that was probably 90 percent Catholic, this news brought our town — and the country — to a standstill.
For the next three days, we were glued to the television set. We could see only two television stations, CBS-WFBG in Altoona, now WTAJ, and NBC-WJAC in Johnstown, and they showed no regular programming.
The nation was in shock, and we followed the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and saw in detail the horrible ineptitude of the Dallas Police Department in showboating with him, brining him out in front of cameras and having his shot live by Jack Ruby.
Everyone was off school in our area on Monday when the funeral was, and I watched and watched and watched. It was history in the making, and thousands of books have been written about the assassination and the aftermath.
The emotion of that was devastating. Fear permeated the country. If they could take down our president, who else was safe?
What was particularly gut-wrenching was watching the beautiful First Lady, Jackie, and those two beautiful children, in a time of mourning that they could not comprehend. When Little John saluted, tears flowed.
Burial at Arlington
What I did not remember about his being buried at Arlington NC was how unusual it was for presidents to be buried there,
Kennedy is one of only two presidents buried at Arlington. The other is William Howard Taft, who died in 1930. At the time of Kennedy's death, many believed that he would be buried in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he was born and raised …
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wanted her husband's gravesite to be accessible to the American public. In selecting a location, she consulted with the president's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara—both of whom are now also buried at Arlington. The original gravesite was located on a sloping hillside along an axis line between Arlington House and the Lincoln Memorial.
“Presidential John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite,” Arlington National Cemetery.
JFK was a decorated Naval hero in WWII, so his being there was no doubt he should have been. Why no others?
So, that Thanksgiving of 1963 was one that was special for me. We had our Christmas card photos taken at my sister's apartment, and they were very nice. It was a very special experience, the last since my brother was ordained the following May, making those trips part of our family lore.