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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Tampa resident recalls last glimpse of JFK

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Published:   |   Updated: November 22, 2013 at 11:32 AM

Everyone seems to have a story about this day. I'm not sure if it is because of the tragedy itself or our need to understand this moment in time.

We talk about those monumental occasions — Pearl Harbor for one generation and 9/11 for another — and all of us have a story to share about what was happening around us at that moment.

For some, it was more up front and personal. Maj. Gen. Jim Jones, a Tampa resident who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, tells his story:

“Fifty years ago I was an Air Force captain in the B-58 program at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas. The president and his wife arrived at Carswell on Air Force One on the 21st of November, and after staying the night in Fort Worth, they departed the next day for the fateful parade in Dallas.

“For their departure, ropes were set up behind which base personnel and their families could see President Kennedy and Jackie board Air Force One.

“And nicely, when they arrived, they did not go directly from their limo to the airplane but rather walked down the rope line and shook hands and spoke with a number of those attending. I had our 1-year-old son on my shoulders, and my wife, Sandy, and I had a good day seeing the Kennedys close-up and telling our son, 'He is the president of the United States.'

“We then watched the president and his wife in her memorable pink dress climb the stairs up to the entry door of Air Force One, and they turned and waved before entering the aircraft.

Within minutes the aircraft was moving and we waited and watched them take off for Dallas. The flight was less than 10 minutes and they probably did not even raise the landing gear.

“We made a quick stop on our drive home to get a quart of milk and we were home within 30 minutes of seeing the president.

“I immediately turned on our black-and-white TV to see the parade in Dallas, but rather, saw confusion and heard, 'The president has been shot.' A great shock for all Americans and a vivid memory for those of us who had seen the Kennedys only minutes before.”

***

A final memory is a phone call my mother received the next day. Someone wanted a portrait of the president to put in a store window and asked her if she could quickly do one.

Mom had shown her art mostly in shows around the South but admitted portraits were not her specialty.

“I went through magazines and anything I could find with pictures of the president,” said my now 91-year-old mother.

“I decided to do it in pastels and must have reworked that thing two dozen times.”

The next day it was hanging in O'Falks department store downtown draped in black.

“I wish I had taken a picture of the drawing because it eventually disappeared from the store window and nobody knew what happened to it.”

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