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November 17. 2013 12:23AM

From 1963: '3 Determined Youngsters Saw Historic JFK Rites'


Wayne Hoitt, John Murray and Dave Fitzpatrick huddle in the back of Hoitt’s station wagon during their trip to Washington for President Kennedy’s funeral. (FILE)


Wayne Hoitt took this photo during President John F. Kennedy's funeral procession. The shadow of a veiled Jackie Kennedy can be seen on the pavement. COURTESY 

This is the account Memorial High senior Dave Fitzpatrick wrote for the Dec. 1, 1963, New Hampshire Sunday News:

It was cold and damp on the evening of Saturday, November 23. The nation was still numb from the shock of President John Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.

The writer and a group of friends were at a companion's house, playing cards. Like millions of other Americans, we were discussing the tragic sequence of events.

Of a sudden, Wayne Hoitt, a fellow senior at Memorial High spoke: "Let's go to Washington for the President's funeral!"

The idea seemed a little preposterous but we soon learned Wayne was not jesting. And then we all grew serious. We agreed to go.



FACED PROBLEMS



But we had problems - of many descriptions: money, food, a conveyance.

But you have heard, needless to say, that "youth will find a way."

Three of us had decided to go: the aforementioned Wayne Hoitt, John Murray, another Memorial senior, and I. In our own immediate group, we collected $13. This was from friends at the card table who couldn't make the trip.

Then we went home and let the blow fall on our parents. In my own particular case, I decided to wait until my mother and father awoke on Sunday morning. I counted on the element of surprise and proposed it to them as gently as possible. I understand later, they spent the rest of the day in semi-shock, but they finally gave their permission.

And I will never forget this as long as I live, for it gave me the chance to see a spectacle that will go down in history.



SETS TO WORK



My mother, bless her heart, immediately set to work, scurrying around for food and dollar bills. She gave me a sum of money to implement what I already had and came up with a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and some cookies. She also gave me an extra blanket, for we intended to sleep in Wayne's car. She had little enough time to do this. The entire episode at my home consumed only 35 minutes at best. The Medal of Honor to mother.

We figured that the sandwiches, coke and cookies would last us to Washington and, perhaps, with a little conservation, back to Maryland. We were right. The food gave out at Odessa, Del.

So it was we departed for Washington at 7 a.m. Sunday.

The trip was smooth as we traveled through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and to the nation's capitol. We arrived in Washington at 5 p.m. Sunday.



VANTAGE POINT



Wayne, who had visited Washington once before, looked up a friend of his, a seasoned veteran of the guided tour brigade. He told us the best vantage point from which to see Mr. Kennedy's funeral. "Try to get on Memorial Bridge," he said. "That would be your best bet." We thanked the friend and proceeded to Union Station - which was to be our central meeting point.

The President's body was lying in state in the rotunda of the Capitol. We advanced to East Capitol Street and saw about 50,000 people waiting in line to view the casket. Being of sound mind and tired feet, we postponed this to a later date.

We traveled back to Union Station to get something to eat and to try to get some sleep. The meal, which consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, coke, and crackers, was like nectar from the gods - to us anyhow - and we quickly devoured it and went to sleep, in the back of Wayne's station wagon.



BACK TO LINE



Awaking at about 11 that same night, we started again to the beginning of the line. Before we got started, however, we met Sgt. Ed Dias, an administrative specialist at Ft. Myer, Va. We didn't know it at this point, but Sgt. Dias was to be a life saver.

The Capitol was still our goal, but by this time, it had twice as many people lined up before it.

Meeting Sgt. Dias on our reluctant return trek to Union Station, we told him of our plight. He offered one solution: "Come on up in to my place," he said. "The wife's gone to Pittsburgh and the house is kind of empty, anyway. You can sack in on the floor. It isn't much, but at least it's warm."

He didn't have to say any more. As we were exhausted and cold and hungry - the usual laments of a spur-of-the-moment traveler - we jumped at the chance.

We spent Sunday night in his apartment in Alexandria.

The morning of the funeral, we wanted to go to the rotunda, but they were beginning to turn the crowds away, and we gave it up, sadly.

Although one of the purposes of the trip was defeated, a promising morning still lay in store.



TO CEMETERY



Dias led us to Arlington National Cemetery, where he took us to the President's grave site.

As we arrived, so did the cordon of Irish Honor Guards. Clad in black shining riding boots and brown and red uniforms, they were stationing themselves for the funeral rites.

Also present at this early hour were the Air Force Bagpipe Band, the honor guard of Marines, Airmen, Navy and Court Guardsmen, and newspapermen.

At this time, we were told that in order to view the funeral from the cemetery, we had to have clearance from the White House.



CALLS WHITE HOUSE



Rationalizing that once we had gone this far, we might as well go for broke, this lowly school reporter proceeded to phone the White House. The thought alone was frightening.

Contacting Press Secretary Pierre Salinger's office, I was informed that if one could get to the northwest gate of the White House at 10 a.m., it might be possible to get a press pass.

Overjoyed, we went to the White House with all due haste.

Showing the proper identification and mentioning the UNION LEADER and SUNDAY NEWS we were able to secure passes that would allow us to enter the White House grounds.

The time was approximately 11 a.m. It was a sunny day in Washington, but bitterly cold.

The Marine Band came into view. The bright red uniforms, brilliant in the sun, provided a tragic contrast to the black-draped drums.



LEADERS EMERGE



Then suddenly, out on the White House steps, strode the world's leading statesmen. Charles De Gaulle of France; Prince Phillip and Sir Alec Home of England; Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan of Russia; Emperor Haille Selassie of Ethiopia; U Thant of the United Nations, ad infinitum.

The caisson bearing the martyred President came to the White House driveway. Six white horses pulled the flag-draped coffin. Behind it - a riderless horse, a pair of black riding boots placed backwards in the stirrups. A sword hung from the saddle, symbolic of a military hero who had died.

Behind this, the widow - Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. History will say of this moment, perhaps, that Mrs. Kennedy was magnificent. Despite her personal tragedy and heartbreak, her composure was remarkable. She was escorted by Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, and Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the junior senator from Massachusetts.

In the car following rode Caroline and John Jr. It was "John-John" who reflected the feelings of the entire world on the steps of St. Matthews Church when he raised his little right arm and saluted his father's casket.

President Lyndon Johnson, his wife Ladybird, and officials of the United States government followed.



HISTORIC OCCASION



In a space of minutes we had seen the world file past. As Wayne put it, "I was so close to De Gaulle, I could have unlaced his boots."

After the procession had passed, we stood there for a good 15 minutes, turning over in our minds the pattern of events that had just taken place. It was almost unbelievable to think that we who had just seen these sights and world leaders on television before leaving Manchester, were now eye witnesses to history - perhaps the greatest chapter since the conclusion of World War II.

But we dare not tary, for we wanted to see the procession from the church in Arlington Cemetery. We were not able to get on Memorial Bridge because of the immense crowd but we chose a spot directly in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The procession was scheduled to turn there from Constitution Avenue to Memorial Bridge.



PROCESSION STARTS



We waited approximately an hour and a half. And then the cordon of armed forces appeared. Delegations from the service academies - West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force - came into view, the Marine Band and then the caisson bearing the late President.

Again the procession stopped. To belabor an old expression, "You could have heard a pin drop."

The cortege started again and the car carrying President Johnson came into view. Naturally, he was guarded by a horde of Secret Service men.

As I was standing there, I heard a little girl remark: "Is Mr. Johnson driving?" Of course he was not then, but he certainly is driving now. He is piloting the Ship of State.



TOUR OF CITY



Then, after a shoestring tour of the city, seeing the Supreme Court, the National Archives, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and many other sights, we left for home.

Arriving in Manchester, we found that the three of us had spent a total of $29.57. We had taken about $30 with us. We had traveled a total distance of 1,110 miles - and every bit of it was worth it.

We had seen history unfold before our eyes and we will never forget this moment to our dying day.

We offer many thanks to Bruce Monk and Betsy Cornell, who dug deep into their stockings and came up with a part of the funds necessary.


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