That day was to be an exciting day for me and my high school classmates. JFK was to leave Fort Worth heading to Dallas for that portion of his Texas tour with Gov. John Connally. As a sophomore member of the Castleberry High School band, we were told we could play for the president as his motorcade drove toward Carswell Air Force Base from Fort Worth through the small community of River Oaks, Texas. There we were standing on River Oaks Blvd., the main thruway from downtown Fort Worth to Carswell and Air Force One.
We had walked/marched the two miles from our high school to the site immediately along the boulevard with our instruments to play for the president. There were a little more than 100 of us. We had the prime viewing point, standing with our toes next to the pavement of the boulevard, just across from the River Oaks City Hall. Our band director had all the brass players (trumpets, horn, trombones) line up closest to the road, as we were to play “Hail to the Chief” as the president passed. As a trombone player, I was afforded the prime viewing location on the front row.
There were also lots of city employees and other residents lining the boulevard on both sides. An exciting occasion. Sure enough, here came the presidential motorcade.
I felt like I could touch the vehicles with my trombone slide, we were so close, maybe 10 feet to 15 feet away. We played robustly for several minutes before and after the president passed. I had easily seen the president and Jackie Kennedy, as well as our esteemed Gov. Connally and his wife.
After all the excitement, we immediately walked back to our high school.
There, my homeroom teacher proceeded to highlight how this was such a remarkable opportunity. After taking the roll and making sure we had all returned to school, we were dismissed to go to our next scheduled class.
I don’t actually recall what we were discussing, but the class time was almost over when our principal came on the PA system to announce there had been an incident in Dallas that involved the president. He said he was going to put the radio on the PA system so that all could hear the details of the unfolding events in Dallas. We stayed in that classroom for a very long time. The radio continued to provide greater and greater details. It was so surreal. We had just seen the man. How could this be true? Many of the students openly wept.
As the school day ended, I walked home, passing the exact spot where we had just seen President Kennedy. The spot on River Oaks Boulevard was only one and a half blocks from my own house. My mother had the television on when I entered the house. She greeted me with a big hug. My younger sister, by six years, was already home. For the next three days, all we did was sit in the living room and watch the TV.
The coverage by the Dallas television stations was continual. We watched live as Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Speculation was rampant. Although the consensus seemed to be that Oswald was the lone shooter, there were already reports of accomplices involved. No one knew what to think, we only knew that our president was dead and our governor was also wounded. The funeral procession was brutal.
Newly appointed President Johnson came on the nightly news, trying to console a family, a government and its people. It was a dark time.
Many of my classmates had seen their dads rush quickly to the air base. Phone calls had alerted all local Air Force personnel to report to Carswell. I could hear the sounds of the B-52s with their fighter jet escorts taking off from the runway. We lived only a few miles from the runway. Those planes flew for several days in the air with multiple crews on board. They never touched down, but were refueled, mid-air, by tanker aircraft. My friends didn’t know what to think. Only once before had we seen such a wide call-up of Air Force personnel, and that had been during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Such a loss, and such a sad time for America.
Mark Douglas Hudson