A few days after President Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, police in a small Mexican border town detained Palos Park pilot Will Martin and his wife, his navigator Pat, during a refueling stop flying a plane from the U.S. to Nicaragua as part of the business deal Will had transacted to purchase the banana republic’s World War II-era air force.
Because of the assassination just north of the border in Texas, all flights had been grounded, and the police chief of the small town was sure the Martins must have had something to do with the murder in Dallas of the president. How the couple extricated themselves from that potential stint in a Mexican prison is part of the plot of Will Martin’s compelling memoir “So I Bought an Air Force,” the true story of a gritty Palos Parker in Somoza’s Nicaragua.
A question on the Kennedy connection came up toward the end of the program at a dinner and book signing with the author benefiting Palos Park’s McCord Gallery & Cultural Center held Wednesday last week. Urged to tell the story, Will gave the sound advice to his interlocutor to “read the book.”
After the program, the conversation at our table naturally turned to that trauma we as a nation suffered from the public spectacle of an assassin armed with a high-powered rifle literally blowing the brains out of the young, charismatic JFK as he rode with his wife Jackie in an open-top Lincoln in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.
We Americans eat our heroes, I opined — kill or in one way or another do them harm as a consequence of our vulgar mass adulation. I recalled that previous “Crime of the Century,” the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, slain son of the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, the killing of Lincoln and too many other tragedies to enumerate here. John F. Kennedy was the last Democrat he voted for, a fellow guest said, shaking his head in remorse all these years later. His wife noted that JFK was so young, so charming, so full of promise that the assassination killed a truly special time: “Camelot, that’s what they called it, and it really was,” she said.
In the half century since the tragic, sudden death of the 35th president of the United States on Nov. 22, 1963, exactly 50 years ago tomorrow, many books have been written and films made about the life and times — and grisly death — of the youngest man ever elected (he was 43) and only Roman Catholic to serve as president.
This blackest anniversary weighing heavy on my mind, I began sifting through The Regional archives a few weeks back to research a memorial observance of this heinous, unpunished crime. Because The Regional is a local, community newspaper, I did not expect to find much, but was disappointed to find so little. On Nov. 28, 1963, the very first issue after JFK’s murder, Page One showed an illustration of a soldier blowing “Taps” in a cemetery, captioned “Palos area citizens join citizens of the world in mourning the death of our president.” A week later, the editorial page reprinted a prayer by the Rev. Paul Whittle in memory of JFK given at the meeting of the Palos Heights City Council on Nov. 26. A short notice nearby noted that Maurice LaMore, a 1962 graduate of Eisenhower High School, was the Navy representative who carried the presidential flag following the caisson bearing the president’s body in his funeral procession.
“For one brief, shining moment”: The Kennedy presidency, it has been said, marked the apogee (high point) of the American empire. And it has also been said that America lost its innocence when JFK was killed. The macabre spectacle of the death of a president in a motorcade on a street lined with waving and cheering crowds was such a shock to our national consciousness that I wonder if we as a nation — especially our young people — did not suffer a form of a mass post-traumatic stress disorder. One that manifested itself in the rebellions and tumults that marked the turbulent rest of the decade of the 1960s into the disorders and malaise of the ’70s — from Vietnam, race riots, the drug culture, hippie and other protest movements, more assassinations — of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy — to Nixon’s crimes and Watergate.
They stole so much more than a president when they killed him in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago. God help us all.
Image by Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News. Public domain image.