This is a busy month for Presidential happenings. Many of us are acutely aware of this every four years when the elections roll around, so if for nothing else November would be Presidentially notable.
Presidents were involved in some important events in the month of November. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt was the first President to make a foreign diplomatic trip during his term in office. He sailed on the battleship Louisiana to visit the Isthmus of Panama and inspect the progress on the canal. Visiting almost every other country in the world, such Presidential good-will trips have continued into this century, and have expanded to include world peace and economic summit meetings with many other heads of state.
Another much more significant event took place on November 19, 1863:Abraham Lincoln delivered, at the dedication of a battlefield cemetery, what we now call the Gettysburg Address. There are few historical events at which so many would like to have been present, especially knowing what we know now. It is astounding that the main speaker spoke for two hours and Lincoln, in contrast, for just over two minutes, the crowd hardly hearing at all the words that would become so iconic.
Five of our Presidents were born in this month: Warren G. Harding and James Knox Polk on the 2nd, James A. Garfield on the 19th, Franklin Pierce on the 23rd, and Zachary Taylor on the 24th; and two presidents died in this month: Chester A. Arthur died in 1886 on November 18th, and John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 on the 22nd.
That last sentence is fairly matter-of-fact, but the fact of the matter of the assassination is very significant for most of today’s senior citizens. It happened fifty (yes, it is fifty!) years ago this month. Almost all of us can remember exactly where we were that Friday when we heard the news that the President had been shot.
We remember sitting in front of the television all weekend to catch any new bit of information, watching Walter Cronkite on CBS because we wanted the news from the most trusted broadcast journalist. Many remember seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. It wasn’t a staged play with actors, it was live television and it was all the more astounding.
Government offices, banks and schools were closed for the funeral that Monday. We remember watching the funeral procession with the riderless horse following the casket on the caisson; the service with so many heads of state: the diminutive Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I standing next to the towering French President Charles de Gaulle, the many European royals in full regalia, and the commentators identifying the notable people from all over the world. And we remember the large Kennedy family and the picture of young John in his blue coat, saluting the casket. These fifty years have flown by. Over the years the sad incidents in the Kennedy family have been of interest to us all because on that weekend in November we were “there”.