Archive for the ‘Movie Stars’ Category

The day the music died…

The days following President Kennedy’s assassination

The days following President Kennedy’s

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


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John F. Kennedy had a profound effect on all of us not yet encumbered with stone-hard impressions of what a President should be. He was endowed with so much charisma that the entire country had its spirit lifted, just knowing he stood for them.

As such, his murder on that grey, November day of 1963 brought all of America to its knees. The collective feeling of loss was profound. All forward motion came to a halt. Words of solace rang hollow. Faces were white and cold. Everywhere was deathly quiet. It was the day the music died…too, it was the day that America’s newfound hope died.

Teachers interrupted classes with the somber news. Children found their mothers weeping and their fathers arriving home from work visibly shaken. Families piled into living rooms to watch television, glued to the news out of Dallas. Our leader had fallen.

We all encounter life changing events: tragedies, celebrations, or unforeseen revelations and encounters that come upon us in the blink of an eye. Events never foreknown, or prearranged, or expected. Events that shake us to the core…events that change our lives to the end of our days.

A health scare, witnessing a shooting, an airplane that suddenly drops 1,000 feet before the pilot regains control, fighting in Vietnam when your outpost is overrun, watching in horror as towers collapse in New York, the murder of a friend or family member…there’s thousands of examples. You know what they are, dear reader…they’ve happened to you.

For me, President Kennedy’s death was the beginning of three days that melded into a life-changing experience that, since that time, has deeply affected my outlook on life’s precarious nature.

In 1963, I was an Information Specialist in the US Army stationed at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC. Two months prior to the shooting, I had briefly met President Kennedy when he paid a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (as it was known back then).

Three days after his death, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. My life-changing event lasted those three days. From the moment he was shot until his wife, Jackie, lit the eternal flame at his gravesite.

I was part of the Army public relations team in the Military District of Washington. Not only was our office tasked with providing information to the news media regarding any contingent of the US Army that would be participating during any of the events of the upcoming weekend, but too, it was our responsibility to plan and monitor all media stations along the route of the funeral procession. Keeping in mind that members of the news media were converging on Washington from all parts of the world.

For 21 hours, President Kennedy’s body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. More than 250,000 people paid respects.

For reasons I cannot explain and do not understand, most of that weekend was a blur. I remember the activity level was beyond hectic, I remember working night and day, providing news releases, fielding questions from thousands of members of the news media, and mostly, preparing for the coming Monday, the day of the President’s interment.

At 10 a.m. on the morning of the funeral I was taken by military vehicle to the cemetery where I would wait until the procession arrived around 2:43 p.m. More than a million people lined the streets…many cried openly.

Throughout that day I was stationed on a wooden platform that had been constructed below the Custis-Lee Mansion (today known as the Arlington House) and just above the burial site. That platform held approximately 100 members of the media. Well known pictures of the cortege (funeral procession) crossing the Lincoln Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Memorial in the background were taken from that platform.

Following mass at Saint Matthews Cathedral, the casket was carried by a horse-drawn caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. (A caisson is a two-wheeled cart designed to carry artillery ammunition and is used to bear the casket of the deceased in military and state funerals).

Black Jack, a coal-black Morgan-American Quarter Horse followed the caisson with boots reversed in the stirrups symbolizing a fallen leader.

I remember that there were certain notables I looked for at the gravesite. The ones I recognized were the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, President Charles de Gaulle of France, and Prince Phillip and Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, both of the United Kingdom. There were others, but these were the dignitaries I wanted to see. Kennedy’s funeral was the largest gathering of foreign dignitaries at any funeral in the United States, drawing 220 foreign dignitaries from 92 foreign nations, including 19 heads of state.

There were sights and sounds that will stay with me until my death. Muffled drums, steel horseshoes as they struck the pavement, Black Jack, the jet flyover, taps, “Ruffles and Flourishes,” “Hail to the Chief,” a detachment of cadets from the Irish Defense Forces performing a silent graveside drill.

And at the end of the service, I watched Mrs. Kennedy light the eternal flame.

At 3:34 p.m., the casket was lowered into the ground.

On November 28, 1963, Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Kennedy visited the gravesite. I was there representing the US Army. It was an unexpected visit. A simple white picket fence, maybe 20-by-20 feet, surrounded the grassy gravesite with the eternal flame flickering in the wind. Thousands stood in line behind a single strand of rope that seemed to stretch forever.

After kneeling and saying a prayer, she opted to walk around the gravesite and view it with Washington as a backdrop. It had been raining and the ground was slippery. I took her arm to steady her from falling and expressed my sympathy. She merely nodded, but it was a sincere expression of appreciation.

That life-changing event was 55 years ago…. or was it yesterday?

“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” John F. Kennedy

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Direct questions or comments to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

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Point Pleasant Register column #1

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist

 


Since 1963 I have trained over 14,000 dogs. All shapes and sizes. Some crazy, some not-so-crazy. Some with minor problems, some meaner than a teased rattler. Some docile, some aggressive.I’ve seen Dobbies that would snuggle across your lap as you watch the evening news, and Dachshunds that’d just as soon bite your ankle as take another breath.I’ve worked with fence-jumpers, fear and sneak biters, run-a-ways, car chasers, fighters, chicken killers, incessant barkers, boundary breakers, and dogs that would attack anything on two legs. I’ve trained with traditional methods, with psychology, and hypnosis.I’ve known dogs, without professional training, that would give their life for their master. I’ve heard of dogs that come between their master and mistress during an argument, during play-time, and even while lying in bed watching TV. Surely, you’ve also heard of this type of canine behavior.

I’ve trained dogs for the TV series “Movin’ On,” trained dogs to prevent break-ins at hotels, and trained them to protect Sisters of the Cloth. I’ve trained dogs for business security, for the disabled, and for personal protection.

I’ve seen dogs pine at the feet of a sick master, lie at the site of a buried friend, and refuse food until a lost litter-mate had been found.

Conversely, I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on a sick pet, talk to a dog as if it were human, and fix his every meal as if they were feeding the Pope.

I believe dogs to be mate-substitutes, empty-nest substitutes, and child substitutes. They are one of the reasons I believe in God. I’ve seen them do more for humans than humans do for humans. If the relationships, bonds, and friendships we have with others are our greatest assets, then too, a dog at our side is as immeasurable in value.

They help us stave off loneliness, fear, and need. They protect us from physical and mental aggressors. They remind us that food, water, and shelter is, in reality, plenty for anyone to be happy.

There are easily drawn parallels between dog and man. We share the fight against enemies and traitors, our charity for others is immeasurable, and we are quick to forgive those wishing us harm. We stand by our family and friends in prosperity and in failure…in sickness and in weakness…during happiness and loss. We deal with misfortune and danger to the best of our individual abilities.

We humans, though, have advantages…one of which is our memory, permitting us to relive bygone days with family and friends…but our dogs cannot.

In 2011, prior to writing of my novel, “The Bog, The Legend of Man’s Best Friend,” I ran a survey with 200 responses from 24 states, Canada, Belgium, UK, and France. Here are some tidbits from the respondents. (By the way, there are 43,346,000 households in the US. with an average of 1.8 households with a dog. That’s 78,022,800 dogs!) From the survey, 99 percent like dogs; 90 percent love dogs; 87 percent talk to their dogs; 98 percent believe dogs have emotions; 95 percent believe dogs make choices; 80 percent believe dogs are a gift from God; 75 percent believe dogs have a soul; 70 percent believe dogs go to heaven; 87 percent believe their world would be significantly changed if upon waking tomorrow there were no dogs. (I am particularly interested in your thoughts about the results of this survey.)

In the next few columns I will answer questions that eat at you about your dog. How was he chosen to be your best friend, does he possess a soul, how do you know when to let him go, where is his place of rest after death, will you ever see him again, what does he want when he licks your lips, and what are the two commands that will solve 95 percent of all canine problems? Where does the Bible stand regarding a hereafter for dogs? What does he think about, how does he handle time, and what are his three levels of attention?

Thanks for reading,

John

John Preston Smith, of Huntington, W.Va., is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments can be directed to him at facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds from his writings support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington.

I saw you, Babe

I Saw You Babe, is my new CD of original songs and it is now available.  As a highlight, my son, Robert, joins me for Neil Young’s Long May You Run.  Your donation supports the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital.  Check it out:  http://www.jprestonsmith.com New cd cover for John.jpg

Here’s to Mom…

I was thinking today about writing a new book, entitled, The Legend of the Last Mom.  How would you feel if upon waking tomorrow there were no Mom’s…anywhere?  Of course, that’s just fantasy.  But I sure wish my Mom were still here, cause I miss her like mad.  So on this day of days, here’s to all the Mom’s…may you continue to watch over us as we fumble and bumble through this crazy and mixed up world.

Now Available!

Just a note to let you know that my new novel, “The Legend of the Last Dog” is now available on Amazon.com and the Kindle Store.  My book predicts a worst-case scenario should animal abuse continue its destructive path.  Warning: How would you feel if upon waking tomorrow morning there were no dogs…anywhere! @PrestonBooks, jprestonsmith.comThe Last Dog cover only