By Frank Ricks
Fifty years ago this past Friday I ate breakfast with then President John F Kennedy three hours before he was assassinated. That day is etched in my memory as if it happened yesterday! Here is my story…
My father was a member of the Fort Worth, Texas Chamber of Commerce. He, along with many other members of the Chamber, received free tickets to this special breakfast where JFK was to make an important speech on the F-111 fighter jets that were being built in Fort Worth.
But Texas, and especially the Dallas-Fort Worth area was solidly republican territory and many of the tickets were returned by Chamber of Commerce members who had no interest in listening to this Democrat. So, my father asked if he could have two extra tickets for my brother and I, and these were granted.
I had just turned 13 and my brother was 10. We were so excited to be able to eat breakfast with the President of the United States!
The breakfast was held in the large ballroom of Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth. All the Chamber of Commerce members arrived and began their meals, a typical Texas ham and eggs breakfast with biscuits and orange juice. We were basically finished with our meals when there was a big commotion and suddenly everyone stood up and began to clap. My brother and I craned our necks to see the President walk in from the ballroom entrance. With secret service agents he walked the entire length of the ballroom to the front dignitaries’ table. The Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, and the Governor of Texas, John Connolly, were also at this head table and had been previously seated. However, the one who would make the most commotion and disruption to this whole affair was “fashionably” late!
After about 15 minutes there was another commotion at this same entrance and everyone stood and the applause was twice as loud as Jacqueline Kennedy entered and walked the entire ballroom to the front. She seemed to be more popular than the President himself!
Mrs Kennedy was wearing the very now famous pink dress with the matching pill-box hat. This is the dress that now hangs in the Smithsonian with the President’s blood stains.
The President gave a speech on defense and the importance of Fort Worth as a defense city where the first swing-wing F-111 jets were being built. Fort Worth was home to General Dynamics, Bell Helicopter, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) and Carswell Air Force Base. Our city was ringed with missile silos in case of attack from the Russians. Growing up I remember our neighbors were all scientists or mathematicians who worked in the defense industry and were a real blessing in helping me with my math homework!!
The President and Mrs Kennedy left in a throng of well-wishers and headed to the airport for the short hop to Dallas. My brother and I were dropped off at school and were shocked when over the loud speakers about 1:45pm there was an announcement that the President had been assassinated. In fact the school office began broadcasting the live news reports coming over the radio to our classrooms. I was in a junior high school of about 600 students. Everything stopped! The teachers stopped the classroom instruction and we just laid our heads down on our desks listening to the radio reports.
Buses were called early to the school and I arrived home to find my dad at home which was unusual. All businesses closed and we were all in a state of shock and disbelief. The funeral was held on Monday and we were given a school day off to watch the services on television. In fact, most of us stayed glued to the TV all weekend. This was the first time in the television era when a national tragedy occurred and it was aired continuously for 4 days.
Just like 911, I remember many details about that day that I have now had for 50 years!
The special breakfast meal ticket you see above I finally sold and used the funds to help purchase airline tickets for Valerie and I to come to work and volunteer in Africa. I had kept it all those years as a souvenir. Most of you are asking, “How much did you get for this ticket!” Well, it only brought $250 from a dealer who sells specifically presidential memorabilia. Interestingly enough is the fact that this same dealer told me that the tickets to the Trade Mart in Dallas where JFK was to speak bring a much higher price. He never made it there!
This update was just a simple human-interest story of a significant event in my life. It reminds me though of the uncertainty of life. We are not guaranteed another moment in time on this earth. Life can be very short especially for the very poor people of Africa. We long for the Lord to come and end the misery. We hope that is very soon and I hope that you are preparing for that great event as we are!
Frank & Valerie Ricks
Frank Ricks General Manager 2CBN Television Network Nairobi, Kenya East Africa +254 704 594 613 email@example.com