Long-overdue JFK Tribute will be dedicated today in Fort Worth

Long-overdue JFK Tribute will be dedicated today in Fort Worth

 

 

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 07, 2012
By Sandra Baker

 

 

sabaker@star-telegram.com

 

FORT WORTH — Almost 50 years have passed since President John F. Kennedy spoke to a large cheering crowd outside the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth, yet former House Speaker Jim Wright still struggles to understand how within hours of that joyous visit events would so horribly change.

 

He describes Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, as the saddest day of his career.

 

“I was personally so stricken by it, I did not get on the airplane to go back to Washington,” Wright said in a recent interview with the Star-Telegram. “I felt there was something here to be done.”

 

This morning, Wright, 89, will offer a few remarks as Fort Worth business and civic leaders dedicate the JFK Tribute at Eighth and Main streets, outside what is now the Hilton hotel, where Kennedy made one of his last public appearances and spent his last night.

 

The tribute features an 8-foot bronze statue of Kennedy, placed near the spot where he stood on a makeshift platform to greet thousands who gathered that morning. The tribute also features a granite wall containing iconic photographs and quotes from Kennedy that morning, and some of Wright’s recollection of the day.

 

Wright, then a young congressman representing Fort Worth, was asked by Vice President Lyndon Johnson to help arrange visits in Texas for two days that November. Fort Worth was one of those stops. The day was to end with a dinner in Austin.

 

“I wanted plain citizens to have a chance to see and hear their president,” Wright once wrote. No sitting president had been in Fort Worth since 1936.

 

That morning, with Kennedy scheduled to speak at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Wright says, he prevailed upon Kennedy to greet the crowd swelling outside the hotel to see him.

 

“I think some of the Secret Service people did not like the idea of having that open-area appearance,” Wright said.

 

“The president didn’t mind. He did not object to it. He was delighted to do it, he said.”

 

The memorial has been planned for some time, but the project got a boost in 2009 when the City Council approved spending $250,000 to fund an assessment of General Worth Square.

 

In January 2011, Taylor and Shirlee Gandy, with the backing of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., started a $2 million public fundraising effort.

 

Construction began in February. Dozens of prominent residents, as well as foundations and trusts, contributed.

 

Among the largest donors are the Gandys, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the city, the Jane and John Justin Foundation, the Martha Sue Parr Trust, Bob and Janice Simpson, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, and the Ann L. and Carol Greene Rhodes Charitable Trust.Wright said the tribute is a long time coming.

 

“I guess that there are dates that will be remembered by those of us old enough to be impressionable. As long as we live, we will remember where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Everyone pretty well remembers where he or she was when President Roosevelt died in 1945. Everyone remembers with some clarity where he or she was when 9-11 occurred,” Wright said. “Most folks will remember where they were when they learned of John Kennedy’s death.”

 

Lasting relationship

 

Wright met Kennedy in the mid-1950s, around the start of Wright’s first term in Congress. He was doing a television broadcast to Fort Worth from Washington as a public service and asked Kennedy to be a guest to discuss his new book, Profiles in Courage. Kennedy agreed.

 

It was a coup for Wright that Kennedy would later come to Fort Worth.

 

“It meant a great, great deal because I had been active on the Kennedy-Johnson campaign,” Wright said.

 

Wright was among several dignitaries who came outside the Hotel Texas that morning and stood by Kennedy on the platform. He recalls how Kennedy, without hesitation, plunged into the crowd to shake hands.

 

“The crowd was so joyous. They loved him,” Wright said.

 

Many area residents remember the day in great detail.

 

Carol Clark Williams, 59, of Haltom City said her mother, Jere Clark, woke her and her sister, Carla, early that morning to head downtown [Fort Worth]. She remembers standing in the crowd, looking up and seeing the armed agents on rooftops.

 

“I thought, ‘Wow, all this to protect the president,'” Williams said.

 

Later, Kennedy stopped to greet her mother, then leaned down to Williams, 10, and her sister, 7, and asked what grade they were in. He shook their hands.

 

“That is one of the things that has been such a part of me,” Williams said.

 

Bob Allen, 63, owner of 1 Priority Environmental Services in Fort Worth, was 14 and a Kennedy fanatic. He skipped school and made it downtown on his motorcycle, stood in the crowd outside the hotel, but also worked his way in and shook Kennedy’s hand.

 

“I just threaded my way through the crowd,” Allen said. “I was a small kid. I’ll never forget that day. He was my hero.”

 

Likewise, Mary Catherine Monroe, 68, a U.S. history teacher in Arlington, was in the crowd with Texas Christian University classmates and her history professor.

 

“It was a defining moment for my generation,” Monroe said. “It changed my politics. The assassination changed everything.”

 

‘I thought it

 

was a backfire’

 

Inside the ballroom, Kennedy spoke about events in Fort Worth’s history and the important role the city played in the nation’s defense, referring to the military work at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter, among other things.

 

“He didn’t ask for votes. He didn’t ask for money, campaign contributions, nothing like that,” Wright said.

 

“He boasted on Fort Worth. I was very happy he had been bragging on my hometown and he had said nice things about me. When the president of the United States comes to your home and says nice things about you … that doesn’t happen every day.”

 

Wright would accompany Kennedy and the others to Dallas to be part of Kennedy’s motorcade through downtown. Wright was in the sixth car in the procession behind Kennedy’s car.

 

“When we got to Dallas, there was a joyous reception for him in the streets,” Wright said.

 

But then panic set in, Wright said, when he heard shots and saw the horror on the faces in the crowd.

 

“I heard that first shot and thought, ‘Oh, for Pete’s sake.’ I thought it was a backfire. Then the second one came. I thought someone was trying to fire a 21-gun salute with a rifle. I didn’t realize what was happening.”

 

Wright said he often thinks about that day and says it’s not always easy to talk about.

 

“It was just a difficult experience to overcome,” he said.

 

“I don’t know that I did fully overcome it.”

 

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About vincepalamara

Vincent Palamara was born in Pittsburgh and graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in Sociology. Although not even born when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Vince brings fresh eyes to an old case. In fact, Vince would go on to study the largely overlooked actions - and inactions - of the United States Secret Service in unprecedented detail, as well as achieving a world's record in the process, having interviewed and corresponded with over seventy former agents (the House Select Committee on Assassinations had the old record of 46 with a 6 million dollar budget and supboena power from Congress), not to mention many surviving family members, White House aides, and even quite a few Parkland and Bethesda medical witnesses for a corresponding project. The result was Survivor's Guilt: The Secret Service & The Failure To Protect President Kennedy. Vince is also the author of the upcoming book JFK: From Parkland To Bethesda. All told, Vince has been favorably mentioned in over 80 JFK and Secret Service related books to date (including two whole chapters in Murder in Dealey Plaza, The Secret Service: The Hidden History Of An Enigmatic Agency by Philip Melanson, and the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, among many others), often at length, in the bibliographies, and in the Secret Service - and even medical evidence - areas of these works. Vince has appeared on the History Channel, C-SPAN, National Geographic, PCN, BPTV, local cable access television, YouTube, radio, newspapers, print journals, at national conferences, and all over the internet. Also, Vince's original research materials, or copies of said materials, are stored in the National Archives (by request under Deed Of Gift by the ARRB), the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Harvard University, the Assassination Archives and Research Center, and the Dallas Public Library. Vince Palamara has become known (as he was dubbed by the History Channel in 2003) "the Secret Service expert." As former JFK Secret Service agent Joe Paolella proclaimed: "You seem to know a lot about the Secret Service, maybe even more than I do!" Agent Dan Emmett calls Vince a Secret Service expert in his new book.
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