Jonathan Sauer stayed riveted to television coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when Sauer and his seventh-grade classmates were suddenly and swiftly sent home after the unexpected news broke.
Fifty years to the day after Kennedy’s body returned to Washington, D.C., aboard Air Force One from Dallas, Texas, Sauer for the first time saw the jet that carried the slain president home on Nov. 22, 1963.
He was one of many who visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to climb into the historic presidential aircraft Friday, and the place where Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president.
“I went home and I was glued to the TV the entire weekend and the most searing image I have is of the plane arriving back in Washington and the cargo hold (elevator) pushing up to this door and lowering down” with the president’s coffin, the 62-year-old retired high school teacher said.
The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, escorted first lady Jacqueline Kennedy walking immediately behind Kennedy’s casket that night.
“And to me, before and after, there was an elegance to it,” the Washington Court House man said. “But that was the rawest, just most gruesome, gut-wrenching moment I thought of that whole terrible weekend.”
David Kaiser, 53, still has memories of that day, which returned as he photographed the blue and white presidential aircraft with an American flag on the tail.
“I still remember my parents (reaction) and the fact that my mother was crying,” the Springfield resident said. “It still is with me.”
He looked up often Friday at the doorway Kennedy’s body was lifted out of on that national day of mourning and shock.
“I come here quite often, but today is just a little more important,” said Kasier, a Wright-Patterson employee. “More people picture the Dealey Plaza shooting, but I picture this.”
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Alan Beltz, 41, had his first brush with the plane in the 1990s at Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, where it landed because of mechanical glitches.
“We spent more time walking through the airframe than we actually did working on the problem that was there,” he said. “Knowing that it was JFK’s aircraft, and I’m pretty adamant about saying it was JFK’s aircraft, we were able to walk through and get to see it.”
Patti Arata, 58, of Beavercreek, felt “sadness, pride” on Friday. “It’s remarkable to be standing in a place where his casket was and where President Johnson was sworn in as president,” she said. “The Kennedys are a fascinating family and I think they’ve contributed a lot to this country and I just really wanted to share in that memory.”
Dylan Kozow, 18, traveled from Holley, N.Y. Though too young to remember Kennedy, he had a sense of his legacy.
“He was a role model for what presidents should be,” he said. “Instead of going out and doing stuff that people want them to do, you have to go out and do what they need to do to fix the country.”
Anne Beach, 33, brought her father, Thomas Beach, 65, from his Centerville home to tour the plane because he was a Kennedy admirer who had seen the Massachusetts senator on the presidential campaign trail in Springfield in 1960.
“We all got to wave at him and he waved back,” the elder Beach said. “I always thought it was pretty neat to have a young president. And when this all happened, it was a sad, sad day.”
Jack and Laura Boley, both 69, of Enon, felt a connection to JFK decades after his death.
In 1961, Jack Boley traveled from St. Marys, W.Va., to be part of the new president’s inauguration ceremony. “It holds a special meaning to me because I marched in my high school band at his inauguration,” he said.
The couple still had questions so many years after a president was killed.
Kennedy’s assassination was “unbelievable in a country like ours,” Laura Boley said. “It’s just unforeseen, even imaginable.”
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