While stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, we were alerted by Post Headquarters, and loaded up on deuce-and-half-ton trucks.
On the hour, the lead truck moved out. The trucks had no tops on, the winter breeze was cold and freezing, and all exhaled breath from each trooper was a stream of vapor. We stopped (first break) at Fort Lee, Va.
After the 15-minute break, we formed in a mass formation. The regimental commander, Colonel Cole, stepped up front and gave us the orders: "The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment will parade tomorrow morning for the inauguration of our president, John F. Kennedy."
He was the 35th president of the United States of America, 1961-1963. As we passed the reviewing stand, we noticed that his stand was encased with glass. As we approached the stand, the command "eyes left" was given by the commander. I could see all those in the stand very clearly. The president seemed like he had makeup on. He was young, and a very attractive person. His comment to the 508th Infantry Regiment, "They look lean, mean and ready."
On Nov. 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet while in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas. He was the youngest man elected president; he was the youngest to die. Of Irish descent, he was born in Brookline, Mass. on May 29, 1917. He entered the Navy in 1943.
While in the Pacific Theater of Operations, his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Despite grave injuries, he led the survivors through perilous waters to safety.
What impressed me the most was what he said at his inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
I was there again in Washington, D.C. for General of the Army, General Douglas MacArthur's funeral, standing at parade rest on Pennsylvania Avenue, snapping to attention as his procession came to my left front, saluted ‘til it went past my front.
Those perilous yesterdays. I can say, "God is my point man."
Lawrence D. Okendo, US Army Retired, Payson