LAWREADER Senior Editor Stan Billingsley Remembers Meeting with JFK in 1963
In May of 1963 I was participating in the White House Summer Intern program for college students who were working in Washington, D.C. About 1,000 of us were invited to the south lawn of the White House to hear President Kennedy speak to us.
The sky was very clear and the Washington D.C. humidity was brutal, as Kennedy walked out of the White House and stepped on a platform that raised him above the crowd of college interns.
I recall that from my view point about 30 yards away, I could see that Kennedy’s skin looked weathered and his full head of hair had a red cast, no doubt due to his many days in the sun.
The crowd went wild, like a rock star had appeared before us. Kennedy displaying his million watt smile, realizing he had captured the crowd.
He gave a short inspirational talk to us. He quoted Bismarck. He told us we were the one-third of the nation that one day would run the world. This was heady stuff to a college student from Western Ky. University who had less than a dollar in his pocket.
Kennedy ended his talk to us by inviting us to walk through the White House. We entered a door on the south side of the White House and walked the East Wing and out the front door onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
Six months later I was in a government class at WKU when someone opened the door and shouted that the President had been shot. The instructor stopped for a moment and then continued his lecture.
I never considered that the President referred to was JFK…I wondered who would shoot the President of WKU. It was impossible to consider that our President could be shot.
As soon as the class ended I was the first to rush out the door, and found a radio where they announced that Kennedy was dead.
My grief is no greater than the grief of everyone else in America, then and today. His death changed forever the entire world. People are far more cynical than the were before Nov. 22, 1963.
On the last of my six visits to the White House I noticed that snipers are posted on top of the roof of the White House, and I understand they operate ground to air missiles for the protection of the President. How times have changed.
Judge Stan Billingsley (Ret.)