For years after the horrific event of Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, I recall that throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, there was a popular topic of conversation. The topic: “Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy was assassinated?”
I was working on a military defense contract in France for the U.S. and NATO Air Forces at the time.
Another ITT company, part of our group, was closing down a part of their operation in Italy. One leg of the series of microwave communications sites they were installing in Italy, Greece and Turkey had been completed and they had a surplus of about 30 or more employees.
The operation I was attached to needed additional personnel, so I was sent to their headquarters in Rome to help by taking on some of their surplus technicians. This would give the guys an opportunity to remain in Europe longer and it would save a considerable amount in transportation expenses.
I had selected 18, just about what we required for our own expansion. The project manager of the Rome operation was a fellow I had worked with on the DEWLine in the Arctic some years before. He was pleased with the outcome of my efforts and planned a little celebration for that evening.
He and his wife, six of his staff and their spouses and myself were to gather at a restaurant in Rome that evening for a dinner party.
We were all seated except for one couple. When they finally exited the stairwell, the wife, who was Italian-American, was crying noticeably. When one of the other ladies inquired, she told us she had just heard on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. A stunned silence hit our table. Several burst into tears, it was so unexpected and so dreadful.
Everyone wanted details, but there were none available.
I was the only Canadian at the table, and for whatever reason, I stood up. I announced that I felt it wasn’t appropriate to celebrate tonight under the circumstances, and that I was thinking of returning to my hotel. It was agreed that we should shut it down.
My hotel was on the Via Venato, directly across from the U.S. Embassy.
I decided to go downstairs to a bar called Dave’s Dive for a beer. I noticed a few members of an overnighting Canadian Pacific Airlines crew there and engaged them in conversation about the events of the evening. My room on the third floor looked out on the embassy entrance and the street, so after a beer, I decided to return to my room and watch the activity below. I invited any of the crew who wished to come along, and three did.
One went to his room and picked up a bottle of Canadian Club and we became spectators.
There was a great deal of activity at the embassy entrance; lots of large, black diplomatic-looking vehicles coming and going.
The street was alive with motor scooters delivering newspapers to the street boxes as fast as they could be printed. Except for the motor scooters, it was eerily quiet out there, a little spooky, I thought.
We watched for a couple of hours, then we called it a night. Even with the pall of sorrow that hung over it all, it was an interesting evening.
I had one other reason to remember that date; it was my mother’s birthday.
That’s where I was 50 years ago on that date; do you remember where you were?