Many of us remember where we were on Nov. 22, 1963 when bullets rained down upon Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, killing John F. Kennedy, probably the most popular president in modern American history.
It’s no exaggeration to say that plunged America into national despair. Yet for some in Roanoke, the horrific event was tempered, slightly, by some fleeting personal contact they had with JFK on his only visit to our city three years earlier.And that lives on in their memories.
It was Friday, Nov. 4, four days before the 1960 election, and Kennedy was a on a whistle-stop tour of airports as his campaign roared to a finish. Woodrum Field got on the itinerary because some anti-Byrd Organization Democrats had persuaded Kennedy he had a shot to take Virginia.
When he arrived, Kennedy got rock-star treatment. The airport tarmac was a mob scene that warm and overcast Friday afternoon, Nov. 4, 1960. One news report vaguely pegged the crowd at 10,000 to 20,000; another put it at 14,000.
According to an account by Ozzie Osborne, The World News political reporter back then, it was an old-fashioned, stoke-the-enthusiasm political rally, thrown together at the campaign’s climax, which “happened, rather than being planned.”
There were “homemade signs, the old people who had voted Democratic all their lives, the hastily thrown up speaker’s stand, the mayor with his welcome speech, the bands and pretty drum majorettes.
A scent of pine, sprayed by city workmen, filled the air,” he wrote.
After the speech, according to Osborne’s account, the horde swarmed Kennedy, trapping him in an airport phone booth as he tried to make a call. Jimmie Trinkle, then city Democratic leader, implored the crowd. “Please! Where are our Virginia manners?”
“It was a sea of people, a large number,” recalled Wayne Goodman, then a senior at William Byrd High School. He rode there on one of several bus loads of students from Byrd; other schools sent buses, too. “There was a lot of excitement.”
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