November 13, 2013 - By David Fleet
On Friday, as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two local residents shared rather unique associations with the 35th president of the United States.
According to news reports, at 11:40 a.m., Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and a presidential entourage arrived at Love Field in Dallas, aboard Air Force One. The plane had landed earlier at nearby Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas. The presidential motorcade began its route without incident, stopping twice so Kennedy could shake hands with some Catholic nuns, then some school children. At 12:29 p.m., the presidential limousine entered Dealey Plaza and drove down Houston Street, slowly approaching the Texas School Book Depository. According to witnesses, the shooting began shortly after the limousine made the turn from Houston onto Elm Street. Most of these witnesses recalled hearing three shots, with the second and third shots bunched distinctly much closer together than the first and second shots.
Kennedy's limousine and motorcade rushed to Parkland Hospital — he was pronounced deceased at 1 p.m. At 7:05 p.m. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with "murder with malice" in the killing of police officer J.D. Tippit. At 11:26 p.m. Oswald was charged with the murder of President Kennedy. At 11:21 a.m., Nov. 24, before live television cameras, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed in the basement of Dallas Police headquarters by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
The memories of Kennedy, whether through personal meetings or studies of his life and political career, are still vibrant a half-century following his death.
Atlas Township resident and former township supervisor Paul Amman had enlisted in the Navy in 1957 and was stationed at Norfolk Naval Base.
According to news reports, during the month of September 1962, a build-up of Soviet offensive military in Cuba, about 90 miles off the coast of Florida, was evident through intelligence reports and the increase in sea transport from Soviet Bloc ports. Earlier that year—January through July—an average of 14 Soviet dry-cargo ships per month arrived in Cuban ports. In August, this figure more than doubled; in September it was 46. The concern was a Soviet base for offensive action against the United States. Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev then began secretly deploying medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) to Fidel Castro's Cuba.
"I was in the Navy when the Cuban Missile Crisis ramped up," said Amman, 75. "At the time, I was a senior non-commissioner working for a four-star admiral. My work was highly classified at the time and although much is common knowledge now 50 years later—I really can't say too much more. Anyway, the admiral was the Commander of Anti-Submarine Warfare around the United States and Cuba. I was in charge of the graphics department—such as charts, maps and graphs."
"Kennedy's helicopter landed in a parking lot near our offices prior to the briefing," he continued. "It was all about the show and tell regarding where the missiles were. Jack (Kennedy) just walked into the room—he seemed to be very outgoing. I remember he walked around the room just before the meeting and read the name tags of the Navy men that were in the briefing room. He shook my hand and said good morning. Jack was a very personable individual, but still very intense regarding the situation in Cuba. He asked a lot of questions, but still he knew what was going on. This was a very serious situation."
"Most of his questions were directed at the admiral," said Amman. "The meeting lasted a little over an hour. It was an update of what the United States was doing, what the Russians where up to and a game plan. Most of the questions were directed at the admirals. I just had the charts and graphs."
Amman and the admiral were called to the White House.
"The second time I met Jack was in Washington," he said. "Our helicopter landed on the White House lawn and I, along with the senior staff officers and the admiral, gave an update on the situation in Cuba. It was about two weeks after the first meeting. We did not go to the Oval Office, but we gathered in a briefing room in the White House. This time Jack remembered my name. He asked me how things were going. I don't remember what I said after that," laughed Amman. "He was very charismatic—it was like he knew me. I remember that East Coast accent. I remember during the meetings that he had good people with him and it seemed he did not know everything, but did work to understand."
After many long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade, or a ring of ships, around Cuba to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites. Although the Soviets ultimately removed their missiles from Cuba, they escalated the building of their military arsenal; the missile crisis was over, the arms race was not.
About a year later, Amman was still at Norfolk when Kennedy was assassinated.
"We heard it on the radio while at work. It was a horrible time for this country," he said. "We all survived and got through."
Ortonville resident and 1957 Ortonville High School graduate Ken Bush, 75, has been a collector of historical memorabilia for more than 50 years.
Like many Americans, Bush recalls the day he heard news of the Kennedy assassination.
"I was driving down the road in my 1963 Chevrolet Impala," he said. "I heard news of the shooting on the car radio—it was not very complete. I was close to a friend's house in Ortonville when I heard it. I stopped by their house just to tell them. They were unaware of the shooting—news did not travel like it does today."
Since then, Bush has acquired many presidential collectibles.
"Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy are some of the best and most sought after," he said. "A lot of people still around today remember the Kennedys and their life. That makes any memorabilia more popular—you seem to have a special memory about items that were around when you were a kid."
Bush points to a 1964 Kennedy reelection campaign button in his collection.
"Kennedy never made it to 1964—but I assume they started making the buttons and then they were discarded when he was assassinated—it's a very rare button. Very sad, too," he said. "I also have a postcard from the street in Dallas where he was shot and a memorial card, I assume from the funeral. Over history it was not uncommon to sell items during the funeral procession—people want to hold on to memories in a variety of ways."