by Alan Moll
Nov. 22, 1963
I was in a hospital bed in Bridgeport, Conn., recovering from morning surgery. Still in a stupor from the effects of the anesthesia, I heard my mother crying and then opened my eyes to see her crying, then my father with his hand gripping mine and crying as well. There was my sister with teary eyes too. My baby brother was too young to be in a hospital. A nurse who was inconsolable and shrieking aloud stood at the foot of the bed. I thought: Oh, my God! Doctor Unger must have found something terrible in there, surely something fatal. The news of this must be too much for my family to bear.
But why was this nurse so overwrought? I really didn’t know her at all. And they were all looking away from me. Probably none of them had the heart to tell me the news, I guessed.
How long did I have to live? Eventually I could see that the TV was on and the news was bad.
The president had been killed in Dallas.
I have felt embarrassed and a bit guilty for many years to admit that my first, and admittedly very selfish, reaction to JFK’s killing was one of great personal relief. I was going to live. The following Sunday, with uncles, aunts, cousins and my parents all around our living room TV, I watched the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Live murder … an amazing oxymoron.
The footnote to this story is my very close encounter with JFK a few years earlier.
The possible election of a young New England Catholic was big news around blue collar Bridgeport and especially around Saint Ambrose School. It was Nov. 6, 1960, just two days before the election. It was Scout Sunday so I had worn my uniform to mass. Father Gilmartin must have mentioned from the pulpit that Kennedy was coming to Bridgeport because I made a beeline from church to the downtown train station to see if I could possibly get a look.
The day was typically clear and cold. The crowd was huge and very enthusiastic. Men wore suits and hats and women donned their Sunday-best wool coats. I was on my own and felt like I was the only kid there. I wiggled and wormed my way through the mob and right up to the front.
I think some of the men helped me get through. I reached toward him and he must have spotted a Boy Scout’s hand amidst all of the others because he looked right at me and reached back. Our hands briefly touched. Not exactly a handshake but it was good enough for me. I ran home to tell my family about my good luck but I don’t think they really believed me. My mother thought I was just exaggerating.
Well, fast forward 53 years. I was watching Kennedy coverage late one night and was reminded of my own Kennedy encounter. When I googled “JFK in Bridgeport,” I first came across the text of his short speech to an appreciative crowd. He acknowledged Mayor Tedesco and Governor Ribicoff, among other local dignitaries. Searching on, I spotted a file photo titled “Kennedy, Bridgeport Train Station” with the date. When I expanded the picture I gasped aloud as I thought I saw my son Andrew in the crowd in his scout uniform. I grasped immediately that of course it was me, right up front along the phalanx of Connecticut State Troopers, the men in hats and the ladies in wool coats. Goose bumps! In the picture, Senator Kennedy is looking over his shoulder toward the camera man and flashing his trademark smile. That really did happen after all and I really was there, just as I remembered! I sent a copy of the blowup to my 90-year-old mother without comment. She still lives in Bridgeport. She instantly picked her oldest son’s face out of the assembled thousands and acknowledged that my story had, in fact, been true. For the second time in my life, John F. Kennedy had served me an overwhelming sense of relief.
I’ll be looking at that photo on Nov. 22, 50 years after his death, and remembering President Kennedy in a very personal way.
Los Altos, Calif.
Photo: Alexander Feldman, courtesy Bridgeport History Center
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