Friday, November 22, 2013

Nov. 22, 1963 – where were you?

Nov. 22 is a day that Americans remember as one of our nation’s darkest days. We read about it, talk about it, and hear TV specials and radio shows about the life, career and still-questioned assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Many of us remember that day – where we were and precisely what we were doing.

I was in my high school gym class, in the locker room, and Coach Russell was in her office with her hands over her face. But that’s not what I am going to share with readers today. I want to let you read a “here’s where I was” account from OOIDA Life Member Ralph Fries of Escondido, Calif. Ralph was a trucker and longtime OOIDA Board member. But he also had an impressive career in the U.S. Navy, retiring from active duty in June 1977.

Maybe because I can see this young sailor, far from home, hearing his commander-in-chief was dead. Maybe it’s because JFK served in the Navy, too. But I found this account worth sharing. Here it is, in Ralph’s words.

When I received word the president had been shot, I was serving onboard the USS Epping Forest MCS-7, homeported at Sasebo, Japan, as an MR1, A-Division and Machine Shop Leading Petty Officer. The ship had arrived in Hong Kong Harbor on Nov. 22, 1963 (Asian Time).
USS Epping Forest

During the mid-watch (00:00-04:00), Nov. 23, 1963, RM1 John Pace was the senior radioman on watch in the ship’s radio shack when the ship received an urgent message notifying the commanding officer that the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22.

RM1 Pace stated later on that he had first viewed the message and put the message in the captain’s message box. He removed the message from the captain’s message box several times to reread the message as he couldn’t believe in what he was reading, as he had never read any message before during his career with that kind of devastating information. 

At or about 07:00, GMG3 Depperschmidt, petty officer of the watch on the quarterdeck, passed the word over the ship’s 1MC from the quarterdeck, stating that President Kennedy had been assassinated and the ship would be getting underway at 08:00 for sea. 

Upon departing Hong Kong Harbor, the ship set “Condition Three” battle readiness condition. While off the coast of Taiwan in the South China Sea, with the MSC’s mine sweep ships that came alongside, we held a memorial service onboard on the flight deck for the death of President Kennedy.

A day or so later, we learned that Oswald had been the shooter in killing the president and that Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald. 

Just a note, I was in the 1st Class Mess (about 05:30), having a cup of coffee. The ship’s liberty boat had just returned to the ship before reveille was sounded. The returning sailors were saying that the Chinese people on the beach were telling them that the president of the United States had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

During this same time frame, my wife was residing in Sasebo. Our Japanese friends and neighbors came to our home and presented Harlean with many bouquets of condolence flowers to her in respect for the death of our president. 

That’s where Ralph Fries was 50 years ago. Thanks, Ralph, for sharing that.