<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>

I Remember When JFK Came to Lockport

By Tony Farina

John F. Kennedy in Lockport, NY in 1960 passing the Park Hotel, (which is no longer there), during his campaign.
Democratic Presidential Nominee John Kennedy Campaigning, Oct 1960.
1960 Democratic Nominees, Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson Talk to Press.

I was a Navy journalist stationed at the Naval Air Station in Kevlavik, Iceland, on Nov. 22, 1963, when 46-year-old President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in broad daylight while riding in a Dallas motorcade, an event that shook the world and left a mark on all of us who had been around before and during his brief presidency.

That was especially the case with me because I had a vivid recollection of young Sen. Kennedy from just a few years before he was killed when he visited Lockport, my hometown, during the presidential campaign of 1960.

I was a senior at DeSales Catholic High School when then Sen. John Kennedy, a dashing, vibrant figure, stopped in downtown Lockport on Sept. 28, 1960, and gave a speech where he talked about the challenges the next president would face at home and around the world, and alluded to the differences between him and Richard Nixon, his opponent, about how to deal with the future.

In doing research for this story, I found a copy of his speech that day in Lockport, a day that saw pretty much the whole city turn out to see the charismatic and dynamic young senator and war hero from Massachusetts.

Here’s part of what he said that day in Lockport more than 50 years ago:

“I want to see in the next 10 years people around the world begin to wonder what the United States is doing, not merely what Mr. Khrushchev or Castro are doing, but what we are doing in this country, the most powerful and productive country in the world - a country which represents and stands for freedom. If we move ahead here, if we are first in space and first in defense and first in the things which catch people’s imaginations, then I think we can demonstrate to the people of Latin America and Asia that they don’t have to follow Mr. Khrushchev or Mr. Castro, that they can come with us and meet their problems and also live in freedom.”

It was an inspiring speech, delivered with great energy and well received by the huge crowd that had gathered, including many young people like me who seemed to identify so completely with the young senator who came to little Lockport that day to sound the battle cry for his presidential campaign.

I’m sure most of the young people who were on hand that day don’t remember the words that Kennedy spoke, but like me they remember the excitement he brought with him and the vision he talked about for the future. When the president was murdered in Dallas a few years later, it all came back to me even though I was so far away at the Armed Forces Radio and Television Station in Kevlavik, Iceland.

President Kennedy never got a chance to finish his work, and of course his brief record as president had successes and failures, just like every president before or since. We now know that he wasn’t quite the knight in shining armor that he appeared to be, but whatever his human failings he was a great inspiration at home and abroad and many historians believe his best days were still ahead of him before his life and his presidency were cut short by his assassination.

Whether his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone or had help, seems not to matter that much anymore. There are countless theories of who killed the president, but we may never know the truth beyond the conclusion of the Warren Commission that Oswald did it and was not part of a conspiracy.

What we do know is that 50 years have passed since Kennedy was snatched from the world stage and from the many people, myself included, who had been touched by the young man who had brought so much hope and energy with him on his journey.

The stories have already begun about the life and death of President Kennedy and his family as we prepare to observe the 50th anniversary of his passing on Friday, Nov. 22. The Eternal Flame still burns at his gravesite in Washington, and for those of us who had the chance to see him in person, it will be a day to pause and reflect on that terrible day when he was taken from us.

It is estimated a million people lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Nov. 25, 1963 to watch the horse-drawn carriage carrying the president’s casket, many of them crying with grief at the loss of their much- beloved leader and the sad images of his wife and two small children who had lost a husband and a father. Millions more watched on television as we did at the naval station in Iceland, all of us still somewhat in shock over what had happened so quickly even though we were so far away.

It is worth remembering in marking the 50 year anniversary of the president’s death some of the things he said, and one quote seems particularly appropriate in these times of bitter partisan politics. The president said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

And of course the words in his inauguration speech will live forever: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Amen! And I will never forget the dreams and hopes you gave us, especially on that day so long ago in Lockport.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Nov 19, 2013