JFK TOURED GETTYSBURG 50 YEARS AGO TODAY
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (JFK+50) Fifty years ago today, March 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy along with the First Lady & Caroline were taken on a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield by National Park Service historian Jacob Sheads*.
Col. Sheads, JFK & Jackie
Gettysburg National Battlefield
March 31, 1963
National Park Service Photo
*Jacob 'Mett' Sheads (1910-2002) graduated from Gettysburg College in 1932 & later earned a Masters Degree in History. He taught English & History at Gettysburg High School for 35 years with interruptions for service in WWII & Korea. After service, he was a Lt. Col in the US Army Reserve.
It was said of the Colonel..."He had a manner to make history fun & the ability to make his listeners want to look into a subject beyond what he has told."
Along with the First Family for the tour was Paul Fay, Assistant Secretary of the Navy & long time pal of JFK's & his family.
Paul Fay III, Paul Fay, Jr. Colonel Sheads
Mrs. Kennedy, JFK & Mrs. Anita Fay
The group drove up from Camp David, Maryland after attending church. They arrived about 11:30 a.m. after a 30 minute drive.
Mr. Sheads**, who was to meet the presidential party at Edgewood Bowling Lanes, later said...
"(JFK's) coming the hell up the Emmitsburg Road (with) the Secret Service...trying to catch up..."
**Col. Sheads was selected by the Secret Service upon recommendation from a former student of the Colonel's who was dating an agent. During a run-through with the SS, Sheads was instructed "not to let (JFK) out of the car" & after the tour to "tell reporters that the President was very knowledgeable."
While the Colonel tried to follow the instructions, JFK had a mind of his own...he got out of the car 3 times on the tour.
There were 3 cars in the group. The President was behind the wheel of a black Mercury convertible while the Secret Service & Press followed behind in separate vehicles.
JFK at the Wheel
West Confederate Avenue
Colonel Sheads' plans for a chronological tour of the battlefield were immediately dashed when JFK made a turn up Cemetery Ridge (the site of the final day of the 3 day Battle of Gettysburg).
Colonel Sheads recalled that when they reached the National Park Service entrance sign, JFK said, "I want to turn here." Sheads politely responded, "Yes sir, you can turn here."
After viewing "The Angle," the group drove to the "High Water Mark" where Colonel Sheads pointed out the monument honoring the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. They then drove to Little Round Top.
The Kennedy Tour Group
Little Round Top
The Gettysburg Museum of History
The tour continued to Devils Den & Rose's Wheatfield where the Irish Brigade had charged on July 2nd. They stopped to take a look at the monument.
Colonel Sheads asked the President if he could translate the Gaelic words on the monument, "Fauch A Ballaugh."
Irish Brigade Monument
Gettysburg NMP (2010)
US Army Center of Military History
JFK immediately answered, "Clear the way," which was an Irish battle cry dating back to 1798.
On Seminary Ridge, they stopped again for a look at the North Carolina Monument by Gutzon Borglum.***
Mrs. Kennedy, Colonel Sheads & JFK
at the North Carolina Monument
***Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was a Danish-American sculptor born in Idaho, who was trained in Paris & a graduate of Harvard Technical College. He is best known for the carvings on Mt. Rushmore & Stone Mountain. His giant bust of Abraham Lincoln is on display at the US Capitol.
The North Carolina Monument depicts soldiers of the 26th NC regiment during Picket's charge. The regiment lost more than 1100 dead & wounded at Gettysburg.
An inscription on the monument reads...
"To the eternal glory of the North Carolina soldiers who on this battlefield displayed heroism unsurpassed sacrificing all in support of their cause."
North Carolina Monument
Photo by User: Carptrash (2006)
The last stop on the tour was the Eternal Light Peace Monument by Paul Philippe Cret & Lee Oscar Lawrie which had been dedicated by FDR in 1938.
JFK Stops to Look
at the Eternal Light Peace Monument
It was here that this hauntingly memorable conversation took place.
Mrs. Kennedy turned to her husband & said..
"Wouldn't that make a wonderful memorial for someone?"
"Yes, It certainly would."
As Mrs. Kennedy was planning JFK's funeral later in November, she told Jack Valenti...
"I want a Peace Light for (JFK's) memorial."
Eternal Peace Light Memorial
Photo by User: Accurizer
Valenti made a quick trip up to Gettysburg to see the Eternal Light Peace Monument & make a few sketches & the rest is history.
It was here, also, that Colonel Sheads invited the President to return to Gettysburg on November 19 for the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
"I'd like to but I can't. I have to go to Dallas & mend fences."
JFK & Colonel Sheads Say Goodbye
The Gettysburg Battlefield tour, which had lasted a couple of hours, ended with the return of the First Family to the White House by helicopter.
The following week, on April 4, 1963, JFK sent a thank you letter to Colonel Sheads along with an autographed photo.
The images above credited to Gettysburgdaily.com
I found it very interesting that the military park was not closed down for President Kennedys visit. Paul Fay commented that "most people respected (JFK's) privacy, but they would almost fall all over themselves trying to observe his every move."
"John F. Kennedy's Gettysburg Visit, A Tour With LBG Richard Goedkoop,"
Dr. Goedkoop's posts include a beautifully created & detailed account of JFK's visit to Gettysburg along with photographs & videos. Please take a look following the above link.
JFK+50 would like to express our sincere appreciation to Dr. Goedkoop for permission to post the photographs from his website.
"When JFK Came to Gettysburg," by Diana Loski,