Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (JFK+50) Fifty one years ago today, March 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, along with his wife Jacqueline and daughter Caroline, toured the Gettysburg battlefield accompanied by National Park Service historian Jacob Sheads*.
Gettysburg National Battlefield
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.
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 met 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" and 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 not once but three times on the tour.
There were three cars in the group.
The President was behind the wheel of a black Mercury convertible while the Secret Service and the Press followed behind in separate vehicles.
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.
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 tour continued to Devils Den and 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."
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.***
***Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was a Danish-American sculptor born in Idaho, who was trained in Paris and a graduate of Harvard Technical College.
He is best known for the carvings on Mt. Rushmore and 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 and 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."
The last stop on the tour was the Eternal Light Peace Monument by Paul Philippe Cret and Lee Oscar Lawrie which had been dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938.
It was here that this hauntingly memorable conversation took place.
Mrs. Kennedy turned to her husband and 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 1963, she told Jack Valenti...
"I want a Peace Light for (JFK's) memorial."
Valenti made a quick trip up to Gettysburg to see the Eternal Light Peace Monument, make a few sketches and 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 and mend fences."
The following week, on April 4, 1963, JFK sent a thank you letter to Colonel Sheads along with an autographed photo.
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 and detailed account of JFK's visit to Gettysburg along with photographs and 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,
Today's post is an update of our post a year ago on the 50th anniversary of JFK's Gettysburg tour.