Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (JFK+50) Fifty-five years ago, March 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline and Caroline took a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield courtesy of National Park Service historian Jacob Sheads*. Along with the First Family were Paul Fay, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and his family.
The group drove up from Camp David after 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..."
There were three cars in the group. The President was behind the wheel of a black Mercury convertible while the Secret Service and 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 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.** The monument depicts soldiers of the 26th NC regiment during Picket's charge. The regiment lost more than 1100 dead and wounded at Gettysburg. The 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 which had been dedicated by FDR in 1938.
*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.
**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."
"John F. Kennedy's Gettysburg Visit, A Tour With LBG Richard Goedkoop,"
"When JFK Came to Gettysburg," by Diana Loski,