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Grandpa and Kennedy

“Did you know Grandpa had something to do with bringing Kennedy’s body back?”  My sister asks me this as we’re walking from the Armory to the Metro after a roller derby bout.  It was the day after the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.

As a child, 25 years after the assassination, I loved playing with my grandparents’ matryoshka doll whenever I visited.  In their living room, they sat in chairs on opposite sides of the couch.  While my grandma wrapped herself in a blanket in the corner, my grandpa was usually chewing tobacco in his recliner and spitting the juice in a styrofoam cup.  When I got older, I was surprised to hear people talk about how nasty and disgusting chewing tobacco is: nothing about my grandpa’s chewing repulsed me then, and, as I’ve gotten older, it has become a fond memory.

After my sister imparted the news about Grandpa and Kennedy, I turned to my father over Thanksgiving for the complete story.  

In 1963, the family lived on Shoshone Drive, in Forest Heights, just a few minutes from Andrews Air Force Base, where he was stationed.  A master sergeant in the Air Force, my grandpa served as a loadmaster loading cargo planes.  When Kennedy died, he was part of the team making the arrangements at Andrews for bringing the body back.

Eight years old at the time, my father remembers that my grandpa was gone from the Friday afternoon when Kennedy was assassinated, but back at home at some point over the weekend, when he saw on TV a live broadcast from the base.

It’s possible the family was watching the arrival of the body at Andrews that same evening.

“Something was wrong” — my father isn’t sure what, but believes it had to do with the casket — “and he got mad and started cussing and drove back to the base.”  He was gone again for the rest of the day.

It did not really surprise me that we hadn’t before heard this little bit of family history from my taciturn father.  (The part of me that is quietly reticent comes from him, I’m sure, and often I like that part best.)

Since learning this, I’ve watched archival footage of the casket’s arrival, trying to identify something wrong, to glean some small piece of information about my grandpa from the images.

Of course, since I don’t really understand what I’m looking at, all I’ve actually discovered is a dozen conspiracy theories I hadn’t heard before.

For now, whatever was wrong at Andrews remains a mystery.

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