Vietnam Veterans Reflect: JFKSarah Almazan
By Kyle Peschler
One of the most notable presidents in United States history, John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. At this time the Vietnam War was well underway and soldiers were dying daily. As the war raged on, it was becoming increasingly unpopular at home in the United States. Many were influenced by JFK’s words “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and joined the military. Since this event occurred during the Vietnam Era, our volunteers have their own opinions on Kennedy’s job performance and remember exactly where they were when news broke of his assassination.
Rick Amsterdam, who enlisted into the U.S. Army in 1969 and served in Vietnam from 1970-1971, was in ninth grade in Brooklyn, New York at the time of JFK’s assasination. During that time students would get a one hour lunch break where they could leave school to buy and have their lunch. After lunch Rick and his friends would spend the remainder of their hour playing handball in the schoolyard. Rick was in gym class when his teacher came out crying and gathered all the students and told them the news of Kennedy’s assasination. Later that day the school’s principal addressed everyone on the speaker and said that everyone was dismissed for the rest of the day so they could go home and reflect on what happened with their parents. According to Rick many of his peers started to cry once they heard of the news, he himself felt upset at the events that had occurred. Rick remembers his parents being extremely upset at the fact that such a horrific act could take place in “this day and age.” The entire country was glued to their televisions and radios as the events unfolded. One event that stuck out to Rick was the State Funeral that was held for JFK. During the funeral, everyone cried when the television showed three year old John Kennedy Jr. saluting his fathers casket as it was led by a horse drawn carriage down the funeral route. Rick was astonished when he watched Jack Ruby kill Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live television prior to the trial as he was being escorted by FBI agents. This image is forever embedded into Rick’s mind. After watching this event, Rick realized that anything could happen to anyone at any given time. JFK’s famous speech “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” stayed in Rick’s mind for a very long time. As Rick became eligible to join the military, he remembered JFK’s words and what he thought about Communism and the nation’s obligation to stop it. Kennedy’s words and presidency played a big part as to why many of Rick’s peers joined the military to fight against Communism.
Bill Leipold, who enlisted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam from 1968-1969 as a helicopter pilot, was fifteen at the time of Kennedy’s assasination and a sophomore in high school. Bill was in sixth grade at a Catholic grammar school when he first heard of JFK. Since Kennedy was potentially going to be the first Catholic president, there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm within Bill’s school. During Kennedy’s campaign, the nuns at Bill’s school had them make posters and other items to help encourage his election. Once JFK was elected, everyone was excited as the feeling of Camelot had arrived. Most of Bill’s peers at the time took Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to heart. They endorsed his decisions to establish the Green Berets and be more involved in Vietnam. On the day of Kennedy’s assasination, Bill was attending a Catholic high school in Atlantic City, NJ. While in class, the priests and nuns came out to announce the news of his passing, everyone was shocked and saddened. Along with the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald shortly after, everyone had been numbed by the series of events. To this day, Bill’s most vivid memory of the entire event is the state funeral where three year old JFK Jr salutes his fathers casket as it passed by him on the funeral route. Bill always asks himself what could’ve been if Kennedy completed his first term and won a second.
Pat served in the 10th Cavalry of the 4th Infantry in the Central Highlands of Vietnam from May 1967 to May 1968. According to Pat, JFK was seen as a superstar who was loved by the world. Everywhere Pat went he would hear about Kennedy and what he was doing. Pat is aware that there was another side to JFK that wasn’t shown by the media. Pat believes that being a shameless womanizer and leaving a battalion on the beaches of Cuba was inexcusable. Pat was in class at Paramus HIgh School when he heard that President Kennedy was shot. At the time Pat was trying to learn new plays for a football game he had after school that night. A few years after the event took place, Pat was working on a film titled Ellery Queen, which starred Kennedy’s brother in law Peter Lawford. Peter would speak about “Jack” along with his father Joseph, who completely controlled him. According to Peter the Kennedy Family had made a great deal of enemies. Peter would often joke about how many of them were in Dallas on the day of the shooting. The point being that there could’ve been more behind the assassination than Lee Harvey Oswald.
Jim was drafted into the U.S. Army in October of 1965 and served with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade until July 1967. Jim served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1976. At the time, Jim was working as a messenger for Columbia Gas Systems in New York City. Jim worked with a temp messenger who he and his coworkers believed was not that bright. At around noon the temp messenger told Jim and his coworkers about Kennedy’s assasination. At the time none of them believed the temp as they did not think much of him. As it turned out the temp was telling the truth and Kennedy was assassinated earlier that morning. The following four days after Kennedy’s assasination were something Jim had never experienced before. According to Jim, President Kennedy was beloved by the entire nation and his realm was likened to “Camelot.” To this day Jim believes that Kennedy would have pulled the troops out of Vietnam as his idea was to use Special Forces and advisers to train the Vietnamese to defend their own country.
Bill “Doc” McLung:
Bill was an Army Medic who started serving in the military in June 1968. At the time of Kennedy’s assasination Bill was around 18-19 years old and had just started college. Bill lived in Kearny at the time and commuted to Jersey City State College. On the day of the assassination Bill had an afternoon class at around 3:00-4:00 PM. Wanting to get to class early, Bill left his home at 1:00-2:00. While on the way to class Bill stopped at a gas station where they usually played the radio news broadcast. It was there Bill heard the news that President Kennedy was assassinated and pronounced dead. After pondering whether to go to class or not, Bill drove over to campus and met up with a few friends. After discussing the events that had unfolded, it was announced that class was canceled, something they all saw coming. Once Bill arrived home, he turned on his big wooden television and watched the news coverage for the entire weekend. The coverage started with investigations as to who did it which eventually led to the hunt and capture of Lee Harvey Oswald. According to Bill, nothing like this had ever occurred in his lifetime up to that moment and the constant news coverage was unprecedented. To this day, the memory of watching Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald on live television remains clear in Bill’s head. Unlike today’s media, the news coverage kept playing Oswald’s shooting over again. Once this happened, theories as to what really happened started to fly. Bill has thought about what really happened for a long time. Since the Kennedy’s had many enemies, shooters would have ranged from the government to the mafia. Bill remembers the news coverage revealing that Oswald, although served in the Army, was not trained as a sniper or a marksman. Oswald also used a mail order rifle which was known to be cheaply made. To this day Bill questions how someone who had no training in marksmanship could get three headshots in a moving car from such a high vantage point with a cheaply made rifle. Bill’s questions only increased when he visited the site of Kennedy’s assassination years later on a business trip. According to Bill, the Kennedy assassination was all over the news for around two weeks after until it started to slowly fade away.
Bill believes that the event was terrible, even if you supported the president or not, the assassination was tragic. Bill did not support President Kennedy as he was affiliated with the opposite party and did not agree with his politics. Bill didn’t like the Kennedy family in general, especially the father Joseph Kennedy Sr. Bill believes to this day that Joseph Sr. was a sleeze who made his wealth from racquets and booze running during the prohibition. Once Joseph Sr. made his money he wanted to build a dynasty. Joseph’s son, Joseph Kennedy Jr. was a fighter pilot in World War II and was killed in action. Having been groomed to be president, John F. Kennedy, then a state senator, took his place, being controlled by his father. Bill believes the influence that wealth can do brought scandals amongst the family. Bill was disgusted when JFK’s brother Ted Kennedy killed a woman in a drunk driving accident and had it covered up by the family. Although Bill doesn’t like the family and how they acted, he tends to look back now and agree more with what President Kennedy believed back then.
Michael was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 and served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with the 4th Battalion 9th Regiment and the 2nd Battalion 12th Regiment, both in the 25th Division. Michael had graduated high school in 1961 and was attending night school at Fairleigh Dickinson University Teaneck when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. Michael remembers watching the crisis occur on a small black and white television in the student union center in between classes. Michael and his peers were concerned about a potential war and if they were going to fight. Vietnam wasn’t as much of an issue at the time. On the day of Kennedy’s assasination Michael was working at his place of employment when he heard the news. Not having a television, Michael and his co-workers listened to the radio broadcast for updates on the events as they became available. Michael worried about the future as it was a somber time for the nation, but they preserved and moved on.
Cappy served in the Marines and was deployed to Vietnam in 1966. Cappy was a tank crewman for the Bravo Company, 1st Marine Division. Cappy was in a class in high school when he found out about Kennedy’s assasination. Cappy was devastated to hear the news of Kennedy’s death since he loved the president. Although today Cappy admits President Kennedy had his faults, he still believes that there hasn’t been a good president since. According to Cappy, President Kennedy was straightforward and for the troops. Cappy believes that President Kennedy had great ideas. This is why Cappy was devastated when Kennedy, along with his younger brother Robert, were assassinated.
since the JFK Assassination took place before the Vietnam War became a major issue, almost all of our volunteer veterans remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they found out President Kennedy was killed. A common theme amongst the volunteer veterans was the sadness that fell over America as President Kennedy was beloved by the entire nation and the world. There are many differing opinions amongst our volunteer veterans when it comes to President Kennedy. Some supported him, using his patriotic words as inspiration to join the military and fight for the American cause. Many ask what would’ve happened if Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and won a second term. A few believe that had Kennedy not been killed, he would’ve pulled the American troops out of Vietnam to have Special Forces train the Vietnamese to fight for themselves. On the other hand, a few of our volunteers did not support Kennedy. Some being of the opposite party, didn’t agree with Kennedy politically while others didn’t like him due to the fact that he was a shameless womanizer and left American troops to die on the beaches of Cuba in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. A few volunteers didn’t like the Kennedy Family as a whole. Having made their wealth off of racquets and booze running during the Prohibition, the veterans see Joseph Kennedy as a shady figure. The volunteers don’t like how wealth brought out the worst of the Kennedy Family which led to numerous scandals. Some volunteers even question who really shot President Kennedy and what their true motive was. At the end of the day however, no matter what their beliefs are, all of the veteran volunteers agree that the Kennedy Assassination was a national tragedy.