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Impressions of John F. Kennedy

Richmond veteran remembers president’s visit to the troops

November 11, 2012
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor (jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.) , The Herald-Star

RICHMOND - President John F. Kennedy impressed Dan Vojvodich, who was a sophomore at Mingo High School when the then-U.S. senator from Massachusetts was elected as the nation's chief executive.

"The biggest thing was that he was a young man," Vojvodich said of the 1960 election of Kennedy, at age 40 the youngest president ever to take office.

But it was Kennedy's leadership and military presence that struck a chord with Vojvodich and his peers when in June 1963 - five months before he would be assassinated in Dallas - Kennedy visited the troops in Germany.

Article Photos

Janice R. Kiaski
LOOKING BACK — Army veteran Dan Vojvodich was stationed in Germany when President John F. Kennedy visited the troops in June 1963, five months before his assassination in Dallas. The Richmond resident kept copies of Stars and Stripes, the headlines declaring “Kennedy Slain on Dallas Visit” and later “Oswald is Slain.”

It was an opportunity to see and hear the charismatic Kennedy, the country's 35th president and commander in chief.

Vojvodich, who enlisted in the Army at 18 after graduating from Mingo High School in 1962, was stationed in Mannheim, Germany, part of Company C, Third Battalion, 68th Armor. Vojvodich initially was an ammunition loader on a tank, then a gunner. He served from 1962 until being honorably discharged in 1965.

"When we were going through basic training, that was when they had the Cuban Missile Crisis, so my first experience with Kennedy was all of us guys in basic training thought we were going to war. I think he received so much respect from the military because he stood up to the Russians and (Soviet Premier) Nikita Khrushchev, so his popularity in the military was very strong," said Vojvodich, a resident of Richmond and commander of the Richmond American Legion Post 740, Honored Seven.

Fact Box

FYI:

n The first lecture in the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Concert and Lecture Series will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Steubenville High School auditorium. It will feature former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin, who wrote the book "Mrs. Kennedy and Me." Reserved seats for the event cost $20, and general admission tickets cost $15. For details, contact the chamber at (740) 282-6226 or the Herald-Star at (740) 283-4711.

"Even the German people had a lot of respect for Kennedy, which was good," Vojvodich said.

"Everybody knew he was our commander in chief and respected him for it," he said, recalling how he and his peers were loaded in trucks to join other soldiers - about 2,500 total, he estimates - for a pass in review and to hear Kennedy speak.

"I can't quite remember the name of the town or the barracks where he was, but they loaded us in trucks and took us to this place where Kennedy did a pass in review," Vojvodich said.

"His talk was about our job, why we were there and what our obligation was to the German people and people in the United States. Our job was to maintain peace," Vojvodich said, noting it had not yet been 20 years since the end of World War II, which fostered lingering memories for the Germans.

Kennedy thanked the soldiers for their service in a speech that Vojvodich said further cemented his respect for the president.

Five months later, he and his peers reacted with shock and disbelief to the news of Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

"That happened in the afternoon in Dallas, so there was about a 10-hour difference in time," Vojvodich said. "It was probably 10 o'clock at night when we realized something had happened."

Vojvodich remembers being in an activity area where soldiers could play pool, cards or games or just socialize. "There was a radio in there, and I was changing the dial, the stations on the radio, and I kept hearing this 'President Kennedy,' 'President Kennedy,' and then I heard the news that he had been assassinated.

"And then you could hear a pin drop."

There not being the instant, intense availability of news as there is today through cable television, the Internet and social media, Vojvodich said the details were sketchy and slow in coming.

"There were probably 25 to 30 guys in the day room all listening to hear what had happened and at that time we weren't really sure he was dead, but toward the end, it was clear he had been assassinated, and we all realized that wasn't good," Vojvodich said.

By then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson already had been sworn in as president, but Vojvodich said, "We went on full scale alert, which means we loaded our gear up and picked up our hand weapons at the armory in our company, and we headed to our tanks, loaded them and went out to a holding area off the base. We stayed in that holding area probably for a week or so, because everyone was speculating did the Russians do this, the communists, are we going to war?"

Official news of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination would come ultimately.

Kennedy's untimely death left "everybody sad," Vojvodich said.

Vojvodich has two 5 cent European editions of Stars and Stripes that are reminders of that time in history.

One edition bears the headline confirming "Kennedy Slain on Dallas Visit," sporting a photo of retired Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who was in charge of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy's security detail. The other Stars and Stripes issue has the front-page headline proclaiming "Oswald is Slain."

Hill will be the featured speaker for Wednesday's first installment in the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Concert and Lecture Series sponsored by the chamber and the Herald-Star. Hill, who wrote the best-selling book, "Mrs. Kennedy and Me," will be joined by co-author Lisa McCubbin in the 7:30 p.m. presentation at Steubenville High School's auditorium.

Tickets for the event are available at the Herald-Star newspaper and at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce office at 630 Market St. Reserved seats are $20, while general admission seats are $15. For information, call the Herald-Star at (740) 283-4711 or the chamber offices at (740) 282-6226. Tickets also will be available at the door Wednesday evening.

Copies of "Mrs. Kennedy and Me" can be purchased at the Herald-Star office, 401 Herald Square, for $25. A coupon worth $5 off on a book purchase is available in editions of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. The coupon expires Tuesday. Hill and McCubbin will sign copies of the book following the lecture.

Partners and co-sponsors of the lecture series include the chamber; the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times; Eastern Gateway Community College; the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast; Apollo Pro Cleaning; Piergallini Catering; and Steubenville City Schools.

 
 

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