I recently had a delightful dinner with a group of hungry Regis University Freshmen. We ground our teeth on exquisite Japanese cuisine and laughlingly tried to manipulate fumbling chop sticks at Domo's near Colfax, I asked some of them if they could remember why November 22, 1963 marked an important date in American Presidential history?
Several groaned with the sonorous stentorian tones of a Greek chorus, "We weren't even born then." Not one could tell me about that date. "It was the day John Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas," I told them. That day, that dies irae, a day of wrath, a terrible day came crashing down on us all like lightning bolts from Zeus himself.
Those of us old enough to remember JFK, all remember where we were when we heard the tragic news. I was a guide at the National Shrine in Washington, D. C. on the campus of Catholic University, my graduate school, I was giving a lunch hour tour to visitors. I joked that we should finish our tour by taking the stairs to the main floor. "Friends, we are taking the stairs to support President Kennedy's vigorous fitness program." The tourists laughed politely, still in church.
The tour completed, I walked over to my English class in the John K. Mullen of Denver Library on the campus. I made small talk before our professor got to the room. "Dennis, I thought of all people you would be upset the most by the news," one of my female associates chided me.
"Upset about what?" I asked her. "President Kennedy was shot in Dallas earlier today,Dennis, I heard the news on the radio during lunch." I told her,"I thought we would have him with us so much longer. He was so young."
My mind went back to when I actually had met JFK in 1959 when I was a junior at Regis in Denver. We had read he was coming into Denver to talk at the old Cosmopolitan Hotel. So I made signs "Denver welcomes Kennedy, Denver students welcome Kennedy, Good luck, JFK," in my best Italic calligraphy. A few Regis students and I drove out to old Stapleton and roamed around the airport for what seemed a long time looking for Kennedy. Finally a reporter saw us and directed us to the room where he was about to have a press conference. He came out smiling happy to see us with the signs and shook all our hands. He was amused to hear so many Irish names of the students: Dennis Gallagher, Peter Rohan, Jerry Dempsey, Larry Rice and Richard Murray. He then invited us to attend the press conference. I put my homemade signs up against the wall. "What's your agricultural policy?" Kennedy responded very well, I thought at the time. Teddy Kennedy was there standing close to Jack.
Patting me on the shoulder and looking up at me, Teddy asked if I played football at Regis. "We don't have a football team," I responded. "But we have a great basketball team," I added apologetically. Seeing our signs Teddy had us all line up with Jack. Our picture signs and all appeared in Look Magazine. I was not in the picture because I pushed Rohan, Dempsey, Murray and Rice forward. I remember thinking that day at the airport, "Kennedy's so young, I'll have plenty of time to meet him, later on in life, you know."
I told my fellow students just to tell folks were were young democrats. I suggested we could just leave out that we were from the Catholic and Jesuit college. Then I Jerome Dempsey told a reporter we were all Irish Catholics and we came out to root for our Irish candidate or something like that. I turned to the reporter, "We are not denying the faith, but can't you write that we are just young Democrats from Denver." Regis did not have a Young Republicans or Young Democrats at that time. We would have two wait years later for Ed Feulner to change all that.
The reporter winked and said, "I understand what you're saying Gallagher. I'm Irish and I went to Fordham." He put his pen in his trench coat pocket. The secret conspiracy smoldered. We would meet again when the battle was lost or won, when the hurly burly was done. We would have more time with JFK because he was so young.
Marian Rossmiller, a friend of my fireman father and a Democratic Captain whose brother was a Jesuit in Rome, told us to come to the Democratic Dinner that night. She said we could be her guests. She thanked us for bringing the signs and showing support for JFK. At the dinner, I confess I was actually shocked at how partisan Kennedy was toward the Republicans. He could not find a good thing to say about any of them. Friends, let me assure you, I am no longer shocked.
Dempsey recorded the speech but for some reason the recorder did not work, so JFK's words that night are gone with the wind of his breath. What a great memorable time we all had. We would never forget meeting him and we will never forget where we were when we heard the news of his death.
Of all the words at JFK's death, the words I remember most were those uttered by Daniel Patrick Moynihan as he heard the sad news: "There is no use in being Irish, if you don't know sooner or later, the world will break your heart." And that day the world broke my heart and I thought we would have him with us for a much longer time.