Camelot compulsion gripped a family 50 years ago, as America's 'one shining moment' ended.

For the AARP crowd, neither the pain nor the cherished memories of America's version of Camelot have diminished at all.

On Friday, The Morning Call was filled with those half-century-old emotions and, for once, vitriol did not dominate the discussions of a political figure.

The term "Camelot" has been attached to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, first because of his love of the musical about King Arthur, which opened on Broadway weeks before he took office, and ever after because many felt JFK reflected the pizazz and the class of the legendary king.

While all AARP members may have strong feelings about our Camelot, and about the terrible day it ended 50 years ago, I spent a little time with only one of them.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Joe Flintosh was 13 and living in Jersey City. At his current home in Bethlehem Township, he opened a big plastic box and retrieved magazines, newspapers and other material related to the day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

"I was in study hall and the announcement came over the PA speaker," he said. "They told us to go home … and when I got there, my mother was crying."

It seemed the family had no choice. Seven family members — his parents and their five children — crowded into a 1959 Chevrolet and headed for Washington.

They were among thousands compelled to be there when the president's body was returned from Texas.

"We watched the procession go by, we watched them go into the Capitol," Flintosh said.

JFK's casket was on a horse-drawn caisson, followed by "the riderless horse with the boots turned backward." (Fallen military leaders are honored with empty boots in stirrups.)

The family members knew they could not leave without passing the casket as it lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, and expected it would not take long.

"We thought we'd be able to go right in," Flintosh said.

It did not turn out that way.

"The line went four blocks up and 19 blocks back … and no bathrooms," he said.

They got in line at 3:30 p.m. on the Sunday after JFK's death, "and we did not walk past the casket until 10 minutes to 7 on Monday morning."

Through that arduous process, he said, the entire crowd of thousands remained silent out of respect, and heartbreak.

As Flintosh was doing that, I was halfway around the world, serving in the Air Force on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

In 1960, I had voted for Kennedy in the presidential election, the first time in my life I ever voted. In the military, I was captured by his spirit, his style and especially his refined wit. (I think Dwight Eisenhower was the best president of my lifetime, but no one can say Ike had much of a sense of humor.)

When we heard that JFK said military people should be able to do 50 miles in a day, there I was, hiking all day and growing blisters on the roads of Okinawa.

Earlier, just a few days after I had arrived for my most recent tour of duty there, I was sent on a mission I was sure would ravage the world. It was DEFCON 2, one precarious step from all-out nuclear war; it was the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and I was a nuclear weapons technician being sent to South Korea to prepare Mark 7 bombs for Armageddon.

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