Letter of the Day (Nov. 22): Remembering JFK

  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 5:55 PM

An eager teenager’s encounter with an earlier motorcade in another city.

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Photo: Rick Tuma • Chicago Tribune/MCT,

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You have probably heard of the Zapruder film, but my guess is that you have never heard about the Gambone film.

I was a young, Catholic high school student in Pittsburgh in 1960 when I heard that John F. Kennedy was coming there for the first time in the presidential campaign. I knew I’d have to skip school and sneak my parents’ 8-millimeter camera out of the house to make it to the “Golden Triangle” by his expected 3 p.m. arrival. I wanted to capture the motorcade on film, then run up next to the car and be the first person to shake his hand and welcome him to my city. I was not thinking about the Secret Service protection.

Three hours passed, and no Kennedy. I was sitting on the ground in the first row when the rumor spread that he was running late coming from Wheeling, W.Va. But then somebody yelled: “I see the cars coming over the bridge!” I jumped up and started filming in the twilight. When his convertible reached what I thought was an appropriate distance, I went under the wooden barricade, camera rolling, and actually reached his car, which had slowed to a crawl. Someone later told me that his protection detail had taken out guns but that the candidate had waved them off. I saw his tanned face smiling at me as he extended his hand. I could see in an instant that the crowds in West Virginia had ripped his shirt under his suit jacket trying to get a piece of history. I reached up and yelled: “Welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Kennedy!”

Fifty years later, I’ve been unable to locate the film I took that day. However, I have never forgotten the strength of Kennedy’s handshake and the radiance of his smile.

James V. Gambone, Orono

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