The inauguration of President John Kennedy was quite a thing, and I was there. I was Publicity and Sports
Director for Arkansas State University (Jonesboro, Arkansas) at that time, and so was named to go along with the ASU marching
band, which had been invited to take part in the Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
And my job was to take pictures. Of course this took a special pass, which was worn on the lapel so the scores
of special plain-clothes men could see that I was ok with the camera.
Well, the night before, Washington D.C. got a 12-inch snow and on the big day it was colder than Alaska. So
cold our band’s instruments froze and wouldn’t play. So cold our shapely majorettes came out in leotards. And
so cold that even though I kept my film inside my shirt until ready to snap, the pictures were still poor. And when Poet Laureate
Robert Frost got up to read a poem as part of the Kennedy inauguration, he went snow-blind. He made a couple of attempts,
then finally said, “I can’t read this,” and simply sat down.
But the thing that struck me was the fact that in the newspapers and TV news afterward, I didn’t read
or hear one word that would shame or embarrass or humiliate Poet Frost. And I’ve thought many times since, how differently
he would have been treated today. The news would be running and re-running it, and the comedians would be having a field day.
Everything else went on without a hitch. But here’s one more strange thing: When JFK came across the
sentence that would become a world-famous quote…”Ask not when your country can do for you; but ask what can you
do for your country,” many of us didn’t realize the significance of it…the speech was droning, we were freezing,
and I would have let it pass. Later, of course, it was nice to be able to say, “I was there.” Bill