Marine played taps at ‘64 Kennedy death anniversary

November 14, 2012

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Robinson resident Joe Martinez had played taps before as a Marine, but never for an occasion like the one he experienced in November of 1964.

Martinez was asked to play taps at a memorial ceremony in downtown Dallas for President John Kennedy, who had been assassinated there one year earlier. He was a private first class at the time, based in Grand Prairie with the Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment (MARTD) at the Naval Air Station Dallas (NASD).

Martinez joined about 20 other Marines who had been stationed as part of the MARTD for a reunion in Hood County over the weekend. It was the 53rd reunion of the Marines who had been stationed at NASD from 1959-64.

The Marines and their wives met Friday afternoon at the Hilton Garden Inn of Granbury, had a banquet at American Legion Hall No. 491 Saturday night, then rode in Granbury’s Veterans Day parade Sunday.

“I played taps at a lot of funerals for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” said Martinez, now 71. “At the time I was just a young PFC. I was frightened to do it – that I had to play taps for such a big event. I was nervous of not doing the honor right.”

Martinez, who said he served in Vietnam, the Far East and Middle East, said the Marines had been proud of the president.

“When he was shot, we were shaken,” Martinez said, adding that his thoughts were of horror and disbelief that their commander in chief was killed. “I couldn’t come to the reality of it.”

Bob Williams of Pecan Plantation was the lone Hood County Marine who was part of that same NASD group.

“Of course (Kennedy’s assassination) was tragic, but Dallas-Fort Worth was devastated,” said Williams, who left the Marines after four years before graduating from Louisiana State University. “They shut down our base for a week. It was a very tragic and trying time. You can’t imagine the chaos. Everybody cried, and I think even the Marines cried.”

Williams said that while there is no such thing as an ex-Marine, they didn’t consider Lee Harvey Oswald as one of their ranks. Oswald, who was in the Marines from 1956-1959, was arrested in the Nov. 22, 1963, shooting of a Dallas police officer and also accused of killing Kennedy. Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in an incident that was broadcast live on television.

Williams said he and some of his Marine pals had gone to Ruby’s nightclub before the incident, and even had a couple of casual conversations with Ruby.

Sam Hibben, 71, of Bedford, said all his fellow Marines stationed at the NASD had a bad feeling after they first heard Kennedy had been shot and hospitalized.

“We were really disgusted – disappointed and disgusted,” said Hibben, who said he had 29 years of federal service, including seven years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

Garland resident Roger Lemonds, 69, echoed that feeling. He said he was on the flight line at the NASD when he heard Kennedy had been shot, and also couldn’t believe it.

“They closed the front gate and locked the gate,” Lemonds said. “They didn’t know what was going to happen, whether they were going to declare martial law. Some of us called our wives.

“It was kind of confusing. We were really stunned for a long time. We really couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to (shoot the president).”

The NASD group met for its 50th anniversary in 2009 at a residence just outside Glen Rose. After skipping 2010, they met last year at the former Carswell Air Base in Fort Worth, now an Air Force Joint Reserve Base.

Some who met here this year had not seen each other since 1959, according to Bob Williams’ wife, Mary Ann, one of those who helped organize the reunion.

Among the attendees this year was Mario Cadena, an E5 (sergeant) who went on to earn two Distinguished Flying Crosses as a fighter pilot in Vietnam.

“I think it’s great,” said Cadena, 73, of Dallas. “I also belong to two other Marine groups. But I like this one. There are a lot of fond memories.”

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