General Clifton (Presidential Aide): Listen carefully. We need a ramp, a normal ramp, to be put at the front of the aircraft on the right-hand side just behind the pilots' cabin in the galley. We are going to take the first lady off by that route. Over. Do you understand?
Secret Service Agent Jerry Behn: I receive. Affirmative.
Clifton: Also on the right rear — no, the left rear of the aircraft where we usually dismount the Lark [JFK Jr.], we may need a forklift rather than a ramp. Too awkward. We may need a platform to walk out on, and a forklift to put it on. Is that possible? Over ….
Behn: Affirmative. We will try for the forklift.
And in living rooms across the country, Walter Cronkite described the outcome of their arrangements to a disbelieving, grieving nation: "And now, we can see what we believe to be a coffin containing the body of President Kennedy being moved from Air Force One onto a special enclosed ramp which was drawn up to the back door. Yes. We can make out the casket now."
Changing of the Guard
In these painful details died the father of "The New Frontier." That night, the new president — who'd flown that day over half the country and through the unfathomable — just went home.
Jack Valenti remembers that night: he and two other aides accompanied Johnson home, to a civilian residence not unlike many in Northwest Washington. There was, at that time, no official residence for the Vice President.
"We went upstairs, and there in his bedroom, he got into pajamas," Valenti recalls. "On this massive bed, we watched television — Bill Moyers, Cliff Carter and myself — until about 4:30 in the morning, the three of us with the president. And that night he sketched out to us …. over the space of five or six hours that night, what later became the Great Society."
Back at the White House, Kennedy Special Counsel Ted Sorenson felt differently. He recalls receiving a call from Johnson that night:
"He very fervently, very nicely, very generously told me how sorry he was, how deeply he felt for me. He knew I'd been with President Kennedy for eleven years. I had been very close to him, personally. And he then went to some length to urge me to stay on, to continue working with him, helping him, and that he would see me in his office the next day or so, and then he said goodbye, and I said, 'Thank you, Mr. President,' and hung up. And somehow saying the words 'Mr. President' to someone other than John F. Kennedy, at that instant, tore me apart, and I broke down sobbing."