JFK's Final White House Farewell and a Stolen Moment in His Rocker

PHOTO: John Martin Meeks is seen at far right with Rep. Carl Albert, left, President Kennedy, Sen. Mike Monroney and Rep. Edmondson.
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It is an image that will stay with me forever.

Though I did not know it then, President John F. Kennedy was leaving the White House for the last time as he walked to a military helicopter on the South Lawn to begin his Texas trip on Nov. 21, 1963.

He left the Oval Office on an overcast and misty morning. Walking out into the Rose Garden, he recognized me from several meetings and started toward where I stood. But, seeing a reporter approaching, he gave me a jaunty wave and turned toward the helicopter.

I waved back.

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I had seen Mrs. Kennedy walking out to the helicopter holding an opened newspaper over her head against the misting rain. I remember being struck by the sight of one of the fashion leaders of the Western world using a newspaper instead of an umbrella to protect her hairdo.

With me was Barbara Gamarekian, an aide to White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger.

At times like this at the White House, minds usually do not wander into horrors such as imagining the kind of thing that happened the next day, when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated our president.

At the White House on Nov. 21, after the presidential helicopter was airborne with the president and Mrs. Kennedy, Barbara and I went into the Oval Office where I had attended several meetings, including once when it was just the president and me.

Barbara went to the president's desk and got several candid photos of little John-John and Caroline playing around their father's office. These photos, when released, became some of the most poignant images ever from Camelot.

With the president vanished into the clouds over Washington by then, I wanted to try out his famous rocking chair, which helped ease his back pain from war injuries, and very possibly I was the last person to sit in it while it was still Oval Office furniture.

Within days the rocker was packed up to make room for the new occupant, who added features to the Oval Office such as wire service teletype machines and three TVs so LBJ could watch all the major network news broadcasts at once -- including ABC.

As the decades passed since we lost JFK, I often thought back on that day 50 years ago when I gently rocked in his Oval Office chair for just a few memorable minutes, imagining his point of view on the challenges facing our nation, which he had confronted from that very spot for three years until the shots were fired in Dallas the following day.

And ever since, I've kept an identical "Kennedy" rocker in my living room. To remember a happier moment in time.

On Nov. 21, 1963, John Martin Meek was press secretary to the late U.S. Sen. J. Howard Edmondson (D-OK).

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