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Ike, JFK & the 101st Airborne…

When I joined the Army in 1959 at 17, I took Basic and AIT (radio school) in Georgia. I also volunteered for the Airborne.  It was in peacetime, so few passed the rigid testing and training. Out of some 1500 volunteers, only 36 of us graduated from Jump School at Fort Campbell, KY that February 1960.

JFK.PT109-001Dwight David Eisenhower (Ike) was President when I went in and John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) when I was honorably discharged in 1961. During World War-II, Ike was a 5-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.

Jack Kennedy was a Lt. JG and commander of PT-109 in the Pacific. Kennedy survived the war with the Navy’s highest honor, the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart for his extraordinary heroism, and went on to become a Congressman, Senator and President.

Jack was just a couple of years older than my young parents. The first president born in the 20th century.

The day before D-Day 1944...

The day before D-Day 1944…

November 22nd, 1963, I was married and living on Crowder Hill, some 16-miles south of Nashville, TN. I have a flashbulb memory of that Friday. All of us of a certain age do. The sun was shining and it was warm, just over 70°. I was 21 and my family needed some groceries. Around 1:30 pm I walked down Highway 100 to the country store.

Walking up on the porch, I could hear shouting and cheering thru the screen door. Several people were gathered around a small TV set. I got some milk and bread and went up to the counter.
The young clerk finally noticed me. She came over, rang up and bagged my food. She was flushed w/excitement when I asked what all the excitement was?
She replied, “Y’all ain’t heard? They shot that nigger-lovin’, son-of-a-bitch Kennedy!

My immediate shock was her language. After 4-yrs in the South at that time, I don’t recall ever hearing a female curse, or men cursing in their presence. The others responded w/equal glee. My attention focused on the TV, refusing to believe it.
I didn’t usually go to that store so we were strangers. They didn’t know that I was “that goddamned yankee-boy” who had married “Cookie,” the baby of the Crowder Clan. My civil rights feelings and activity was well-known in the clan, but tolerated as I was “family.”

jfklimoI walked back home in a daze and turned on CBS News. I was watching when Walter Cronkite announced at 2:32 pm, Nashville time, “The two priests who were with Kennedy say that he is dead of his bullet wounds. That seems to be about as close to official as we can get at this time.”
I experienced a form of psychotic break. I recall clearly having the sense of the fabric of the universe being rent. Dramatic, but that’s what I felt. I could literally feel it . . . hear it. Everything of the future that was to be was gone. Whatever was to become, would never be. The world had changed forever.
For the next several days, as celebrations swirled outside of our slab-board shack, I was in shock and could only passively watch the events unfolding on TV. When I witnessed the real-time murder of Lee Harvey Oswald 2-days later, I recall my central feeling was that now we’ll never know . . . .

101st Airborne, 1960, at 17-yrs-old!

101st Airborne, 1960, at 17-yrs-old!

Having been born in the summer of ’42, I was a baby when Jack’s boat was cut in half by a Jap destroyer in ’44. As a young paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, with many of my non-coms and officers being WW-II vets, I was a member of the new STRAC unit, the Strategic Army Corp’s Pentomic military concept. Along w/the 82nd Airborne we were the designated first-strike forces to be deployed anywhere in the world upon instant notice.
The Pentomic concept involved 5-quick-strike combat brigades and their support units. We were equipped w/the capacity for tactical nuclear weapons. There was a super-secret area of the base that we spoke about only as the “Bird-Cage,” where these weapons were stored in underground bunkers.
My job on a team of radio-relay, crypto operators was training to provide secure forward communications between the battlefield, the Pentagon and the White House.

101stInsignia-001When I joined the military for the last year-and-a-half of Ike’s presidency, we inherited the fruit of his entire Administration. There was the stalemate in Korea; US military support to France to regain their colonies in Indo-China; and a variety of other ops in Asia, Taiwan, Central & South America, Africa and the Middle East.
While Ike himself had a relatively modest stance on a number of these issues, his VP, Richard Nixon, and the CIA ultra arch-rightist Allen Dulles, pretty much ruled the offense.

Civil rights had come to the fore w/the US Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. In ’57, Ike federalized the National Guard in Arkansas and sent in elements of the 101st Airborne to enforce the federal court’s order integrating Little Rock Central High School. That was before I joined the unit.

(Two interesting elements of that event included the fact that it was the first time that the federal gov’t had sent troops into the South since 1877, when the South had won back full political power after losing the Civil War militarily in 1865. They immediately instituted the Black Codes, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan terror org.
(The commander of the 101st forces sent to Little Rock was Major General Edwin Walker, who was later a target himself of an attempted assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald, some 7-months prior to Oswald’s purported murder of Kennedy. Significance? ¿Quién sabe?)

Raul Castro, Juan Almeida and Fidel...

Raul Castro, Juan Almeida and Fidel…

After the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba by Fidel Castro in ‘59, VP Nixon gave secret orders to the CIA to create training bases throughout the South to reinstall power to the gusanos (counter-revolutionary Cuban “worms”), Mafia and corporations, whose unused land had been distributed to Cuban farmers. Nixon expected he’d be elected president in 1960 to overseer the War against Cuba.

On January 20th, 1961, Jack Kennedy inherited all this and more. One of my 101st Division Commanders was Major General Wm. C. Westmoreland, who wholeheartedly looked forward to us jumping into Havana in support of the counter-revolutionary gusanos and CIA.
Unlike most of the rest of the Regular Army, the elite airborne was an all-volunteer force and was comprised of a far greater mixture of ethnic elements; white, black, Native American, Cubans and other Hispanics, Hungarians, etc. (Jimi Hendrix joined the 101st in 1962.)

Many of us as youths had cheered Castro and his Robin Hood band when they were fighting for their revolution. The Argentinean Dr. Che Guevara (MD) was (and remains) an iconic revolutionary-guerilla figure to this day.

(Flipping our feelings to support Batista gusanos, the Mafia casino owners, Esso Oil and Jack Frost Sugar would not be quite so simple. Jumping into Havana would have started a war that few of us supported or had our hearts in.)

In April of ’61, 3-months into Kennedy’s presidency, the pre-planned invasion of Cuba jumped off from Guatemala, where the White House and Justice Dept had banished the CIA and their gusano trainees from American soil when their secret bases were revealed by the NY Times. The 101st was put on full alert and we were literally poised w/our aircraft for instant 2-hr deployment . . . lock ‘n load.
In addition to over 1,400 paramilitaries of the counter-revolutionary Brigade 2506 and 8 CIA-supplied B-26 bombers, which attacked Cuban air fields on the night of 16 April, the main invasion landed at a beach named Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs the next day. While JFK had nominally accepted its initial reality inherited from VP Nixon, he refused to commit any US forces to the enterprise.

shoupgeneral(I later learned that his favorite general, Medal-of-Honor winner, Marine Corps Commandant, General David M. Shoup, had counseled Kennedy to NOT invade Cuba [nor Vietnam]. JFK listened; reports since indicate that he had ordered the drawing-down of Special Forces in Vietnam just before his assassination. Those latter orders were countermanded by LBJ when he became president 3-wks after JFK’s assassination.)

President Fidel Castro personally took command of the operation against the gusano forces. On 20 April, the invaders surrendered.

(As serendipity would have it, one of the Brigade 2506 gusano commanders would be a cellmate of mine in federal prison, 1991. He was a chiropractor who had defrauded Medicare out of several $million. We had some interesting discussions…)

Kennedy was forced to negotiate the release of the 1,189 prisoners. Cuba released them in exchange for a promise of $53 million worth of food and medicine, of which the US reneged once the men were released. Castro, convinced that the US would launch more invasions, declared that Cuba was socialist and accepted aid from the Soviet Union.
According to biographer Richard Reeves, Kennedy was convinced that the invasion plan was a setup to make him look bad. He took responsibility for the failure, saying, “We got a big kick in the [ass] and we deserved it. But maybe we’ll learn something from it.” He vowed to bust-up the CIA and fired Allen Dulles and two of his top deputies.


(Apparently, they soon got their revenge. Allen Dulles–intel much later revealed–clandestinely maintained his power in the CIA at The Farm, a secret CIA operational base. LBJ later appointed Dulles to the Warren Commission, which “investigated” JFK’s assassination in order to cover-up the CIA having hired the Mafia to assassinate Castro, and other criminal activities.)

Other JFK timeline related events included the Berlin Wall, Laos and Vietnam, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. After leaving the military and working more actively in the civil rights movement, the Kennedy Administration played a significant role in objective and moral support.  Believe me, having the federal gov’t—as halfheartedly as it was—was all the difference to those of us working in the KKK/police South. After his assassination, I ended up serving over a yr on one of the South’s most brutal chain-gangs.

trumpmusso-001And today? From where I sit, back in 1959-65 there were still the original 11-states of the former Confederacy. Today there are 32.  A racist-nationalist sociopath will soon be in charge at the White House w/the ultra-right commanding both Houses of Congress, the Justice Department, FBI, CIA and the US Supreme Court.

Whatever else the rending of the fabric of the universe accomplished back on November 22nd, 1963, today the world is a lot more dangerous place w/the US gov’t poised to dispose of even the pretense of a democracy.

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD) November 2014 (updated Feb. ’17)…

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4 Responses
  1. […] next month, President Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train counter-revolutionary Cubans to overthrow the […]

  2. […] in Rhode Island, NYC and Long Island, at 17 I joined the Army (1959) and served stateside in the 101st Airborne Division. Married to a Nashville girl, I worked and was active in the Civil Rights Movement throughout the […]

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    “[…]American Tribune » Blog Archive » Ike, JFK & the 101st Airborne???[…]”

  4. Raff Ellis says:


    Great piece! Great first person experience. I never heard about the cheering at Kennedy’s demise. Is this a great country or what?

    Raff Ellis

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