JFK recollections: Life would continue
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Nov 22, 2013 | 447 views |  0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I was a 25-year-old first lieutenant in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif. Our installation had just been designated as a permanent post and the name was changed from Camp to Fort Irwin. Army personnel of today might know it better as the National Desert Training Center of Fort Irwin, Calif. The Army was just getting over what was called the “Berlin Crisis.” All of the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units that had been called up to active duty for one year by President Kennedy during this crisis were finalizing their return to civilian status and their homes. One such unit, 131st Armor Battalion, was an Alabama National Guard unit and the members came from many small towns of south Alabama such as Opp. This meant 700 to 800 Alabamians had been stationed there in the desert with us.

Our family consisted of my wife, two daughters and a new 3 ½-month-old son, and we lived in government quarters on post. The post was isolated 38 miles in the California Mojave desert. The day was a Friday, my father’s birthday, and we were looking forward to the weekend as the Army had only recently stopped requiring us to work half a day on Saturdays. Being isolated (nearest inhabitants was in Barstow, 38 miles away), we didn’t get much TV reception; as I recall, we got only one live station, CBS, out of Los Angeles.

My job in the Army was as shop officer/executive officer managing a tank automotive repair and rebuild facility. Our mission was to keep more than 300 track vehicles, including the army’s M41 and M48 tanks, for the active Army and Army National Guard units while they conducted annual desert exercises and training in the Mojave desert.

I first heard of the shooting by radio around 12:30 p.m. to 1 pm, local time, when I returned from lunch. Everyone was huddled around the radio listening and getting final confirmation that President Kennedy was indeed shot and dead. We had no TVs at work, so we had to rely on phone call updates from our families. The Army and our post immediately placed us all on an upgraded alert status and scheduled a full unit-by-unit dress uniform formation the next day, a Saturday, at which time all unit commanders read a proclamation “Change of Command” order that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had been sworn in as the new president and that life would continue with little or no change.  

James W. (Woody) Jeter, Jr.


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