From Uvil Zajmi
A day at Kennedy’s Arlington
Memorie.al / From May 1917, when he was born, to May 2023, there are 106 years of John Kennedy’s birth. And if you go to Washington, you will prefer to pay a visit to Arlington Cemetery, there you will find a part of the history of the Kennedy family, the most tragic one, since there is the memorial of the family of the former American president Kennedy, of Irish origin, deputy, then senator of the state of Massachusetts, the first American president of the Catholic religion. A short political career, as he passed away at a very young age. It’s the years of the Cold War, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, then the assassination in November 1963, in Dallas, at the age of 46. Even though years and decades have passed, the figure of Kennedy continues to remain highly valued throughout the globe, certainly for us Albanians as well.
WASHINGTON OF MUSEUMS
I have connected the several-day trip to the USA not only with the stay with the girl who has been living and working there for years, but also to visit the White House, the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Museum, the Memorial of fallen American soldiers. in Vietnam, etc., etc. Together with them and the wonders offered by the giant museums of Washington, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of America, the National Museum of Natural History, the United States Holocaust Museum, etc., magnificent for what to see. From the capsule of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, the war planes in Vietnam, the presidential planes, the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a Boeing B-29, the name of the pilot’s mother, Colonel Paul Tibbets, everything.
But going to Arlington, at least for me, has another exciting effect. It is the big cemetery, all the soldiers are there, among them the former American President, J.F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and their children. Adjacent to it, on a small hill, is the museum, surrounded by greenery, tranquility but also grandeur. It is preceded by the Great Bell, a gift from the Netherlands to the USA as a thank you for aid given during World War II, next to which is the Marine Corps Memorial, inspired by a photograph of six Marines planting the American flag on top of Mt. Suribachi in Japan, at the Battle of Iwo Jima
FOR ALL “PEACE AND RESPECT”.
What drives me to go to Arlington Cemetery is mainly related to the past, the great tragic event that shook the world, that of John Kennedy. From the love with Zhaklina, the beautiful woman, the election as president, then the murder, which had an echo that continued for years and decades afterwards. Even today, the truth about his murder is sought. Even in Albania in the early 60s, that event had its impact, as Kennedy was sympathized by the Albanians of that time. The cemetery opens at 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
They never close in 365 days of the year. The atmosphere, that world unlike anything else, hits you as soon as you enter that colossal 2.5 km 2 park, when you first undergo an electronic control at the entrance and continue walking along it accompanied by the “Calm and Respect” signs. People from all over the world, moving on foot or with the means available, stop there, necessarily at the Kennedy family grave. They surround that memorial with cameras in their hands. It is just a 10×15 meter rectangular slab placed on the ground, limited by a symbolic fence. I am among them, an Albanian.
AT THE ROBERT E. LEE MUSEUM
It has been turned into a museum, the so-called House of Fleet Commander Robert E. Lee. The memorial transformed into a museum is located on top of the hill, a few meters above the Kennedy family grave. A two-story building with a very strict entrance control. What amazes you, besides what is placed there, is the most important part that belongs to the Kennedy family pavilion, where photographs of the funeral ceremony, the dress, the trumpet of the officer who led the funeral march, details of the carriage, horses, clothing, everything related to that funeral.
Everything carefully stored, accompanied by the necessary information. To continue with the other pavilions, where parts of the history of the family of Commander Lee, who had donated that house to the American state, are placed. At the exit, a semi-arched square awaits you, where words and phrases are engraved in marble, in memory and honor of fallen American soldiers around the world. And the view offered to you is another miracle. From the top you have the opportunity to gaze in depth at Memorial Avenue, the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial.
CHANGING OF THE GUARDS AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
This military ritual is performed at the Tomb of the “Unknown Soldier”, a small square close to the left of the Robert E. Lee Memorial, with a very wide view looking south. It is a process that takes place every hour, followed in absolute silence by hundreds of visitors, who take pictures and film in silence. Three soldiers walk in line, first 21 steps from south, turn to face east for 21 seconds, then turn for 21 seconds to face north, then turn for 21 seconds from west, and finally for 21 seconds, turn to face west South. They repeat this ritual, until the shift changes. At the exit is the “Arlington Shop”, with various souvenirs from what the giant memorial has to offer.
MURDER, BY AN EX-PILOT
It was Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m., when John F. Kennedy (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) was seriously wounded by a gunshot while he was walking in Dealey Plaza with his wife his Zhaklina, aboard a presidential limousine (Lincoln Continental of 1961). With them in the car was Governor John Canelli, also seriously injured, with his wife Nellie.
The one who filmed the tragic moment was a tailor, Abraham Zapruder, who was in the right place and the right moment at the moment of the impact. The one who shot him (with an Italian-style weapon) from the windows of a workshop was 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald, a former pilot in the US Navy who had spent part of his life in the Soviet Union. He was caught immediately, but surprisingly, he was killed by Jack Ruby in the courthouse hallways at the entrance to the Dallas police precinct on November 24, just two days after he had killed Kennedy.
AMERICA IN BLACK
The news of Kennedy’s assassination shocked America and the world. Women and men crying, people gathered in large shopping centers watching the television that continuously broadcast the event. Traffic was blocked and schools across America, as far away as Canada, were closed. The governments of many countries raised the flag at half-mast as a sign of solidarity. On the radio and televisions of many countries of the world, after they stopped broadcasting, they gave funeral music and announcements about the assassination of the president.
American embassies around the world opened the “Book” of condolences. Meanwhile, television, for the first time in history, continued to broadcast live for four consecutive days. The Assassination of President Kennedy is the longest running non-stop news marathon in American television history. This fact until 9:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001, when the networks broadcast live for 72 consecutive hours, the terrorist attack on the New World Trade Center York.
THE FUNERAL, A GRAND CEREMONY
Only two US presidents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. William Howard Taft, who died in 1930, and John F. Kennedy, who, along with another President, Woodrow Wilson, are buried outside their country of birth. Jacqueline Kennedy, in consultation with Kennedy’s brother Robert and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, approved the President’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. On Sunday, November 25, 1963, at 11:00 a.m., the lifeless body of the President, who had been in the Oval Office of the White House for 24 hours, placed on a gurney and draped with the American flag, headed to Arlington Cemetery.
It was a funeral attended by leaders from around the world. French President Charles De Gaulle, German Chancellor Ludwig Wrhard, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom stood at his grave. 220 foreign dignitaries from 92 countries, members of royal families, including the Soviet Union, were present at that ceremony. The NBC television channel broadcast the entire funeral via satellite to 23 countries around the world, including Japan and the Soviet Union. The whole funeral was accompanied by funeral music.
50 Navy and Air Force aircraft flew followed by the presidential plane “Air Force One”. Zhaklina was wearing a long jacket, with her children, John Jr. in one hand. (Which celebrated its third anniversary on that very day) and on the other Karolina. The streets of the cities were deserted; schools, offices, shops and factories were closed. The national silence was executed at 12:00 and lasted five minutes before the start of the funeral. The original basement was 20×30 meters, surrounded by a white fence.
During the first year, more than 3,000 people an hour have visited the Kennedy cemetery, while on weekends about 50,000. Three years after Kennedy’s death, more than 16 million people had come to visit his grave. Because of the large crowd, cemetery officials and members of the Kennedy family decided to build a more suitable plinth, which began in 1965 and was completed on July 20, 1967. Lit by Jacklin Kennedy during the funeral, the Eternal Flame of placed on a circular granite stone at the top of the grave, it continues to burn today.
TRAGEDIES THAT HIT THE KENNEDY FAMILY
At the beginning of the campaign for the presidential elections, Kennedy and Jacqueline, married on September 12, 1953, conducted the entire tour of the USA together. In the election of November 8, 1960, Kennedy triumphed over Richard Nixon, becoming the 35th president of the United States of America, when he was only 43 years old. Zhaklin, a graduate of George Toën University Washington, became the youngest Firts Lady, only 34 years old. She is remembered for media relations, fashion admirer, with clothes created for her by designer Oleg Kasini, a known icon of elegance.
Likewise, for the menus he chose during receptions at the White House. She was noted for her ability in the social aspect, especially in international relations, often decisive in the politics of her husband John, starting from the relations with Paris and Charles De Gaulle, up to Nikita Krushov. Always at the forefront of social and cultural events, he created a friendly circle with famous artists. After John’s death, and with the danger threatening the entire Kennedy family, she decided to leave America.
On October 20, 1968, she married the Greek armorer, billionaire Aristotele Onassis, who broke off her “love story” with the singer Maria Kalas. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died on May 23, 1994, and her body was placed next to the grave of her husband, John Kennedy, in Arlington. The tragedy of the Kennedy family is also connected with the deaths of children: Arabella, who was stillborn, and Patrick, who died two days after birth, who were placed next to John and Jacqueline.
Meanwhile, Karoline was the first daughter and after her son John Kennedy Junior, who crashed his plane with his wife and the ashes of their bodies were scattered in the ocean, where the plane crashed in July 1999. Nearby is also the grave of the brother, Robert Kennedy, former Minister of Justice in the administration of John Kennedy, then senator of New York, who was also killed during the electoral campaign, for the presidential elections of 1968.
ALBANIANS AND THE THREE DAYS WITH JERRY LUIS, TO “THE COMMON ENEMY…”!
Despite the great distance, with a total censorship, Albanians have dreamed of America and the connections with it have been of all kinds. From the sensational escapes, the “saboteurs”, who came to Albania, to the well-known communist slogan “American Imperialism…”! The Russian film “Khrushchev’s Visit to America”, shown in the cinemas of the capital at the beginning of the 60s, was among the first to bring images from America where, alongside the film, you could see the skyscrapers of New York.
While the one that shook the Albanian environment, was the film “Common Enemy”, which was shown around 1963, in “Partizani” and “17 Nëndori” cinemas, in the capital. But only three days. People flocked to the capital’s cinemas to see the film, which showed life in America. The electrifying moments were when the famous rock and roll singer Jerry Lewis performed on the piano and the people in the cinema followed the beat, singing along.
But after three days the film was quickly removed. To continue again with Hollywood films, with Marilyn Monroe, the actor Steve Rives, western films, or “Last Tango in Paris”, with Marlon Brando, seen secretly in the late hours of the night, the series “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, or the famous series on the second channel of Yugoslavian television, “This is America”, which is widely watched by the people of Tirana, every Thursday evening. Then the singers Rey Charles, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, the king of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, whose death also reached Albania. There was also American literature, “yellow” books, banned, such as “American Tragedy” by Teodor Dreiser. America would also leave its mark on the streets of Tirana, like the famous “Broadway”. A Coca-Cola bottle would be kept as a souvenir.
It was lucky who sewed or provided a pair of cowboy pants, those blue jeans. The names of Miami, Chicago, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, with their well-known casinos, would be etched in the minds of Albanians. But also, the stories that would change the world, figures like the three astronauts, Collin, Aldrin and Armstrong with ‘Apollo 11’, the first three men to land on the moon. But also the war in Vietnam, when the newspaper “Voice of the People” announced that the Vietnamese forces had shot down a plane and their number went from 453, to 454, then 455… and captured pilots.
The story of the boxer Mohamed Ali (Kasius Klei), who refused to be a soldier there, the athlete Tommy Smith, with his fist raised, NBA basketball with Karim Abu Jabar, the American chess player Bob Fisher who drove the Russians crazy, would also arrive among us. One would feel the echo of the “Watergate” scandal, the intense life, the famous loves. What luck, for whom he was born there, or with parents who had lived in America! He was seen as special. Unforgettable is the year when “Oransoda” from Italy came to Tirana and there were two Americans in the lineup, against whom Agim Fagu scored 48 points.
FROM THE TECHNICAL SCHOOL, TO KHRUSHOV IN THE USA AND “AMERICAN LAND”
The technical school is the first known and with a great contribution in the 30s and 40s, where many Albanians were educated. In isolated Albania, news has also arrived from Nikita Khrushchev’s American tour, which began on September 15, 1959, which in return finally changed the direction of the socialist camp. And that of 1972, when the “Great Helmsman”, Mao Zedong, received the American President, Richard Nixon, in Beijing, signaling a policy of opening up the People’s Republic of China.
While that plot south of the Lenin-Stalin Museum, in front of the Artistic Lyceum in Tirana, which was said to be “land, an American plot”, was “inaccessible”. It was an information that circulated under the voice of the time and every time you would pass by “Elbasan Street”, you would look at that space. Today there is the American Embassy.
THE VOICE OF PEPPER, THE GREAT HOPE
Such was the hour and the voice that came across the ocean. Many Albanians in those years and after, have followed systematically, with anxiety, secretly, that moment, when at 18:00 in the evening, they sat with their ears to the radio to listen to “Voice of America” in Albanian, from which you expect, they hoped day by day for changes, openness. Everything conveyed by the legendary voice of Elez Biberaj, the voice of hope, the voice of the West. How much Albanians believed in that voice! The next day, discussions, interpretations, guesses about what he had said began in confidential groups.
“OK” AND THE BOOK OF PANGOS
Everything changed after the arrival of Beker in the 90s in Albania eager for democracy. The embassy returned, the application of the American Lottery began, Albanians coming and going to America. But even “OK”, which you could hardly hear or not at all in those years, appeared as a normal expression in popular communication.
They were the two “forbidden” letters, the pronunciation of which risked labeling you as “pro-Western”. But, before America was no longer “a forbidden apple”, Ylli Pango’s book “Amerika” offered us a picture of it, seen and treated from a curious, interesting and informative point of view by a personality of the Albanian intellectual life, who had touched that place. Memorrie.al