Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Citizens recall Kennedy assassination
Millner describes hearing news while on Army base
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Curtis Millner was a 21-year-old mechanic in the Army, looking forward to seeing President John F. Kennedy at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
The president was scheduled to review the troops on the parade field at the base and then give a speech. After that, the troops were to have a four-day holiday.
But the president never came.
Instead, Millner said, while he was working in the motorpool on the base that day, “there was sort of like a murmur. People would talk, and then they wouldn’t talk. Then they called us together in formation and told us.”
The troops were told that President Kennedy had been shot. Later, they learned he died from the shots fired on his motorcade as it traveled through Dallas that day.
There was “total shock” among the troops, said Millner, who was a mechanic assigned to the 17th Engineering Battalion of the 2nd Armored Division. He described the atmosphere as “a hushed silence. No one really would say anything.”
Millner, too, was in shock. “I thought perhaps more of President Kennedy than any president who had served since I was living. He did so much more for race relations,” said Millner, of Henry County.
He recalled that when he first went to Fort Hood, it was highly segregated. “Black troops had to travel 35 miles for recreation, things like that,” he said.
But Gen. Henry Emerson, serving under Kennedy, changed that, telling businesses within a 100-mile radius of the base that they would serve all the troops or none of them. If they did not comply, their businesses would be off-limits to the troops, Millner said.
Emerson told the troops that if they had any problems off the base, they were to call him, and he gave them his phone number, Millner said.
After the assassination, Millner said he went to a friend’s house on the post. Like Americans everywhere, “we watched everything on TV. They ran it over and over for about three days,” he said.
There was a sense of “we didn’t know what to do now,” so the troops still got their four-day holiday, he said. The following Tuesday, they returned to work.
“We were all wondering who did it,” Millner said of the public’s reaction to the president’s shooting. People speculated that it was a conspiracy, that maybe a foreign country had been involved, and that maybe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone when he fired the shots from the Texas School Book Depository.
“Who would do something like that,” Millner questioned.
Millner, who retired from the military and now is a member of the Henry County School Board, is among those who think there was a conspiracy to blame, but he has no idea who might have been involved or how it was done, he said.
He feels that way, he said, because “people were able to get into places they shouldn’t have been able to,” such as the Dallas police headquarters where Oswald was shot to death by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963, as he was being transferred from the headquarters to the county jail.
Also, Oswald had traveled to Russia before the assassination, but Millner said Oswald “didn’t have the means to go to Russia on his own.”
“But like so many mysteries, I don’t think it will be solved,” he added.
Millner had arrived at Fort Hood from Germany in July 1963. He had taken part in the Operation Big Lift exercise, a 64-hour massive deployment of the 2nd Armored Division, two artillery battalions, assorted transportation units and an air strike force to the front line of the Cold War in Central Europe, according to an online account by David I. Goldman, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
The exercise was held to “provide a dramatic illustration of the United States’ capability for rapid reinforcement of NATO force,” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said.
It was within that context that President Kennedy was to have addressed the troops at Fort Hood. His speech is online on a PBS’ “American Experience, 25 years” series, even though it never was delivered.
The speech talks about the need for the nation to maintain its military strength, dominance in space and economic security, among other things. Its final paragraph reads:
“We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.’”