Published in the Portland Press Herald, Nov. 25, 1963.
Taps were sounded for this generation’s martyred President Sunday afternoon in Portland City Hall as people of all faiths bowed their heads in reverent tribute to the fallen chief of state, John F. Kennedy.
Some 3,000 people, filling the auditorium to capacity heard the participating clergy – Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish – extol the slain president as a hero, brother to persons of all classes and conditions, and friend of mankind.
A little girl – symbolic of all – stood with head held proudly, eyes brimming with tears, as the solemn notes of taps echoed through the hall, through the tiers of balconies and across party lines.
The interfaith service arising from the desire of the city’s religious leaders to honor the memory of the late President and to express public sympathy to the family saw outpouring of reverence and faith seldom equaled in Portland.
The Rev. Dr. Frederick H. Thompson, minister of Woodfords Congregational Church said:
“As a country we will always be a little better because we had our President John F. Kennedy…”
Declared the Rt. Rev. Msgr. George P. Johnson, pastor of St. Josephs Church and ordinary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in the absence of Bishop Daniel J. Feeney:
“He lived, labored and died to protect, to preserve and to bequeath to us and to the world a precious legacy of love and sacrifice…”
“Why were all so impressed and moved by his death?” asked Rabbi Harry Z. Sky, of Temple Beth El. “What was there about this man that moved us so?” the Rabbi asked. “…He had a sense of history and part of this was knowing there is a God who cares…”
A U.S. Marine Corps color guard presented the country’s banner and the state emblems as the service opened with singing of the national anthem followed by the pledge of allegiance.
The Rev. W. Harper Welch, minister of the State Street Church, delivered the invocation and said: “In sadness of heart we Thy people have gathered in this solemn moment” to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy.
“A nation in mourning is something awesome to behold,” said Rabbi Maurice Bekritsky of Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, “but a world in mourning is something more awesome to behold.”
Cantor Kurt Messerschmitt of Temple Beth El stood at the lectern before the nine participating clergymen on the City Auditorium Hall stage to entone the familiar 23rd Psalm: “…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…”
Expressing the universal Christian hope in eternal life, the Rev. George J. Ventos, pastor of Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church, spoke the words from St. Paul epistle to the Thessalonians:
“But we would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, lest you should grieve, even as others who have not hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and arose again, so with him God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus…Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
The Very Rev. Dean Charles O. Brown of the Church of St. Luke delivered the memorial prayers, asking that the nation be saved from “violence, discord and confusion” in the wake of the assassination of the President.
“In the day of trouble suffer not our trust in Thee to fail,” he prayed. Then those assembled took up the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
Dr. Thompson, in one of the three memorial addresses, expressed the dismay and horror of all in the community at the sudden, totally unexpected assassination of the chief executive who, he said, had too much trust in his fellow citizens to offend them by having a protective shield of bullet-proof glass out up on his car.
“We in Maine felt especially close to him,” Dr. Thompson said, particularly after his visit to Maine where he received his honorary degree.
“What was so nobly begun was so ignobly ended,” Dr. Thompson said. “…done by an ill-begotten son. We are filled with anger and rage that an American could do this to our President.”
But in calmer moments, the minister said the American people will realize that an “incident like this – a bullet cannot end the life of our President…he has left us a legacy of principles and deeds which with passing years will become less political and national in scope…”
“One of God’s good men has been taken from us but another of God’s good men takes his tasks,” said Dr. Thompson. “He wanted to heal the divisions which separated men,” said Rabbi Sky. “This young vigorous man has left us a heritage never to be forgotten. If we are to properly memoralize him we must start to mend the divisions in our society.”
In the final eulogy, Msgr. Johnson said that in “the tragic death of this valiant soldier-statesman, peace has lost a powerful advocate, the world a true hero and all of us a brother in Christ. But let us not be unduly sad. The spirit of John F. Kennedy will live on…”
Comparing Kennedy to Lincoln, the prelate said: “No harsh words did he ever utter against those who opposed him and even when false accusations were hurled against him he harbored no malice…”
Kennedy’s inaugural address delivered 34 months ago was read by the Rev. Edward R. Nelson, Immanuel Baptist Church.
The Rev. John Bruce, minister of Green Memorial Zion Church, read the blessing. The service closed with the singing of “America” and taps were sounded by trumpeters of the Portland High School Band.