WASHINGTON – People from all walks of life came to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to President John F. Kennedy on Friday, the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Many could recall where they were on the day of his death, but one group way too young to remember the day shared a different connection with the late president.
President Kennedy was the first former Boy Scout to become president. And on Friday, a group of Scouts laid a wreath at his tomb on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America.
Assistant Scoutmaster Greg Motta was at the cemetery with Troop 1717, from Hartwood, Va., and Cub Scout Pack 33, from D.C. He explained that Kennedy was a member of Troop 2 in Bronxville, N.Y., at age 10 in 1929 and stayed for two years.
He reached the level of a Star Scout, two steps below Eagle. “It’s above the average,” Motta says.
While he was a U.S. senator, Motta says, Kennedy was a leader in the Boston Council and a district executive. “He was a strong supporter of scouting.”
Scouts Ben Andersen, Ben Motta and Alex Pawlica laid a wreath at the tomb that included a banner with Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Motta says it reflects Kennedy’s Boy Scout background.
The wreath includes Kennedy’s famous quote "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (WTOP/Kristi King)
It’s “really very much a restatement of the Scout oath,” Motta says. The oath includes a promise “to do my duty to God and country,” and Motta says that learning one’s Constitutional rights and obligations is part of becoming a Scout.
“This whole notion of duty to country and selfless service is embedded in the Scout oath that every Scout swears to.”
Pawlicka says of Kennedy, “he really lived up to the Scout oath, Scout law, Scout motto.” Ben Motta was impressed that the 10-year-old Kennedy wrote a formal letter to his father looking for a raise on his allowance to buy Scout-related things such as canteens and blankets – “not things like chocolate-marshmallow sundaes with vanilla ice cream,” he says, quoting from the letter.
Others paying their respects remembered Kennedy for different reasons.
Kennedy was one of the founders of the Green Berets, and John Wheaton, of Fairfax, Va., a former Green Beret himself, says a contingent of the elite troops pays their respects every year.
Patrek Mulloy, of Alexandria, says “My whole life has been public service, and it was inspired by President Kennedy. … He was a great influence on my life.”
“You can’t express all the feelings that you have, to put you back in that time,” saus Yolanda Walker, of Arkansas.
“It’s wonderful to be here, but it’s a sad feeling too.”
WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.