Alumni in the News: PSU student in DC when JFK assassinated
Posted: November 19, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) - In 1963, Portland State University student Don Rickel landed an internship in Washington, D.C., working for Congresswoman Edith Green.

Rickel, a political science major, told KOIN 6 News "it was fascinating to see reality versus textbooks."

On the Friday before Thanksgiving 50 years ago, he noticed it was unusually quiet on Capitol Hill.

"I came back and [was] walking through the offices of members, either quiet or crying or not saying anything. I found out what had happened."

President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. His body was being flown back on Air Force One to Andrews Air Force Base.

Rickel headed straight to the base and saw history unfold in front of him.

"Mrs. Kennedy was still dressed in her outfit with blood stains, put him in the Navy ambulance," he said. "No ceremony. They just took the casket down. Jackie never the left the casket, got into the ambulance with Bobby [Kennedy and headed to] Bethesda."

In the days that followed, Rickel had an insider's view of the events surrounding the nation's period of mourning. He was able to view the president's casket inside the Rotunda.

"Being an employee I had access," he said. "I took a couple of friends in to see the body."

Rickel attended the funeral service and stood 10 feet behind French President Charles DeGaulle. He saw moments even most of the media missed.

"Mrs. Kennedy tried to light the eternal flame, and it went out and Cardinal Cushing took a lighter out of his pocket gave it to her and she lit the eternal flame there," he said.

Rickel, now 73, left politics and went into the travel and tourism industry. He still has the book of eulogies honoring John Kennedy and a copy of the Thanksgiving speech the president never delivered. He said our leaders should look to this somber moment from the nation's past to see how all Americans can come together.

"There couldn't have been a better example of someone who stood up and fought for what he thought was right," he said, "and then world leaders come to pay their respect. Many of them disagreed with 100% of what he stood for."

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