Most of my 38-year career as a dentist was rather uneventful, but the weekend of John F. Kennedy’s death is etched in my memory, as with most others my age. Having graduated that summer of 1963, I joined the Air Force before the draft board came calling.
Although I gave France as my preference, I got orders to the U.S. Air Force Clinic in Ankara, Turkey.
Arriving there in September 1963, and somewhat shocked at the biblical surroundings, I found temporary lodging in an old Victorian hotel, the Bulvar Palas.
After a few weeks at work, my boss sent me on a tour of remote bases along the Black Sea and Russian border.
These were small mountaintop Security Service sites, each with about 100 men, mostly language specialists in Russian, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian.
I was there to do dental exams and whatever else my portable equipment could support. My last work day at the Trabzon site was on Friday, Nov. 22. I was to fly back to Ankara the next day.
As it was nine hours later there than Dallas time, the first word we heard of the assassination of the president was picked up that evening on a Russian military broadcast.
In those days, there was no television in Turkey, period, nor did we have Armed Forces radio. Even our military newspaper, the Stars and Stripes, was always two days late getting to Turkey on the three-a-week Pan Am flights into Ankara. We had no details of JFK’s death that evening.
The next morning I was driven down the mountain in a blue Air Force staff car, and upon arriving at the short landing strip, a large crowd of Turks came running across the tarmac and surrounded the staff car.
At first I thought we were being attacked, but they just wanted to express their grief, wringing their hands and in tears. I was wearing the right uniform.
It was much the same on the flight to Ankara, being the only American on board the small high-wing turbo-prop.
Back in Ankara I learned that there had been a big black-tie affair planned for Saturday night, the 23rd, at the American Embassy, with Duke Ellington and band. The party was cancelled.
Duke and his band were stranded until the Tuesday Pan Am flight back to New York.
As it turned out, the Duke developed a wisdom tooth problem on that Sunday, and I had the duty.
Arriving at the emergency room in my Sunday clothes (madras bermudas), he took a look at me and turned to his manager, saying he could hold out for his New York surgeon.
William D. Kay, DDS (Retired)
North Shem Drive
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