1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Inaugural Memories
January 18, 2009
Tom Dameron

            We, as a nation, are waiting for another day of historic proportion in our long history.   I have watched TV news during the past few weeks and have heard everyone speaking of this inauguration being like no other.  In many ways this is true for all the right reasons; however I prefer to focus on the "sameness" as the most outstanding feature of this event.  We have a transfer of leadership in our democracy taking place before our eyes in essentially the same way that it has for 200+ years. 

            This thought has evoked memories of one particular inauguration that I, nor anyone in my age group, shall ever forget.  The similarities between the Kennedy election process and the Obama election are striking.  Both evoked elevated emotions in all of us, either positive or negative.  Kennedy and Obama spurned unprecedented "hope" in the youth of our Nation.  "The torch has been passed to a new generation" were the words of John F. Kennedy.  Obama's entry on the national and world scene has produced the same sentiments.  This is good and healthy for our nation.  Every one of us, regardless of our political leanings, owe our nation the chance under new leadership to succeed.  On Tuesday we will hear our new leader ask for our help, sacrifice, and commitment to bring health, prosperity and continued security to our Nation.  Each of us owes it to ourselves to support our new President, and the Office which he holds.  Maybe we as a Nation will show collective outrage should anyone throw a shoe at our new leader.   

            The process of leadership change is the same as it was in 1961, but the circumstances are really different.  Today we have soldiers everywhere, security is unprecedented, and we are a cautious people as we have never been before.  In 1961 things were different as I can attest from personal experience:  

      In January, 1961 I was attending law school at the American University, Washington College of Law at 20th and G Streets, Washington, D. C.  On the 19th I had a Real Property exam in the evening at the school.  It had been snowing most of the day; however I had managed to drive from Alexandria into D. C. for the exam.  A point of interest here is that Robert C. Byrd, a first term senator, was a classmate in law school.  During this time the State Department had undergone a complete expansion and had just been completed, and as I remember the entrance to the State Department (23rd street entrance) had just opened and was a magnificent and impressive entrance.


     After completing the exam at about 9 o'clock pm I left school and discovered about 18" to 24" of snow outside.  I got in my car and drove the few blocks to 23rd street, turned left to head toward the Jefferson Memorial and Memorial Bridge to Virginia.  Traffic was at a complete standstill, and I spent the next two hours in front of the entrance to the State Department.  About 11:30 p.m my car died (a 1967 Ford Fairland).       In those days batteries were not meant to run the radio and the heat at full blast for a long period of time.  A classmate and I pushed the car onto the sidewalk and into the main court entrance to the State Department almost blocking the doors to the building.  We walked back to the law school and slept on the floor until about 5 am on the morning of the Kennedy Inauguration.  We reached my car which was covered in show, but otherwise undisturbed, and convinced a maintenance man from State to shovel us out.  We pushed the car onto 23rd street (still partially blocked) and I tried to start it.  Luckily, it was a fairly new battery and there was enough juice stored to get it started.  We then proceeded down 23rd toward Constitution, and saw the most remarkable site that I had ever seen.  There were hundreds of soldiers from Ft. Belvoir with "flame throwers" melting the snow on the parade route.  Talk about innovation!  I finally made it to Virginia and watched the parade on TV.


 That evening I was privileged to attend one of the three Inaugural Balls (at the D. C. Armory).  Wow you say!  Well, before we get too carried away here permit me to explain the circumstance of my attending, with my wife and three or four of my friends with their wives.  My neighbor was an FBI agent, and they were in charge of getting volunteers to assist at the various functions - so he asked me and I asked some of my friends and we went to the Armory and worked at the entrance checking and storing the guest's coats as they entered the hall.  After our work was done we were permitted to enter the hall and enjoy the festivities.  For some of you movie buffs - I got to take the coat of Arlene Dahl (a beautiful redhead) a very famous actress of the day.  When President and Mrs. Kennedy entered the Armory they took the time to come over to us and shake everyone's hand and thank us for volunteering for that duty. 

            That little story is not particularly interesting; however I think that the circumstances of how very different things are now vs. then is compelling.  It would be unthinkable today to imagine that we could have the freedom of movement that we enjoyed in 1961.  I suppose that is one of the reasons that I really like to have my grandkids visit Alderson.  Things today are pretty much as they were then - Thank God.