JFK Tribute unveiled in Fort Worth
FORT WORTH, TX -- On a rainy November morning in 1963, Pauline Gasca Valenciano stood in a crowd of thousands on a downtown street waiting to hear President John F. Kennedy speak, and afterward she touched his hand -- hours before his assassination.
On Thursday, she stood among hundreds as an 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Kennedy, part of the JFK Tribute, was unveiled near the site where he spoke outside a hotel before he addressed a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Nov. 22, 1963. Those turned out to be his final public speeches. He was fatally shot several hours later while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.
The JFK Tribute includes a granite wall containing his quotes from that morning and pictures of the late president and his wife. Visitors also can go on an audio tour and download transcripts of the two speeches on their mobile devices.
The exhibit was created to honor the ideals and themes in Kennedy's last speeches -- his vision for the country's prosperity, his respect for the military and his goals of space exploration -- because they are relevant today, said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that spearheaded the project.
The JFK Tribute also aims to remind people of the city's significance.
"Fort Worth's story has been almost forgotten," Mayor Betsy Price said during Thursday's ceremony.
Don Woodard said he attended the breakfast and remembers that Kennedy wouldn't put on a cowboy hat that was presented to him, despite cheers from the audience. Kennedy told the crowd that he would wear the hat the following Monday; instead, Woodard went to Washington, and watched the hearse pass by, he said.
"The sadness and the devastation of what happened in Dallas overshadowed everything else. ... Now I'm glad it's here for history," he said, referring to the tribute.
Valenciano's daughter, Jodi Perry, was 8 years old when she went with her mother to hear Kennedy speak in Fort Worth. She held a sign, "Welcome to Texas, Jack and Jackie," and said the event changed her life. After the speech, she returned to school, where just hours later students were told of the shooting and attended a special Mass to pray for Kennedy.
Valenciano already was involved in politics, the Viva Kennedy club, and Perry said she had helped her mother with activities such as voter registration. Perry later co-founded the Tejano Democrats of North Texas.
"That day propelled me to be involved in civil rights and other important issues," Perry said.
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