As the world pauses to remember John F. Kennedy, the time is even more meaningful for a Galesburg man. That’s because Gene Rude worked with President Kennedy and served at his funeral.
Rude was a 25-year-old armed forces police officer in 1963.
“Just a fledgling young man at that point,” he recalled.
But driving home from work in Washington, D.C., he learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
“I wondered what kind of crisis we’d be in,” he said.
And just three days later, he received a most remarkable assignment.
“I look back on that as a very sad day in our history,” he said.
He was assigned to guard the door at St. Matthew’s Cathedral during the president’s funeral. History literally passed before him: former presidents, world leaders, the Kennedy family and President Kennedy’s coffin.
“They were all just kind of stunned to see our leader going by in a coffin,” he said. “It was just a horrible situation for all of us to have to face.”
And with the country grieving, he came face-to-face with a private moment for Mrs. Kennedy.
Fifty years later, those memories remain vivid. The Galesburg man remembers the national grief and uncertainty that marked those days.
“Even there at the funeral, you saw people with tears streaming down their faces,” he said. “It was just a major toll on the country.”
As Gene Rude watches television coverage this week, he’s thinking about work assignments with JFK. There are recollections of an aristocratic, business-like but friendly leader.
“He gave you that air of having money, so you knew that,” Rude said. “But he really was down to earth.”
Those personal memories are a part of history. It was a terrible time for the country.
“They called it Camelot,” he concluded. “He really was an amazing man.”
Gene Rude went on to a long career with Illinois State Police. He’s currently writing a book about his experiences.