Olentangy Valley News

A jarring brush with history

Former Orange Township leader made connection with JFK hours before his death

By ANDREW KING
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Most people who were alive in 1963 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

But 50 years later, not many can say they waved to the president just hours before he was shot.

Jim Agan, a former Orange Township trustee who moved to central Ohio in 1968, was living on the west side of Fort Worth, Texas, in 1963. When he heard Kennedy's motorcade would be passing through the city Nov. 21, he grabbed his 10-day-old son, Mike, and took a spot on the motorcade route.

"The motorcade was coming about a block and a half from where I lived," Agan said. "I had a little boy who was 10 days old at the time, so I thought, 'I'll take him out and let him see the president.' "

While a president's visit in 2013 often leads to a mob scene, Agan was able to get closer than anyone could today.

"I took Mike's little hand and the car came up and I had him wave at Kennedy," he said. "Kennedy kind of grinned and waved back. He was less than 10 feet away."

The next day, Agan was at a car dealership in Dallas while Kennedy was being driven through the streets. He didn't attend, but said the crowd noise was enough to be heard from several blocks away.

"I was talking to the guy at the dealership and suddenly we heard a bang, and a few seconds later a couple more bangs," Agan said. "People started running everywhere. Kennedy's limo started speeding up and sped onto the freeway ... I remember turning to the guy I was talking to and just wondering what the hell was going on; we had no idea."

Agan's proximity to the events made them even more intense, he said, and the harsh contrast from the experience of the previous night to the day of the shooting was particularly unsettling.

"It was a scary moment in my life, to go from the night before in a very peaceful mood, to seeing the catastrophe the next day," he said. "I was watching all the stuff on TV about the assassin and the assassination of the assassin and thinking, 'I was pretty close to that.' "

Fifty years later, Agan, 75, said he still thinks about his brush with Kennedy's final days and is most struck by how different a presidential visit is handled today.

"In retrospect, I was thinking about when he came through Fort Worth, there was very little security by today's standards," he said. "He was just going down a little four-lane road in a residential area. There were some cops on motorcycles escorting the car, but nobody was canvassing the crowd or putting up security things or anything like that."

While the security was different, so was the reaction to tragedy in 1960s Texas.

"Nobody was really scared or anything like that. It wasn't an Al-Qaida group or anything like that," he said. "Things happened like that in Texas all the time. Somebody got pissed off, pulled out their Colt and took care of it. Shooting someone when you were pissed off at them was just ... oh well."

But "oh well," is far from how Agan felt about the assassination, and it wasn't until after the fact that he realized the impact of the event he had witnessed.

"It was kind of profound. I had seen him the night before up close," he said. "I don't have any mementos or anything, but I'll never forget it."

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