Pat Mulloy reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “I’ll show you,” he said. He fumbled a bit, then found it: a worn picture of President John F. Kennedy. He’s carried it forever, he said.
He was 19 when he met then-Sen. Kennedy on a campaign trip in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He shook Kennedy’s hand — twice — and said “Good luck, Jack.” Not senator, but Jack. “We thought he was family,” he said.
Mulloy, 77, of Alexandria, told the story Thursday as he stood with metal crutches in Arlington National Cemetery by the grave of his hero on the 55th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.
He said he makes the visit every year.
On a cold and breezy morning, he and his wife, Marjorie, 73, a former Peace Corps volunteer, were among dozens who trouped up the hill to the place where Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, are buried.
Visitors came from Georgia, North Carolina and Stockholm.
They stood in silence or whispered as the breeze rustled the remaining leaves on the trees, and a distant bell tolled the hour. At the top of hill, the flag at the Arlington mansion snapped in the wind, and a hawk soared overhead.
“I loved the president,” said Mulloy, who wore a green Notre Dame ball cap. “I campaigned for him in 1960 . . . and I dedicated my life to public service because of him. . . . I was hard core. Man, I loved the guy.”
Mulloy is an attorney, retired from many years in federal government service. “I served in the State Department, Justice Department . . . I was general counsel for the Senate Banking Committee,” he said.
“I’ve spent my whole life serving the great republic,” he said. “And he inspired me to do it.”
Mulloy has memorized the closing lines of JFK’s inaugural address — “Let us go forth to lead the land we love . . . knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own,” he recited.
“I know it by heart,” he said.
Mulloy grew up in Kingston, Pa., across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre.
Kennedy went there to campaign in October 1960, Mulloy said.
“I shook his hand. I heard him talk. And then when he was leaving, I ran after the car, and I shook his hand again,” he said. “I said, ‘Good luck, Jack.’ He looked at me and said ‘Thank you very much.’”
Like many of his generation, he remembers where he was the day Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald.
He was in graduate school at Notre Dame.
“I’ll never forget. Coming out of the big library . . . and someone said the president’s been shot. I ran over to a chapel and said some prayers. . . . One of the saddest days of my life.”
Earlier, an admirer from another generation had paused at the gravesite, where the Kennedy eternal flame flickered orange and a bouquet of white roses had been placed.
Colin Thompson, 35, said he had recently moved to Washington from Dallas.
He said he recalls as a 6-year-old being taken by his father to the assassination site. “I remember my father saying, ‘Just over there, a great man died a long time ago,’ ” he said. “The city’s never really lived it down,” he said.
“In terms of world history . . . this is probably the closest person that I can think of that actually saved the world,” he said.
Kennedy is credited by many with having avoided nuclear war through his handling of the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union faced off over missiles the Soviets had placed in Cuba.
They were eventually removed after a U.S. blockade of Cuba.
“Hopefully, posterity will remember him for those moments and not his death,” Thompson said. “A half century since his passing, it’s still there. And that kind of draws me to this.”
A former intern at the State Department, he said he once spotted Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, then ambassador to Japan, sitting alone in a corridor.
“I remember looking up at her, and for a second I felt like I was looking into his eyes,” he said.
Thompson said he now works for the federal government on national security issues.
“You can’t do this job without understanding decision-making, without understanding the October crisis,” he said.
Thompson said he, too, was a volunteer in the Peace Corps, the famous foreign aid agency Kennedy established in 1961.
“The brevity of his presidency I think exploded into tangents that still resonate today,” he said.
Nearby, Chris O’Neill, 50, a physical education teacher from Morton Grove, Ill., stood by the gravesite and whispered the story of the Kennedys to his goddaughter, Susie Richter, 13.
“I just wanted her to know more about our country and the history of our country so she could be a better citizen,” he said. “The good that happened, the bad that happened and how we learn from that.”