‘The Biggest Story That I’ve Ever Been Close To’: Former ‘Time’ Reporter, of West Lebanon, Was There When Kennedy’s Casket Was Brought to D.C.

  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, holds his White House press credential from 1963, left, and his press pass to attend the procession of John F. Kennedy's casket from the White House to the capital rotunda.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, holds his White House press credential from 1963, left, and his press pass to attend the procession of John F. Kennedy's casket from the White House to the capital rotunda.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, was 33, when he covered the events in Washington, D.C. following death of John F. Kennedy as a journalist for Life Magazine.  <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Loye Miller of West Lebanon, was 33, when he covered the events in Washington, D.C. following death of John F. Kennedy as a journalist for Life Magazine.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, searches for a photograph of John F. Kennedy's casket being taken from Air Force One upon its arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in 1963. Miller was covering the arrival for Life Magazine and remembers watching as the newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson stepped out of the front of the plane and the Kennedys exited at the rear. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, searches for a photograph of John F. Kennedy's casket being taken from Air Force One upon its arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in 1963. Miller was covering the arrival for Life Magazine and remembers watching as the newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson stepped out of the front of the plane and the Kennedys exited at the rear.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • The casket containing the body of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy is moved to a Navy ambulance from the Presidential plane which arrived from Dallas, Tex, where Kennedy was assassinated, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Nov. 22, 1963.  U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is behind on the elevator.  Attorney General Robert Kennedy, his brother, is beside her.  Lawrence O'Brien of the White House staff is at the right.  Secret Service men are directly behind the casket.  (AP Photo)

    The casket containing the body of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy is moved to a Navy ambulance from the Presidential plane which arrived from Dallas, Tex, where Kennedy was assassinated, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Nov. 22, 1963. U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is behind on the elevator. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, his brother, is beside her. Lawrence O'Brien of the White House staff is at the right. Secret Service men are directly behind the casket. (AP Photo)

  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, holds his White House press credential from 1963, left, and his press pass to attend the procession of John F. Kennedy's casket from the White House to the capital rotunda.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, was 33, when he covered the events in Washington, D.C. following death of John F. Kennedy as a journalist for Life Magazine.  <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Loye Miller of West Lebanon, 83, searches for a photograph of John F. Kennedy's casket being taken from Air Force One upon its arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in 1963. Miller was covering the arrival for Life Magazine and remembers watching as the newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson stepped out of the front of the plane and the Kennedys exited at the rear. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • The casket containing the body of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy is moved to a Navy ambulance from the Presidential plane which arrived from Dallas, Tex, where Kennedy was assassinated, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Nov. 22, 1963.  U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is behind on the elevator.  Attorney General Robert Kennedy, his brother, is beside her.  Lawrence O'Brien of the White House staff is at the right.  Secret Service men are directly behind the casket.  (AP Photo)

West Lebanon — The casket holding John F. Kennedy’s body, just unloaded from Air Force One, was being transferred onto the runway and into a gray Navy hearse.

The scene was hectic: Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had taken the oath of office before taking off from Dallas, and a presidential entourage had emerged from the front of the plane, and harsh floodlights illuminated JFK’s casket as it was lowered in the early dusk.

In the confusion, Jacqueline Kennedy was suddenly left standing alone.

During that moment, maybe 10 seconds long, she walked uncertainly around the side of the hearse, and struggled, as if in a daze, to find or grasp the door handle. Her pink dress suit was still stained by blood.

West Lebanon resident Loye Miller, now 83, watched this scene unfold about 30 yards in front of him at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C, hours after the president was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

A correspondent for Time magazine who had covered Kennedy in the preceding years, Miller had been dispatched to another airport by Time’s D.C. bureau chief, who thought Miller could best be used in Dallas.

When he learned that Air Force One was already returning, though, Miller rerouted himself to Andrews, where he found “the most unforgettable experience in (his) 30 years of journalism.” The image of Jackie Kennedy in a moment of dazed helplessness was particularly poignant, he said, and has stuck with him for 50 years.

“Finally, someone noticed her and ran to help,” he said. “In all the coverage, I never heard any mention of that pitiful moment, but it’s noticeable on the television record.”

Miller had learned of the news earlier that day as he was dining in the restaurant below the Time offices with a group of reporters, who were alerted to the news by the maitre de.

“I threw a credit card on the table and we all tore upstairs to the office, and watched the most dramatic television news any of us had ever seen or would ever see (except for the Zapruder film, which our Life Magazine colleagues snapped up days later),” Miller wrote in an email.

Miller had become a correspondent in Time’s Washington Bureau in late 1959, soon covering Johnson’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and his subsequent appointment as Kennedy’s running mate.

When the pair won the election, the Time correspondent assigned to Kennedy decided to take some time off, and Miller got the beat, joining the White House press corps. He remembers congratulating Kennedy as the president-elect disembarked an airplane shortly after his son was born, and asking him what the newborn would be named.

Kennedy thanked Miller and replied, “Oh, we’ll name him John.”

“That became a haunting memory when JFK Jr. died in the 1999 plane crash,” said Miller, a 1951 Dartmouth College graduate who returned to the area frequently before relocating permanently in 2001.

Another notable memory came after Kennedy and his advisers begrudgingly obliged Johnson in visiting the vice president-elect’s Texas ranch, where Miller said they were “subjected to a deer hunt and other Texas activities foreign to (their) nature, in raw, wet weather.” A reporter asked if Kennedy was going to “get even” by forcing Johnson into a visit to Cape Cod.

In an email, Miller recalled the president-elect’s response: “ ‘Ayuh … in the wintuh,’ Kennedy said, hoking up his Yankee accent.”

These interactions shaped Miller’s reaction when the maitre de from the restaurant broke the news of the president’s death.

“Whether you like a president or not — and it was hard not to like Kennedy — just any time an American president is assassinated, that’s going to be a sense of great shock, and, of course, Kennedy had created such a charisma the feeling was more so,” Miller said.

“I think (my reaction was) just something like that, but also the fact I’m a journalist and this is probably the biggest story that I’ve ever been close to.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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