By Pete Hamill
The young Pete Hamill.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
†††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††Ireland wept for her son.
By Pete Hamill
That day I was in
For my father, it was the first time in 31 years he had been home to the city of his youth, and to understand the rest of the day, I must tell you something about Billy Hamill. Heís a short round guy with a hoarse voice now,
but in the old pictures he looks like a very tough lightweight, two muscled
legs jutting from soccer shorts, his face breaking in a cocky grin. He grew up in
He lived in Red Hook in
He remembered lying in
But my father raised
seven children who love him and that November we made good on an old vow and
On the evening of the 22nd, I was in a cousinís home, playing with
children, the TV blaring, drinking a bit, when suddenly the sound blacked out
and an announcer came on to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot in
Dallas. A few minutes later, the announcer was back on again, the
phone ringing on his desk, his voice breaking saying that the President of the
I fled into the night to find my father.
For men like Billy Hamill, it was even more important that John Kennedy had
become President than it was for me. In
its way, Kennedyís election was a personal matter for my old man; it meant
that his children and theirs would not be disqualified from
birth from becoming leaders of the mightiest nation on this earth. It meant
that perhaps after all, the exile and the longing
and the crippled dream of
I found him leaving his brotherís house. He was crying and his face looked white and ruined. We all walked through the frail rain to the second floor lounge of the Rock Bar. "The dirty murdering sons of bitches," he said, over and over, as we climbed the stairs. "The dirty sons of bitches."
Behind us, as we sat at a round table, was a long hall with a TV set at the end showing Kennedyís visit to Ireland a few months before, and my father said that it might be the last time we would see his face whole because we knew that he had been shot in the head, and then Kennedy was at Shannon airport, telling Ireland that he would be back in the spring. The film ended.
And then the damndest thing happened: "The Star Spangled Banner" began to play, and every man in that bar, maybe 50 of them, stood up and faced the TV screen and saluted.
They were saluting the leader of another country and really it was a salute to an Irishmanís son who had made them proud, and then my father started to sing the anthem in his hoarse voice and all of us were crying because we knew finally he had become an American.
I donít remember very
much about the rest of that night; we all got very
drunk and went home. I remember seeing a man drive his hand into a tree, and
women sobbing dryly as they always do in