As the nation commemorates the 56th anniversary of the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that fateful day has special significance for a Tigard resident.
That's because Bill Kuyper played at the state funeral service of the slain president as a member of the United States Marine Band.
Kuyper told members of the Tigard Rotary Club during its regular Thursday meeting that although much time has passed, his memories of that day are still vivid.
Having started playing the trumpet in the fourth grade during the early 1950s, Kuyper took up the French horn two years later, an instrument he soon became fascinated with.
The Summerfield resident recalled that he and a friend were reading an article about special service bands in Washington, D.C., and decided to give the United States Marine Band a shot.
"And I won an audition, which was really spectacular," Kuyper said. "The band members are brought into the Marine Corps without military training. I was taken from my induction center (and) I was able to drive to Washington, D.C."
The United States Marine Band, Kuyper said, was established by an act of Congress in 1798. It performed for Thomas Jefferson's inauguration and has played for every presidential inauguration since then. John Phillip Sousa, known for his military marches, would turn out to be one of the band's most prominent directors.
Five days after his induction into the United States Marine Band, Kuyper, 24 years old at the time, found himself at a ceremony at Blair House (also known as the President's Guest House), which is located across the street from the White House. That's where he encountered President Kennedy standing so close to him that "I could have grabbed his trousers."
The day the president was shot, Kuyper said he had just finished playing golf. On the drive back, the group heard the news, causing one of the golfers to remark, "Oh no, LBJ is going to be president."
Kennedy's funeral would be held three days later on Nov. 25.
"The band was at the head of the parade, behind the casket," said Kuyper, recalling it was a bright and sunny day, although it was chilly. "We met the casket at the base of the Capitol steps in the Rotunda there."
They then marched over to St. Matthew's Cathedral for a Requiem Mass
From there, they marched to Arlington National Cemetery, having to pass by the Lincoln Memorial, which proved to be a profound moment. He said he had spent all his life up to that point marching in bands so he was used to it.
"But this was like nothing you had ever done before. Think of the history and President Lincoln's Memorial," he said. "When I saw the Lincoln Memorial and the statue of Abraham Lincoln, (I thought) 'this is awful.'"
Kuyper would go on and play what was known as President's Lyndon Johnson's formal "second inauguration."
Then it was on to more regular performances for the new president.
"I got 'White House clearance' pretty quickly and so during the Johnson administration there was a period of about four or five months where I was playing at the White House a lot," he said. "It was very fascinating to be there. We had a very close observation of how this guy, the president, operated. He was quite a character as you all know and he wasn't quite as slick as the Kennedy people."
Later, Kuyper would join the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Then, from 1969 through 2007, he played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra where he was assistant principal hornist.
"If it's not the finest orchestra in the world it's certainly one of the finest," he said of the philharmonic.
Now 80, Kuyper would also go on to write and produce educational music videos and record music professionally as well.
A Summerfield resident for the last four years, Kuyper moved out to Oregon with his wife Jean because his son was transferred with Intel and the couple wanted to share in the lives of their twin grandchildren.
Married almost 55 years, the Kuypers also have a home in Las Cruces, N.M.
Still an avid golfer, Kuyper continues to play the French horn to this day and has performed three times with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
"I hope my words here make tomorrow a little special for you," Kuyper told Rotary members as he wrapped up his memories of John F. Kennedy's farewell. "I just saw on Facebook this morning that somebody … mentioned that this was a loss of innocence. I don't know where this comes in our history and influence of our nation but we certainly have special memories of it and we all will never forget that fateful day when his life was taken and John John was there and that picture (of him). And Camelot was no more."
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