Where were you on the 22nd of November 1963? That was the question on the lips of so many over the years. It was the day John F.Kennedy died. Fifty years on they remembered him in Dallas, Texas where he was assassinated in the Dealey Plaza.
It was Vernon Corea who organised the tribute from Radio Ceylon broadcast across the Indian sub-continent. The world was in shock when John F.Kennedy was assassinated at 1 pm on 22nd November 2003 in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas – he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald who fired shots from the top of the Book Depository building in Dealey Plaza.
The legendary newsman Walter Cronkite broke the news over CBS that Kennedy had been shot. Soon the newsflash that John F.Kennedy had died was broadcast over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon.
In 1963 the popular Radio Ceylon Announcer, Vernon Corea worked as Commercial Assistant in the Commercial Service. It was Vernon who launched Radio Ceylon’s tribute to President John F.Kennedy. Vernon included some of the great speeches made by JFK and announced the assassination of the youngest ever President in Dallas, Texas.
Vernon asked Craig Thompson, the young American Peace Corps volunteer – who was in the first batch of Peace Corps staff wotking in Ceylon, to co-present the radio program over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon.
Craig Thompson recounts the tragic day on 22nd November 1963:
‘One of the most difficult requests anyone has ever made of me, was when Vernon requested that I record a 30 minute tribute of condolences following the death of President John F. Kennedy-shortly after the assassination. It was all I could do to “hold it together” while I read the sad messages that had come in from all around the world. But Vernon was there to help me get through it all.’
John F.Kennedy was held in respect in Ceylon,now Sri Lanka – by Ceylonese politicians across the political divide. President Kennedy never visited Ceylon, although his rival in the Presidential Elections, Richard Nixon visited Colombo in the 1950s.
People across South Asia were taken up by the youngest ever American President and all that he stood for. They mourned this tragic loss. The Government of Ceylon even released a special First Day Cover in 1963 titled ‘Ceylon mourns the death ofPresident John F.Kennedy.’
Vernon Corea never met John F.Kennedy however in 1986 he visited Washington, JFK’s memorial at Arlington Cemetery and the John F.Kennedy Center when his brother, Ernest Corea was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States. Vernon was the BBC’s Ethnic Minorities Adviser at the time. JFK as a young Senator seeking the Office of the Presidency called on Vernon’s Uncle, Sir Claude Corea when he was President of the United Nations Security Council in New York.
It was a very special moment for Vernon, as he stood by the memorial of President John F.Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery in 1986. Back in 1963, Vernon together with Craig Thompson, led Radio Ceylon’s tribute to a great American President.