Thomas Franus of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania was almost out of the Army. One month to go and he’d be home for Christmas 1963, closing out an exhausting tour of duty with the Army’s elite Honor Guard in Washington DC. One month on an easy down slope. Then came President Kennedy’s assassination and the most elaborate state funeral in our nation’s history.
Tom’s personal calendar still marks his assigned duty, November 22-23, 1963: “Death Watch for Pres.” As the body lay in the East Room of the White House, Tom and his fellow Honor Guardsmen stood constant watch over the flag draped casket. Only close family members came and went, whispering among themselves, undoubtedly reciting the Prayer for the Acceptance of Death. “As a Catholic,” Tom recalls, “I was moved by the constant presence of the priests. It was sad.”
When Post Chaplain Joe Mavero called to invite us to interview veterans at VFW Post 128 in Rochester, PA, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to preserve more Beaver County stories. After Commander Tom Crawford and the Post’s executive board generously reserved a quiet space for us in the building, we set up a two-day recording event June 16-17, 2014. Over two days we captured the stories of four veterans representing WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War.
VFW Post 128 sits on Rochester’s Virginia Avenue, high above the Ohio River valley. It is a spacious location, with reception hall and meeting rooms. In addition to being the home to the Rochester VFW Ladies Auxiliary, the Post hosts Chapter 862 of Vietnam Veterans of America, the largest VVA chapter in Pennsylvania and second in the nation.
“We’re thankful that Post 128’s leadership recognizes the importance of preserving the stories of their members,” said Kevin Farkas, director of Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh. “They understand the historical significance of what their members experienced and the importance of giving each veteran a chance to tell his or her story in their own words so that future generations of Americans will better understand and appreciate their service.”
In My Own Words
For many years Thomas Franus of Wampum, Pennsylvania (seen in the photo to the left) never talked about his distinguished service with the Army’s elite Honor Guard. His story, as told here, recounts his military career, during which he stood the solemn “Death Watch” over President Kennedy’s body in 1963. This interview is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded June 16, 2014 at VFW Post 128 in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Interviewer: Kevin Farkas. Audio production: Kevin Farkas. Special thanks: Keri Eiler-Carvelli, Joe Mavero, Post Commander Tom Crawford, and the VFW Post 128 executive board.