DRACUT -- Fifty years ago on Friday, James Celino reported to work as a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan police officer. As a 23-year-old rookie entering his third month with the department, Celino had no idea what the next few days would bring as President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.

"It was a whirlwind," said Celino, 73, of Dracut. "When Kennedy was elected, the city was all excited. But what a complete difference when he was assassinated. The lights were turned out in the city, and it was complete, total deflation."

On Nov. 23 at 4 a.m., Celino was on duty and sat in his car across from the White House.

James Celino, of Dracut, was a Washington, D.C., Metro police officer when President John F. Kennedy was shot. On the TV behind him is his vantage point
James Celino, of Dracut, was a Washington, D.C., Metro police officer when President John F. Kennedy was shot. On the TV behind him is his vantage point from Pennsylvania Avenue during the funeral procession. SUN/Rick Sobey

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From this vantage point, he saw a Navy ambulance lead a contingent of vehicles up the driveway and a Marine honor guard remove Kennedy's casket, bringing him into the White House.

Then during Kennedy's funeral procession from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, Celino was placed on "crowd-control duty" at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a direct view of the Capitol. Controlling the crowd wasn't necessary, though, because other than drums and horses' hooves hitting the pavement, it was totally silent during the procession, he remembers.

"It was complete sadness. Just complete, utter shock in the crowd," said Celino. "When the casket came by, it was very emotional. A powerful moment that I will never forget.


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The following day, when all the elected officials and world leaders from more than 90 countries gathered at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Celino was placed on "limo duty" to make sure that nobody damaged the limos.

"It was just an endless line of politicians," Celino remembers. "I probably saw every world leader at one time, from Charles de Gaulle to the leader or Ethiopia.

"At roll call the next day, my lieutenant said you should be thankful it (the assassination) didn't happen on your watch," he added. "You'd be regretting it the rest of your life."

Celino, who went to high school in Tewksbury, was a police officer in Washington, D.C., from 1963 to 1966, before returning to Massachusetts and working in the Medford and Boston police departments.

"There weren't many position openings around here, so I was just kid going down to D.C.," Celino said. "And boy, did I get an education."

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