The mood of the band members was joyous as we left the White House, and their high spirits continued through the game the next day, buoyed by what would be for probably all involved, one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. Certainly it was all of that for me, personally.
Clemson won the game the next day, and the team added a crowning touch to the season by beating arch-rival South Carolina a week later.
The Clemson football schedule for the following season ended with the traditional grudge game against the University of South Carolina, set for Saturday, November 23, 1963. Tiger Band was to make the one-day trip to Columbia, of course, and on Friday afternoon I was driving around in my red 1961 Chevrolet Impala convertible with the top down. The weather was perfect, and I was accompanied by Tiger Band Drum Major Jeff Tisdale as we were seeing to a few final adjustments for our next-day’s trip. When I stopped in at my house to pick something up, my mother told me the president had just been shot! Jeff and I got back in my car and drove to campus to spread the news. We were listening to developments on the radio as we parked in front of the chemistry building (now known as Brackett Hall). A crowd of students quickly gathered around to listen to the radio. No one was saying anything; everyone seemed too stunned to speak.
Later, very soon after President Kennedy’s death was announced, announcement of all manner of cancellations began coming in. Among those cancellations was the Clemson-Carolina game scheduled for the next day. Shortly after that, it was announced further that the game was rescheduled for Thursday of the next week: Thanksgiving Day. It seemed that most members of Tiger Band, as well as myself, felt a special sense of loss that afternoon, because of our shared experience with Mr. Kennedy almost exactly a year earlier.
On Monday I made some adjustments to the ending of the halftime show we had planned to present on Saturday. Mainly, I inserted a solemn arrangement I had made of the Navy Hymn (Eternal Father, Strong to Save) to conclude the show, ending in a soft “amen.” Then, for the only time in Tiger Band history, as far as I know, the field exit would be made to music other than “Tiger Rag.”
It seemed the band that traveled to Columbia that Thanksgiving Day was a totally different one from the boisterous and often rowdy group I was accustomed to. No one even seemed to mind that we had Dining Hall sack lunches for Thanksgiving dinner. At halftime of the game, as I was conducting Eternal Father from a ladder on the field, I seemed to feel profound grief and respect for our fallen leader from every one of the tens of thousands of spectators in the stadium. There was not a sound to be heard except for the somber strains of the hymn as it reached its quiet conclusion and final “amen.”
As I let the final note very gradually fade to nothingness, I could observe tears streaming down the faces of quite a few of those band members closest to me. Aside from a few flags gently flapping in the end zones, there was not a sound to be heard. I must admit that I, too, was crying at that moment.
Even now, well over a half-century later, I choke up when I recall the occasion, or talk about it. Following the Navy hymn, I conducted the first 16 measures of “God Bless America,” played strongly and at a measured pace, before the band stepped off to exit the field and conclude our presentation. Many people were standing as we left the field, and there was no applause or cheering to break the spell — only a reverent silence.