It’s odd, but true. I will always associate my great friend – recently deceased broadcast journalist Bert Case – with the day President John F. Kennedy was killed by a gunman on a Dallas street Nov. 22, 1963.
Those outside the central viewing area may not readily recognize Bert Case’s name. But take it from me as a print journalist who for 70 years has covered all areas of this quixotic state, Bert far and away was the most distinguished broadcast journalist Mississippi has ever produced.
The other day dozens of us, friends and colleagues, even Gov. Phil Bryant, commemorated Bert in a memorial service at St. Paul Catholic church in nearby Rankin County. That Bert was not Catholic (his wife, Mary is) didn’t matter because the spirituality of the moment transcended religious affiliation.
Two days after his death Bert would have been 77 years old, an age when most broadcasters are far past their prime or who had long ago hung up their microphone. Remarkably Bert, noted for his un-matched deep resonant signoff, was still at the top of his game and highly respected by the powerful as well as everyday citizens.
A rare bacterial illness without warning had sapped the life out of Bert at a time when he should have long ago retired. But that was not Bert. He was passionate about his profession and refused to quit.
But how in my journalistic experience can I associate the Mississippi-born Case to Kennedy, the handsome Massachusetts Irishman whose assassination would mark a dramatic change in the nation’s history? Let me explain: My fondness for Kennedy had naturally stemmed from the fact we both served on small naval vessels battling the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. (While he was skipper of tiny PT 109, I was a gunnery officer on a destroyer known as one of the “small boys” of the battle fleet.)
But how do I link JFK’s assassination with Bert? In November, 1963, I had been one of two Capitol reporters invited to go along with a delegation of 20 Mississippi mayors to visit the huge national strategic North American command nerve center based in Colorado Springs, plus take an up-close look at atomic topped missiles aimed at the Soviet Union. Remember, this was a time of the Cold War.
When our plane, an Air National Guard transport, passed through Washington, D.C. we picked up our escort officer, namely 2nd Lt. Bert Case, fresh out of Ole Miss ROTC, now a public relations officer stationed at Andrews Air Force base. A Mississippian to accompany Mississippi mayors.
It was Nov. 22 when we began lumbering back to Jackson aboard the big National Guard transport plane – 2nd Lt. Case taking his brood home, and making friends. Meantime, what we didn’t know was what was happening that shocked the nation and the world. Only when we landed in Jackson did we learn that Jack Kennedy was dead and that Lyndon Baines Johnson was now president. What we wouldn’t have given for social media back then.
The world moved on, and I soon traced Bert Case going through radio, and on as a reporter and anchor to television station WJTV, then the biggest in Jackson. Our friendship grew stronger. When I learned that Bert, as Hurricane Camille hit the coast in August, 1969, had lashed himself to a big live oak tree in front of a Biloxi beach front hotel, I knew Mississippi had a courageous reporter who wanted to get the story at all costs.
In May, 1970 when I learned Bert would accompany then Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery on his annual visit to Vietnam, I told Bert I would try to get them hooked up with my son Paul, then an Army intelligence officer working under cover out of Saigon. They not only hooked up, but Paul pulled Bert away from his official party and took him by Jeep into some dangerous back areas from which the others, including Montgomery, were barred. Being under cover, Paul could not be interviewed on camera, but that didn’t keep Bert from talking about his Vietnam experience for a long time.
Rest assured that if the Lord lines up the best broadcast journalists to arrive upstairs, Bert will be in the front row.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.