24 Mar, 2017

FridayPiday: Norman Katz (Northeastern, 1961)

Norman Katz (Northeastern, 1961)
24 Mar, 2017

Norman Katz (Northeastern, 1961) is crucial to relaying information about the history of events that took place during the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is the youngest of three living Special Agents from the United States Secret Service who served on the day of JFK’s assassination – November 22, 1963.

Brother Katz was born into a working class, orthodox family in Somerville, MA where both his mother and father had jobs. He was the first of his family to attend college and struggled to make sure finances were secure for all of them—working multiple jobs and acting as a “father figure” at the early age of ten. He remembers being close with his maternal grandparents and regularly attending synagogue every Saturday with his grandfather. However, it was his aunt that would become a mentor to him. “She was a good soul that was sharp as a tack and very bright. I always looked to her when making a decision, not my mother or father.” He was accepted into Yeshiva University to become an orthodox Rabbi, but declined in order to attend Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration.

To him, Northeastern was a commuter school. No one had a lot of money during these times and he had to work hard to pay for school. During his time at the university, he found a second life and second home within AEPi. The fraternity was critical in forming his social and leadership skills. He served as the chapter’s Pledgemaster during his time as an active and enjoyed having this position. There were many times he looked to his brothers for support and found true brotherhood and unity. Fraternity was important to Brother Katz because it enhanced his experience at Northeastern. It was through one of his chapter brothers that he met his wife, Myrna.

Brother Katz was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps through Northeastern’s ROTC program. He remembers sitting in history class when someone came in with a note requesting him in the university president’s office.

“I was worried. I thought I was just late paying my tuition since money was tight, but when I got to the office and saw two FBI agents, I knew everything was about to change.”

Before this encounter, he had orders to travel to the Republic of Korea during the Korean War. Both agents told him that he was being reassigned to the Military District of Washington, D.C.

He worked in the Special Operations Division Continuity of Government Program of the United States Secret Service, and would encounter key officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fearing a nuclear holocaust, he remembers calling his mother and telling her to fill the bathtub with water. He had the opportunity to witness the standoff in the Situation Room between the United States and Russia over nuclear missiles that were being moved into Cuba.

Nothing would prepare the country for the traumatic experience of JFK’s assassination.

“I remember that Bobby Kennedy wanted JFK out of Dallas, but the attorney general said it was a crime to move him without an autopsy. There was a standoff between Bobby and the attorney general until we were allowed to take him to Bethesda Medical Hospital. I stood outside JFK’s room while the autopsy was being done.”

He recalled receiving the phone call from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. It was his responsibility to contact Air Force 3 that was carrying the secretary of state and eight of President Kennedy’s cabinet members.
“When I called to reach the aircraft, there’s a code book I had to use to communicate that changes weekly. The pilot of the aircraft could not find his code book to verify who I was.”

The stress was unbelievable throughout this process, but he was able to successfully turn the plane around and have it come back to the United States. After six years of service to the White House, where he served as special agent – military attaché, Brother Katz and his wife decided to leave for a more normal life.

He has appeared on numerous news stations and TV shows to relay his story about this key time in history and continues to do speaking engagements with high schools, colleges, universities and charitable organizations. To him, it is about engaging people with the knowledge he has to keep history alive and preserved. Aside from his notable professional achievements, he served as the Board of Selectman, or mayor, of the town of Sharon, MA for 32 years. Being a heavily populated Jewish community, he had to fight to ensure anti-Semitism found no place to call home.

“I feel that if I have made my family proud and my community, country and the world a better place to live in peacefully…then I have accomplished above and beyond what I expected in life.”

You can learn more about the life and accomplishments of Brother Katz at his website:http://www.norman-katz.com/


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