By Johnny Diaz, Staff writer
10:27 AM EDT, November 1, 2013
TLC's "Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy" highlights 20 of the more than 800,000 condolence letters sent to the first lady following the 1963 death of her husband.
One of those letter writers was Raymond A. Melder, of Fort Lauderdale.
Melder, now 75, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed in Mannheim, Germany, at the time, and wrote a letter to his parents five months after Kennedy was shot. Moved by the letter, his mother sent a copy to Kennedy's widow.
In the two-hour film, which debuts Nov. 17, actor Channing Tatum recites excerpts from Melder's two-page letter: "Now that all the tragedy is over — or at least I pray to the all Mighty Spirit that it is over — I begin a letter of condolence. And that is as it should be; for we are Americans,'' Melder typed in the letter. "We did not see the funeral service, or anything that followed. We were then in Berlin, in a massive square. Two speakers spoke and although I do not speak good German, I understood. I understood every pause, every choke, every gesture."
The film, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Nov. 22 assassination, is based on the book, "Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation'' by Ellen Fitzpatrick.
"Afterwards, the American people poured out their hearts to Jackie. The strength and wisdom of the nation, coming out of profound tragedy, rings clear in these letters," said filmmaker Bill Couturie in a statement. "As soon as I read them, I knew I had to make a movie around them and the time they so eloquently evoke."
The letters, both handwritten and typed, flash across the screen and are brought to life by celebrities including Viola Davis, Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.
An image of Melder with his military uniform accompanies his letter, which he ended with: "This whole hideous thing need not have happened. But it did and we, too, are a part of this history; part of its horrible beginning and part of its peaceful end."
What: "Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy"
Airs: 9 p.m. Nov. 17 on TLC
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