Crumbling JFK Gravesite Gets Facelift

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ARLINGTON, Va.) -- Thousands of visitors come to Arlington National Cemetery each day to visit the tombs of John F. Kennedy and his family members and read the late president's legendary words engraved in a granite wall opposite the eternal flame: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Now 45 years after those iconic words were etched into stone, the letters have faded and barely are legible to sightseers.

Restoration to the memorial wall began Thursday with the original stone mason, John Everett Benson, and a historical conservator, Gordon Ponsford, kneeling at the wall, painting fresh strokes into the lettering.

Just 25-years-old when he started work on the memorial wall, the now-71-year-old Benson still walks with a spring in his step and treasures his days of etching President Kennedy's famous words into history.

"Well, it's pretty monumental to begin with. The stones weigh 30 tons, so that's not a little thing," Benson told ABC News. "And we knew from the consequence of this appalling event that the memorial was going to play a fairly large part in the public mind and in the public presence here in Washington. I hadn't realized that people would still be coming here after 45 years, but I guess our lovely Jack Kennedy has become an icon."

The sprightly Benson, who is able to recite Kennedy's Inaugural address by memory, continues to work as a stone mason in Rhode Island.

Benson landed the job of erecting President Kennedy's memorial wall because his father's company was the only stone masonry still making letters entirely by hand for the application of monumental inscription.
Working with just two other men on the carving project, Benson spent much of his time worrying about the minutiae of the lettering.

"One of the tricks we have is to draw the letters like calligraphy, by hand -- no typefaces, no stencils, no computer cutting that stuff," he said. "We draw the letters with a brush the way it was done in Rome 2,000 years ago."

Benson joined Ponsford, the conservator spearheading the restoration project, to kick off the refurbishment of the wall.

Ponsford, who is tasked with cleaning and re-painting the letters of President Kennedy's Inauguration address, will work on the project for a week with one day dedicated to each panel of the wall.
Ponsford felt honored to have Benson at his side to begin restoration on the memorial wall.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I'm working with a legend," Ponsford told ABC News. "I'm equally as excited as working on this as working with John Benson."

The Knights of Columbus, of which President Kennedy was a member from 1946 until his assassination in 1963, is funding the restoration project. The nation will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's Inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2011.

But while the American people will remember Kennedy's Inaugural address for inspiring service among citizens, Kennedy's words will always be ingrained in Benson's mind in a different manner.

"His words are great, but when you draw an inscription, as I did with each one of these maybe 100 times, it takes on a totally different nature and ceases to be a piece of prose, a piece of verse, or a piece of speech," Benson said, "and it becomes an artistic artifact that you are doing your darndest to bring to its highest possible level."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Emirates Flight from Dubai Escorted into Kennedy Airport

Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- North American Aerospace Defense Command confirmed Friday it was tracking Emirates flight 201, a Boeing flying from Dubai to New York's Kennedy Airport.  The flight, scheduled to land at 3:15 p.m. EST, was thought to have a package of interest on board.

Sources say, however, there is no known threat connected to this flight other than the fact that its cargo is traveling from Yemen.

Two U.S. F-15 fighter jets, under continuous control of NORAD, began escorting the aircraft when it entered U.S. airspace.  The flight was previously escorted by Canadian F-18s while traveling over Canadian airspace.

The plane was escorted to a remote area of Kennedy Airport where it was met by the FBI and the Port Authority Police Department.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Father of Suicide Teen Says Groton Overreacted to Bully Accusation

Photo Courtesy - Groton[dot]org(GROTON, Mass.) -- The father of a teenager who killed himself after being forced out of the exclusive Groton School claims the prep school overreacted to accusations that his son may have bullied another student.

Hunter Perkins, 16, was clearly upset about being forced out of Groton, a private boarding school in Massachusetts. On Oct. 5, Perkins went on Facebook and posted a message to his friends: "I'm leaving. Don't know when, or how, but I know why, and that doesn't make it any better," Perkins wrote. "Good bye."

The next day, Perkins' father Walter came to pick his son and take him home to Chantilly, Va. Five days later, Hunter Perkins took his own life, shooting himself with a gun that had belonged to his deceased mother.

Walter Perkins suggested to ABC News that Groton overreacted after a homophobic cartoon ridiculing a fellow student was emailed to others.

"I do believe that if Groton or any of these other schools checked what the kids do on the Web, it wouldn't be that far afield for what my son ended up paying dearly for doing," he said in a voice mail.

The father also said, "I think there might be some relation to the tragedy at Rutgers," he said referring to Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi who committed suicide after his roommate caught him on a Webcam and streamed his tryst with another man.

Walter Perkins implied that other news outlets had distorted his comments about the school's role in his son's death.

"I must say that it wasn't a simple cause and effect that I believe that PC [political correctness] led the headmaster of Groton to murder my son," he said.

In interviews with other news outlets, Walter Perkins said that he was told to pick up his son from Groton after an incident in which Hunter and two other boys drew sexual, homophobic cartoons making fun of another student.

"He either doctored a photograph or put a cartoon bubble on it," Perkins told WCVB, ABC's Boston TV affiliate. "He said his roommate e-mailed them out. He had no idea the kid was going to do that."

After that, Walter Perkins says, officials at Groton repeatedly encouraged him to withdraw Hunter from school rather than go through a disciplinary process and face expulsion. A few days before Hunter's suicide, Walter Perkins and Groton headmaster Richard Commons reportedly reached an agreement to have Hunter leave Groton.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New High: 46% of Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A new high of 46 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a new Gallup survey.

The figure represents only a two percent rise from 2009, but continues an upward trend since 2000, when just 31 percent of Americans supported the drug’s legalization.

Across all sub-groups that were polled, liberals and 18-to-19 year-olds expressed the highest level of support with 72 percent and 61 percent respectively.

Support for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, however, was down from 78 percent in 2005 to 70 percent.
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


One Billion in Tax Dollars Paid Out to Dead People

Image Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A review of government audits and reports finds the U.S government paid out $1 billion over the past ten years to about a quarter of a million dead people.  The review was conducted by the office of Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

The problems come from all over the federal government, according to the numbers cited in the report. The Social Security Administration sent 18 million dollars in stimulus money to 71,000 dead people and $40 million in benefit payments to 1,760 dead people. The Department of Agriculture sent $1 billion in farming subsidies to dead farmers.  Medicare paid $92 million in claims for medical supplies prescribed by dead doctors, plus another $8 million in supplies prescribed for dead patients. Medicaid, meanwhile, paid $700,000 in claims for prescriptions for controlled substances written for 1,800 dead patients.

Where does all the money actually go? In some cases to dormant bank accounts, but in most cases, to relatives of the deceased, the report found. The blame, Coburn said, lies with Congress.

“Congress itself created this mess by allowing poorly designed programs to continue unchecked,” Coburn stated. “If Congress is ready to get serious about spending restraint, ending subsidies for deceased people is a sensible place to start.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Investigative Panel Says Substandard Cement Was Used at BP Well

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The first official finding by the presidential commission investigating last spring’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a damning one.

The panel says the oil field services corporation Halliburton went ahead with sealing the bottom of the Macondo well several weeks before the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizons rig, even though the company knew that the cement used in the job was unstable.

In all, results of three tests conducted by Halliburton indicated that the cement did not meet industry standards.  In one instance, Halliburton shared the findings with well operator BP, which allowed the work to continue.

Lead panel investigator Fred Bartlit, Jr. does not speculate whether the substandard cement used by Halliburton was the primary or sole cause of the blowout resulting in the largest accidental spill in the history of petroleum spills.  However, Bartlit says if the cement had held and kept oil and natural gas out of the well bore, the 200-million gallon leak would not have occurred.

Previously, BP has blamed Halliburton, the cement contractor, for being partially responsible for the faulty cement job.  Halliburton has denied culpability in the accident, saying it was BP’s flawed design and poor operations that led to the disaster that will have repercussions in the Gulf of Mexico for perhaps decades to come.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Hole in Fuselage, Cabin Decompression Lead to AA Emergency Landing

Photo Courtesy - WFAA-TV Dallas(DALLAS, Texas) --  A hole in the fuselage of an American Airlines jet en route from Miami to Boston led to an emergency landing back in Miami after rapid decompression in the passenger cabin.  No one was hurt and the National Transportation Safety Board, The Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and American Airlines are all investigating.

It happened Tuesday as the Boeing 757 was climbing to 31,000 feet.  A passenger described a loud roaring sound and the oxygen masks automatically dropped from the overhead panels.  When the plane landed safely back in Miami, a roughly one foot by two foot hole was discovered above and behind a door on the left side of  the aircraft, just behind the cockpit. 

An aviation professional tells ABC News Radio that based on photographs in the Aviation Herald, it appears a panel on the outside of the aircraft somehow came loose. 

Six crewmembers and 154 passengers were on board the aircraft.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Tests Finds All Three Military Shootings in DC Area Are Linked

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(QUANTICO, Va.) -- Ballistics testing has linked the shooting at an empty Marine recruiting station to two other shooting incidents at military-related facilities in the Washington, D.C. area.

Laboratory tests conducted by the FBI found that the overnight shooting at a vacant Marine Corps recruiting station in Chantilly, Virginia on Oct. 26 involved the same weapon used at last week's shootings at the Pentagon and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

The shooting at the Marine museum took place overnight on Oct. 17, and two days later, on Oct. 19, the Pentagon was fired upon around 5:00 a.m.

The FBI and law enforcement officials say it is unclear whether these incidents are more than vandalism by gun.  In each case, the shooter fired in the early morning hours, which is generally when fewer people are around.  The shots in all three shootings were fired into vacant parts of the buildings, resulting in no injuries.

Law enforcement agencies are offering a reward of up to $1,000 for anyone with information leading to an arrest.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


School Board Official to Resign After Making Anti-Gay Comments

Facebook users taking part in a "Spirit Day" campaign last Wednesday wore purple to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PLEASANT PLAINS, Ark.) -- Clint McCance, vice president of the Midland School District in Arkansas, said Thursday night he will resign after posting an anti-gay diatribe on his personal Facebook page.  McCance, of Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, says he now realizes his posts on Facebook were "hurtful" and "ignorant."

"My posts I made that were very hurtful, very ignorant in nature," he says.  "Looking back on it right now and getting to, you know, scrutinize my own self and what I did.  It's horrible.  And what I wrote was horrible."

Last Wednesday, as millions of Facebook users took part in a "Spirit Day" campaign to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens, McCance apparently wrote a series of posts expressing the opposite position.

As first reported by The Advocate, a leading gay and lesbian newspaper, McCance used the words "queer" and "fag" several times on his page and said he enjoys "the fact that they often give each other AIDS [sic] and die."  He added, "I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. "

McCance says he now realizes a real effort is needed to stop the bullying of gay teens that too often leads to suicide.

"We need to address the problem of the depression in these kids," he says.  "And we need to fix this.  And it don't need to be on a small level.  It needs to be -- needs to start at the top."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Wrongfully Accused Inmate Freed After Years on Death Row

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BRENHAM, Texas) -- Anthony Graves was a young man when he was first imprisoned in 1992.  Now, he's 45, but at least he’s a free man.  All charges were dropped against Graves, who walked out of the county jail in Brenham, Texas earlier this week after spending 16 years on death row for a crime prosecutors now say Graves did not commit.

Graves was arrested and convicted of being an accomplice in the 1992 murders of a woman, her grown daughter and four grandchildren.  Just 27 years old at the time of the murders, Grave insisted he was innocent. His brother testified on the stand that Graves was sleeping at their home when the crimes were committed, but the alibi was to no avail.

After Graves was sent to prison, it was later learned that the district attorney in the case encouraged murderer Robert Carter to lie about Grave’s role in the slayings and that he grossly mishandled the case.  That information, along with the dogged work of investigators, led to Grave’s freedom.

When asked by reporters Thursday what it was like to be out of prison, Graves answered, “For the first few moments, first few hours, I thought that I would wake up back in the cell, it's not real to me. It's still not real to me.”

Graves may be eligible for over $1 million from Texas for his wrongful imprisonment.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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