Back in ’63 I was a kid at the elementary school in a small town on Long Island. My biggest concerns in life were the batting order for the neighborhood stick ball game…whether or not I had Mickey Mantle’s baseball card and whether I had enough change to get an egg cream up at Baker’s…the local luncheonette.
It was a chilly bright autumn day in November that year. We were sitting in class listening to a history lesson when the principal of the school burst through the door in hysterics, tears streaming down her face…”they shot the President…they shot the President!”. I can hear her trembling voice as clear as day even now. I remember thinking, “Who shot the President? He was a pretty cool guy who people liked. Why would anyone shoot him?” and so the innocence of childhood was dealt a major and irrevocable blow.
In the days following my fragile sensibility of what life was all about was smacked around pretty good. In the middle of a stickball game out in the street, someone came rushing from their nice quiet suburban home once again with a terrified howl..”someone just shot Oswald! Some one just shot Oswald!”. Wow…really? Now I had heard this bad guy was the guy who shot the President, but don’t they have to have a trial or something before someone kills him? And then I thought…what if he’s not the person who shot the President? That would be a terrible thing.” I was awoken from my daydream in the street to the sounds of a friend yelling, “Ref…you’re up!”. Oh yeah. My turn to hit.
As the days went by the people around me seemed like they were walking around in a non-stop haze of tears and disbelief. I remember the “grownups” saying they couldn’t believe sucha thing could happen and I was feeling like they were right. How could something this horrible happen….in real life…on TV in front of the whole country? Someone killed the President and then someone killed the guy who they said killed the President. The shock was so immense we all just looked at each other in a fog.
I remember the pomp and ceremony of the President’s funeral. Everything was BLACK. It seemed like for a few days that color reflected how we all felt. I understood that this event I was living through was beyond huge. It was global. There were leaders from all the big countries in attendance. There were what seemed like milkes and miles of mourners on the street and filing past the coffin that was lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. As a little kid I was taken in by the strict military rituals and the stoic nature of the people surrounded and cloaked in terrible grief.
For the first time in my very young life it became very very obvious that death was forever. There was no coming back. There was no negotiation to make it better. There was just sadness and loss. I never had to think about death in that way before. At that young age no one I had known had ever passed on…at least no on close…no one in the immediate circle of family and friends. I felt the fear of being separated from family in the way President Kennedy had been cut down from his. Politics never came into it. Conspiracy and reasons for the death were never discussed. It was all about death and loss.
50 years is a long time. That little kid is an old man now. So much water under the bridge. So much life has been lived. The perspective on John F. Kennedy’s assassination has changed from one of chaos and fear to one of a sadness from afar. This distance allowed me to weigh the changes to society that his death brought upon us. The beginning of a decade of such boundless societal energy and hope dashed in a few moments on a sunny afternoon in Dallas. Any for what reason? Now I turn my look at the many varying accounts and explanations for this unspeakable act that moved the country in such a different direction from where we thought we were headed. Kennedy had ideas, Kennedy had plans and Kennedy had the energy and charisma to get things done. Such a wasted opportunity. None of the people who have followed Kennedy during the last 50 years have been able to move the country in the direction he saw. Reagan and Clinton were close…Obama rode a wave of good feeling but has proven to be a most polarizing figure at a time in US history when left and right are waging a battle royale for control of the government. Politics were different in Kennedy’s era. Though there were hard fought differences, the public and governmental discourse was civil, respectful and worked in a spirit of cooperation unlike the fiasco unfolding before our eyes. Substance-less headline grabbers are nothing more than a bunch of silly sloganeerss and closed minded populists looking to the past when they should be looking to the future. Kennedy embraced the future. He saw the potential and he had planned on doing whatever was necessary to bring the country into that future. A shame for the lost opportunity.
Who killed Kennedy? The CIA? The communists? The Mafias? Was the fatal shot an accident? All of these various angles have been looked at and debated for 50 years. We all have our opinions. My opinion is that based on the evidence and the expert testimony I have seen and heard in the media all these many years, it seems fairly reasonable to assume Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t do it himself…if he in fact he did it at all. But what’s the point of the arguement ? At this point in time the speculation on the who what and why is mere entertainment. The real consequences of the deed are cold and passed over by a world that has turned many times since.
I’ve read a bit and studied a bit on the life of this fallen President. He has inspired me in some ways and had me look the other way in others, but there is no denying he had a profound effect on my life and the lives of many people of my generation. We all remember where we were when we heard the terrible news that our young vibrant President John F. Kennedy had been gunned down. The event set the stage for an American climate that continues to evolve and change even after 50 long years.
- In Memory of President John F. Kennedy (waldorfnycblog.com)
- Assassination of President John F. Kennedy; The Moment America Lost Her Innocence! (dshenai.wordpress.com)
- Remembering President John F. Kennedy 50 Years Later (kvil.cbslocal.com)