Friday, November 22, 2013

A Kindergartner's Take on That Dark Time, 50 Years Ago

Folks often ask the question, "do you remember where you were and what you were doing?" when they recall momentous, and often infamous historical dates during their lives. Today, we observe the 50th anniversary of that terrible day in Dallas, Texas, where President John F. Kennedy was gunned down during the prime of his life. Since I was a 6-year-old kid back then, I believe that I may be one of the youngest persons alive who can actually recall that time. Most anyone who was younger than five or six back when JFK was assassinated is unlikely, I believe, to have any memory of it.

During the fall of 1963, I had entered Kindergarten at a suburban St. Louis grade school where I went to school for just half the day in the morning. So on that infamous Friday 50 years ago, I had apparently just gotten home from school when the shots rang out. I don't recall what I was doing when it actually happened, but I do remember my mother being very upset later that afternoon when she told my older brothers upon returning home from their schools that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I wasn't sure what that word meant, but I knew it was something really awful because when she said it, she was crying. (By the way, a family friend took the photo of me displayed on the right on Thanksgiving Day in 1963, which was less than a week after the assassination.)

Perhaps, it's more accurate to state that I recall the events during the immediate aftermath of Kennedy's death, than the actual, horrific deed itself. Many historians believe that JFK's assassination ushered in the age of television news. Fifty years ago, three broadcast networks basically dominated television, and all three, CBS, NBC and ABC, were giving this story wall-to-wall news coverage. As a result, my next memory of that time came on the following Sunday (November 24). While televised live before a national audience, JFK's accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was fatally shot while police were transferring him to the county jail. I can remember vividly my mother shrieking in horror as my family and I watched this attack unfold before our eyes on our black-and-white TV.



The next day, November 25, 1963, I can remember watching the wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral procession, where a riderless horse was pulling a carriage holding JFK's flag-draped coffin to Arlington National Cemetery. I remember wondering what kind a man was Kennedy at the time. After watching John-John's iconic salute to his father's coffin, I began wondering about his kids who were about the same age as me. I wondered if they were sad as the concept of death was still pretty new to me.



The Kennedy assassination had a profound impact on me. Beforehand, all I knew was basically my family, my school, and my dog. But afterwards, my concept of the world increased exponentially. For the first time, I discovered the existence of news, history and the politics that shapes them. Moreover, the Kennedy assassination made me aware of my own mortality.

4 comments:

  1. That was very good sweetheart. Very descriptive, and very heartfelt. <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was 12 years old at the time and so I was in the 8th grade at the junior high school. There were 2 junior highs in Kirkwood Missouri at the time. I attended classes at Nipher Junior High. My memory of what I was doing is extremely vivid. I was sitting in an English Core class when the school principal came on the public address system. The system which was used routinely for school messages was just an old speaker system and each classroom had a speaker above the blackboard in the front of each room. So it was highly irregular for the school principal to interrupt a class with a broadcast. When the principal came on, his voice sounded very solemn and in fact almost cold. He asked for everyone's attention. He said that he had a very important announcement. He then said "The president of the United States has been shot." There was a gasp in the room after he said this and the teacher told the class to settle down. The school principal repeated the announcement several times and then went off the air. Then about 40 minutes later, the school principal returned to the PA system and again asked for everyone's close attention. He then said "The president of the United States is dead." At this, the students sat in stunned silence. He repeated the announcement several times and then announced that school was official closed. I then traveled home by public bus. I remember feeling very confused and shocked. When I finally reached home, Mom was sitting in the living room in front of the TV in tears. She was so overcome with grief and anger. I had seldom seen her this way in my life. Later when they apprehended Lee Harvey Oswald, I remember watching the live coverage of him in the Dallas Jail House. The environment was extremely tense there and it seemed out of control. It was more like a circus than a police station. The network TV kept repeating how they had him under extra security. Yet it was very strange when you see how easy it was for the reporters to shout questions at him and get him to respond. That is when I witnessed a man get murdered on live television. I could go on with my memories and reflections but I leave that for another time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Tom, for sharing your story. It was intriguing to learn your perspective.

    ReplyDelete