Friday, November 22, 2013

Another voice amongst the many: remembering the JFK assassination

As a Baby Boomer I’m just one more of millions who remember where we were and what we were doing on that day Kennedy was killed. For the record, I was a junior in high school, attending my daily gym class. The class was being held in the wrestling room because the school had rented out the gym for an electronics show. Dozens of men in black business suits had lined the walls of the gym with equipment, stereo, radios, televisions, all brand-new models for 1964. So when the news broke we were allowed to go back into the gym where everyone watched the unfolding story on multiple TV screens.

The story of the killing of a sitting American President, vivid as it is, becomes part of a larger story, because I believe the assassination of JFK was the beginning of what we call “The Sixties.” At least it was for me; in retrospect it seems all hell broke loose after JFK was killed. It could just be my perception, from where I stood then and through the next ten years. But for me the decade of the 1960s with its turmoil and excitement of whirlwind changes in society began on November 22, 1963, and ended in August, 1974, with the resignation of Richard Nixon.

It has been fifty years since JFK died. Fifty years! To put it in perspective, in 1963 the start of the First World War in 1914 wasn’t yet quite fifty years past. Memories of World War II were still very much with us, still fresh. That war had ended only eighteen years before. The veterans of that conflict were our parents and teachers, still young people in their forties when Kennedy was killed. A veteran and war hero himself, Kennedy was only 46 when he died.

None of those things went through my head during that awful weekend, from the first word of the assassination through the funeral the following Monday. (An incredible achievement, I now realize, mounting a state funeral of that magnitude with only a couple of days to prepare. It’s a story still to be told of the assassination, and I hope someone will tell us how it was done.) I believe collectively the whole country was depressed. It was as if on that weekend all of the business of America came to a stop. We all just put our normal lives on hold and watched television, while history was being made.

Watching some of the current TV programs about that weekend in 1963 has an effect on me. It reminds me of what was going on in my personal life, but also connects me, inextricably, to fellow Americans alive at a time when as a nation we went into a period of mourning.

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