There are few moment’s in our lives that we can remember vividly a half century after they happened. I am not referring to personal events like our weddings, birth of our children, and such. I am referring to events that affected our country and the world.
I know exactly what I was doing when I heard about the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. That was just twelve years ago.
I remember exactly where I was standing, what I was doing, even what I was wearing, when I learned that President John Kennedy had been shot on November 22, 1963. That was fifty years ago today. I was a freshman in high school. I had a hall pass and was returning to my classroom after a bathroom break. Yes, we needed a hall pass. I was wearing a white blouse and a brown and white plaid skirt. Yes, we wore skirts, as girls were not allowed to wear pants to public school. I could take you to that very spot in the hallway today. Another girl came out of a classroom and she was crying. She told me that President Kennedy had been shot. I thought she was just kidding or maybe wrong, but when I arrived at my classroom I learned it was true. Students were crying and teachers were crying as we waited for word about the condition of our beloved president. We would learn later that John Kennedy had died.
From the Auburn Journal November 28, 1963:
President’s death grieves students
Officially, classes met as usual last Friday, Nov. 22. In reality, an unusual and tragic quiet prevailed over the usual noisy campus center, in hallways and classes.
Radio broadcasts of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy continued throughout the day over the campus center loudspeaker system. Students talked in subdued voices. Many teachers, as well as students, cried. The flag hung at half mast from the campus flagpole.
In those days, John Kennedy was a rock star. He was our hero, our hope for the future. Then, he was gone and we were left grieving and scared. At least I was. I remember feeling fearful more than any other emotion. I was sad, of course, but I wondered what are we going to do now?
We were glued to our radios, television sets, and newspapers over the next week.
Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as our new president. Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated the president. John Kennedy’s’ body lay in state in the Capitol rotunda. A quarter of a million people waited hours in the rain to pay their final respects. At the funeral service, Jackie Kennedy and Caroline knelt beside the coffin. Little John Jr.’s salute became an iconic image. Jackie Kennedy lit the eternal flame on our president’s grave. We watched it all play out on a black and white television set, lying in the floor of our living room, lumps in our throats from holding back tears.
Life went on, of course, but I have to wonder what might have been different. Where might we be today if Kennedy’s vision of a “peaceful revolution” had not died with him?
Rest in peace.