22 November 2008


For those of us old enough to remember it, today is a sad day. Forty-five years ago this afternoon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Nothing was ever quite the same.

I was a senior in high school, recovering from my Dad's sudden death the past summer. He and JFK were veterans of the Pacific war, and his election meant something special to my parents and their generation. His young family, athleticism, and charm had captivated the Nation. I'll leave it to the historians to critique and evaluate his presidency, but the National mood was positive.

I was in a lunch-study hall at about 12:35 on a dreary, rainy Friday before Thanksgiving. Suddenly, the intercom came on, broadcasting popular radio music. There were a lot of snickers--the office staff frequently activated the intercom, entertaining the student body with their plans for the evening or the results of a hot date. This time, not a word was spoken.

Two or three minutes later, no one having spoken, we heard the a radio news bulletin from KMOX in St. Louis, repeating the report that shots had been fired at the presidential motorcade. I remember looking at the clock and thinking, "Remember this. It is historic."

When we got to our next class, the Principal came on the intercom and announced that the President had died. My Econ teacher was 23 and in his first year of teaching. He stood in front of the class in tears--as were many. I remember him saying, "How can this have happened? This is the United States of America. Things like this don't happen here."

As we left school, the flag was already at half-mast. One kid made a smart-ass comment about hoping we got Monday off. A classmate decked him, and we all cheered.

When I got home, Mom and my brother and sister were also home and in shock. The weekend produced the first 24-7 news cycle as the story developed. The rest is history: Senator Dirksen's moving eulogy, Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline kneeling by the catafalque and then kissing the hem of the flag, three year old "John-John" (JFK,Jr.) saluting as the caisson moved past, the haunting drum cadence, and the eternal flame.

Within five years, we had also seen the assassination of Malcolm X, race riots in several major cities, the assassination of Dr. King and then of Bobby Kennedy, and a descent into a long period of national despair.

This week, my brother and I were talking about this year's election, comparing Senator Obama with JFK. My brother mentioned that our parent's generation, the "Greatest Generation" of the Depression, WWII, and the post-war boom, put seven consecutive members of that generation in the White House: JFK (USN in WWII), LBJ, Richard Nixon (USN), Gerald Ford (USN), Jimmy Carter (USN post-WWII), Ronald Reagan (US Army Air Force), and George H.W.Bush (USN). JFK, Nixon, Ford, and Bush were all junior officers who actually saw combat. Reagan served in the States, Carter was in the Naval Academy, and LBJ stayed in Congress.

The Vietnam Generation, on the other hand, has had but two: Bill Clinton who dodged the draft in England, with a side trip to Russia, and George W. Bush who flew in the Air Guard (and that was not as safe as it seems: in those days, Guard units got the planes and other equipment that the regular forces did not. The plane that Bush flew was a notorious "widow maker"). Of all the good men who served in my war, it amazes me that those two were the best our generation could scrape up, but what the heck! It was not even a "pretty good generation" when compared to that of our parents.

Now, to use President Kennedy's phrase from his inaugural address, the torch has been passed to a new generation. I pray that our next President will set the tone and raise the spirits of the Nation as well as did the man who died forty-five years ago today.


writetools said...

Wow Mac - I didn't realize it was today... thanks for the post. Although I wasn't around for that moment in history, there are several that I will always remember where I was and what I was doing. Probably the top two are Sept. 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing.Thanks for sharing your memory, I can tell it's still an emotional one... and thanks for your kind comment on my blog, it was an encouragment! Amie

Jody Harrington said...

Thanks for the remembrance, Mac.

I was just a little younger than you, but still in high school. JFK's motorcade drove by my high school in San Antonio the day before his assassination as he was on his way to make a speech at the Alamo. Classes were dismissed so we could see the motorcade.

I can still remember my shock and disbelief the next day when the news came in during school. I'll never forget that moment, made more personal because of seeing him just the day before.

Governor John Connally, who was also wounded in the shooting, later was a partner in the law firm my husband joined. We met him a few times before he retired. He died a few years ago of complications attributed to the injuries he suffered that day.

You brought back a lot of memories.

Red_Cleric said...

I was in 5th grade and sitting in an assembly when the kids noticed some of the teachers were crying. [Pacific time].

When we got back they fired up the old "school issued" TV's and we were in shock. One girl, Cindy, was from Texas and even though a couple of idiots wanted to point fingers the rest of us stuck up for her.

It was a sad day for sure. Thanks for the memory