Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering November 22, 1963

Like most of us who were old enough to be aware of world events, I have vivid and painful memories of the day when President John F. Kennedy was killed. I was in class at Tustin Memorial Elementary School in Southern California that morning when the principal came into our classroom. She was crying a bit, and held herself very rigidly as she said softly, "Children, President Kennedy has been shot." One of my classmates, Patty McShane, yelled "Good! I hope he dies!" My teacher, Mrs. V, strode over to Patty's desk and slapped Patty's face, hard enough to knock her off her chair on to the floor. The principal looked over at Mrs. V and quietly said, "Thank you." She told Mrs. V to turn on the television (this being Southern California, every classroom had one), and left for the next class to deliver the news. We all sat there, stunned by the news, by Patty McShane's outburst, and by Mrs. V's dramatic reaction to that outburst. Patty McShane had gotten back in her seat, and didn't utter another word. Once the TV warmed up, we kids were riveted by the chaos in the newsroom, which was normally a staid, boring deal. Of course, the channel was tuned to Walter Cronkite who was as much a part of our daily lives as our teachers. I kept hoping that Mr. Cronkite was going to announce that the President was going to be okay, since he was at Parkland Memorial Hospital. My hope was crushed when after what seemed like hours later, Walter Cronkite took off his glasses and with glistening eyes told us that President Kennedy was dead. I remember we were let out from school early that day. I walked home and joined my mom in front of the TV as it alternated shots of Air Force One and scenes in Dallas. Then the news came about a Dallas police officer being shot, and then that the police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald as the suspected gunman. I still remember everything from that weekend, but in black and white since we didn't have a color television. I was watching live when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. It's amazing how much that stuff makes an indelible impression on a ten year old kid. Even with all of the violence portrayed on TV, movies and video games these days, not many young people have actually witnessed a murder on live television. That's a good thing. Regardless of the historical impacts and subsequent discussion about President Kennedy's flaws, I know that my personal view of the world was changed dramatically, beginning that day in November, 1963. It doesn't seem like 50 years have elapsed since then, mostly because I still feel strong emotion whenever I see a film clip or photo from those events. For me (and I suspect a lot of my peers), the terrible end to "Camelot" took its toll on us. Things were about to get a whole lot darker and real for an entire generation of American kids.

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