Where were you the day they shot JFK?
If you are old enough to have lived through the Kennedy assassination you have probably been asked that question at least 50 times over the last 50 years. Those of us old enough to have been cognizant of the events of that crisp November day most certainly remember where we were… and what we felt when we learned that they had shot the president.
Just one month shy of my twelfth birthday, I was laying on the couch in my parents’ living room watching TV. I was sporting a new set of braces on my unruly teeth; having spent the morning in the clutches of a cruel and unfeeling orthodontist. I was feeling quite sorry for myself; my only solace, a day home from Sister’s Felicity’s interrogations.
I still remember the state of shock and disbelief that swept over me when they cut into local programming to announce that the president had been shot. I remember hoping against hope that the wounds were not fatal…that somehow he would pull through. And I remember to this day the pain deep in my stomach when they confirmed that the president had died from his wounds.
My mother burst into tears. I had never seen my mother cry before that day. That day we wept together.
The Kennedy Campaign opened my eyes to the world of politics. As a youngster I remember watching the convention the night he won the nomination. I understood little of it. But the crowds, the signs, the whole spectacle was fascinating.
I didn’t understand Kennedy’s politics. Hell, I didn’t understand politics period. What did I know of civil rights? Two of the kids that I played with every day happened to be black. The only thing that separated me from them as far as I was concerned was the manner in which they kicked my ass on the makeshift ball field that we frequented after school. All I knew was that Kennedy was young and inspiring and I wanted him to win.
I remember watching Kennedy debate Nixon. I remember Kennedy’s cool, calm demeanor. I remember the beads of perspiration on Nixon’s lip. Kennedy made me feel safe. Nixon gave me the creeps.
I vividly remember the Cuban missile crisis…pictures of Khrushchev pounding the desk with his shoe…the constant air raid drills. It was all very real…and very scary. Kennedy saved us. Only later in life did I learn that he saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.
The days following the assassination were a blur. I watched Jack Ruby murder Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. The funeral was surreal. The flag draped coffin lying in state…the rider less horse, empty boots riding backward in the stirrups…the sound of the drums.
I remember watching Jackie Kennedy closely. Perhaps it was because she was the last remaining link to a fallen president and a time lost forever. Or perhaps it was because her features were similar to those of my own mother. I watched how she carried herself and how she ushered her children, and with them a nation, through an excruciatingly difficult time. I remember watching John John’s salute…
And then, suddenly, it was over…
The press had dubbed the Kennedy years in the White House: “Camelot.” It truly was a magical time. The young energetic president, brimming with vitality…his stunning, intelligent cultured wife…their two beautiful children…all packaged together at a moment in time that resonated with masses. Kennedy gave us sense of hope and the promise of a better future…that we as a country could do anything. A “New Frontier” was ours for the taking.
Then, in a flash, it was gone. And we were left bewildered and very afraid of what the future might bring.
I have lived through the horrors of 9/11 and witnessed the impact that day had on this country. But for me nothing compares to the sense of sorrow and loss that came over me on that fateful day of November 22, 1963.
They took something from us that day. They took something from me. And try as I might I can’t seem to get it back.
So every year, for the past 50 years, I remember the anniversary of that terrible day. The sorrow and emptiness in the pit of my stomach returns as I remember what we lost…
…and what might have been.