Home National Politics A Half Century Ago Today: Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

A Half Century Ago Today: Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

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( – promoted by lowkell)

November 22, 1963 was bound to be an important day for me. On that day, as a college freshman, I was to travel down to New Haven, Connecticut, for Harvard-Yale weekend. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have gone to an away game, but I was the quarterback of an undefeated intramural touch football team that was scheduled to play Yale’s undefeated intramural champions.

When we got to the playing field at Yale, people were strangely clumped around cars with their radios on, and the doors open. We asked what was going on, and we were told, “The president has been shot in Dallas.” It was of course unbelievable.

I had felt especially connected with JFK, having seen him only a few weeks before, when he unexpectedly showed up at the Columbia game. Sitting there in the stadium, surrounded by his Secret Service retinue, even at a distance the beauty of the man was visible, his auburn hair radiating life in the sun. How could someone look so extraordinary even across a whole football field?

And now he’d been shot.

Was he OK, we wanted to know? Would he live? Nobody knew. Only that he’d been rushed to the hospital in Dallas.

We were supposed to start our game, and no one was there to tell us differently. So we played the game. We won, using a trick play I still like to remember. But the whole game happened under a cloud of uncertainty and gloom.

When the game was over, it was known. President Kennedy was dead. The president had been assassinated.

By then also, all the rest of the Harvard-Yale weekend was cancelled. So we bundled ourselves back into the cars and went back to Cambridge, and a weekend with memorial service in a jam-packed Memorial Church, with singing of hymns and tears streaming down the faces of these stalwart New Englanders and high-powered intellectuals.

For game day, I’d not shaved, continuing a practice I’d started in high school. That way, the sweat on my face wouldn’t sting. And I figured I’d look all the more fierce and formidable for the contest.

As a sign of mourning, I continued not to shave through the weekend. And then through the end of the month. And all the rest of that year, growing a beard I’d keep for two years.

The assassination of Kennedy had a major impact on my life. My sense of what was possible expanded, not in happy ways. It was conflated also with what I’d learned a half year before: that my own father — the same age as Kennedy — had a terminal disease.

Then when I was a senior, someone turned me on to an article in Playboy magazine. Mark Lane had a lengthy essay about the Warren Commission’s alleged “Rush to Judgment.” The article gave me goosebumps. I don’t know how much of what Lane said in that article was true, but at the time, it opened me up to a much darker view of the world. (I still remember the passage — about Earl Warren’s visit to Jack Ruby’s cell– that gave the clear impression that the Chief Justice was somehow party to some conspiracy to keep the truth untold.)

As the decade wore on, there was also the huge question of Vietnam– the disaster, the blunder, the crime, the unending futility, the tragedy of Vietnam. And the unanswerable question: if JFK had lived, would he have continued into that quagmire, or would he have steered us clear of this nightmare?

Fifty years ago today. For me, as for tens of millions of Americans alive then and alive today, its impact opened a crack in the cosmos.

  • I don’t remember it. Still, it makes it feel VERY real to me that I was alive when this happened…and a few years later when RFK and MLK were also assassinated. Of course, the ’60s also brought us amazing things – the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, tremendous advances in science and technology, the Beatles, etc. But it also brought us Vietnam, the downfall of LBJ, the rise of Richard Nixon, and much else. What a crazy decade, for good and for ill; and one our country is still in many ways wrestling with.

  • IBelieveInHenryHowell

    and a teacher came into our room and asked our teacher to step into the hall. We noticed that she was crying. Our teacher came back into the classroom and told us all that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I will never forget the events that followed with the murder of Oswald, the lines of people at the US Capitol on TV, Jackie knelling at the coffin in the rotunda, the funeral, procession, and burial. It is something that is burned into my memory for the rest of my life.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    There have been two events that have become burned into my memory such that I will never forget where I was or the details of both. The first is the assassination of President Kennedy. The second is September 11, 2001.

    On November 22, 1963, I was returning from a chemistry lab at William & Mary when a girl ran by me saying, “The president has been shot in Dallas.” Like most Americans, we spent the rest of that weekend and the days leading up to the state funeral glued to the television, joining in the national grief that the nation shared.

    On September 11, 2001, I was in my classroom early when a student came in and asked me if we could turn on the television because a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. We did and watched in horror as the second plane hit the WTC. Again, the rest of the day we watched the television.

    John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first television president. He and his family seemed made for the television camera. His murder was the first event where television became the medium of information, putting all of us in the midst of the horrible events in real time. Our world was changed forever.

  • swvagrl

    and a band member. We had heard earlier over the school intercom that the President had been shot, but we did not know his condition. Marching band, which was my last class of the day in my SWVA high school, was practicing outside preparing a routine for a holiday parade. Before we returned to our band room, our director told us that the President had died. I was in shock and so lightheaded that I could hardly walk. I do remember a couple of redneck boys behind me laughing and saying how happy they were about his death. I was outraged and in disbelief that anyone could be so heartless and make those unfeeling statements about any president, especially one who had filled us with such hope for our nation’s future. I sat in front of the tv all weekend and cried as I watched all the developments and the funeral.

    During my graduation week, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. Extraordinarily sad bookends for a high school career. I didn’t even want to go through the ceremonies because they seemed pretty meaningless in light of what had happened. For the last fifty years, I have never been able to forget November 22, and I still mourn my loss of innocence.

  • Jeb Stuart

    I was 9 years old, living in Turkey on a joint American-Turkish Air Force Base.  I learned later the base played a central role in the Cuban Missile Crisis because it was one of the American missile installations aiming nuclear weapons at Russia — the other side of the story which is seldom told….

    So we had no TV, no English language radio.  I found out about the assassination from my father, who told me when I got up Saturday morning.  I turned on the radio to listen to a Turkish broadcast and the only words I could recognize were “John Kennedy”.  The base was on alert and I remember my father was nervous, going to his office alot.  The only news we got came from bulletins distributed by Air Police from the back of a pickup truck that drove through the housing complex.  That shared national experience of the news coverage is something we did not experience at all.

    But I have one vivid memory.  The Turks let us fly the flag.  Strongly nationalistic, they had prohibited the display of Old Glory on base, but for the 30-day mourning period we could raise the flag in the morning and lower it in the evening, with the full ceremony and bugle calls.  I remember actually driving to the base just to see the flag raised and stand with my hand over my heart.  

    Just a while ago I was hearing again on NPR about Kennedy’s great victory in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the deal was Kruschev would take out his missiles if we took out our missiles in Turkey. Which we did, just after my dad had gotten them truly operational. So maybe Nikita wasn’t so dumb after all.  Maybe he got exactly what he wanted.

    So that is what half a century feels like.  Fifty years doesn’t feel so long.    

  • blue bronc

    Sitting in class we were surprised to have our teacher called to a meeting. While we did what 12 and 13 year olds do when left alone, we were not prepared for the next thing. Our teacher returned, crying, to tell us our president was shot and in serious condition. The school day was a mess after that. I remember walking in the leaves crossing the yard to go home.

    Home, I turned on the television to watch the horrible news. And, the horrible news for days afterwards.

    A country was in deep mourning. My mother carefully saved the newspapers. The history contained in those sheaves of paper was the stuff that changed a world. The world mourned with America.

    The hope that Kennedy brought to a post WWII-Korea America included the world. A world that was leaving colonial control, violently for many countries, looked to the U.S. for hope and life. How distant that time is from today. We have a Republican Party, and a few too many Dems, ready to destroy a world that needs a leader.

    Will our good citizens elect good people, people ready to lead the world? JFK set all sorts of examples, some very difficult to accept all these years later, some that are still inspiring to young children around the world. We need a JFK for inspiration and leadership now.

    (original post Craig Crawford Trail Mix)