“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on…” John F. Kennedy
This Friday 11/22 marks the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy our 35th president. His killing that fateful Friday in 1963 brought a nation to its knees and changed the course of American history forever. Although president for a relatively short period of time the charismatic and youthful Kennedy captured the hearts and admiration of the nation and was an inspiration to us all. And although his accomplishments while president wane in comparison to other presidents, he is still considered to be one of the most influential and important presidents of all time.
Like others of my generation the memory of that dark day will remain with me until my dying day. I was a 12 year old 7th grader that fateful Friday all those years ago. I was sitting in my classroom at St. Frances of Rome Catholic School when a tearful Sister Regis, the principal, interrupted the class with the announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. I can still hear the tremor in her voice. We were stunned! Even my teacher Mrs. Marbel had tears in her eyes as she led us in a prayer. That in itself was pretty incredible. Supposedly she’d been a drill instructor before becoming a teacher. I’m not sure if there was any truth to the rumor but she was definitely one tough old bird! About a half hour later we learned that the president was dead.
I remember walking home that day wondering how such a thing could have happened. A presidential assassination in America was unthinkable, maybe in could happen in some third world, Godless country, but not here, not to JFK! Yet it had happened and we were left to wonder why and to worry about what direction are country might now be going? Early news reports said that the captured assassin was a Russian. Did that mean that Russia was behind it all? Were we know going to be forced to go to war with the Russians in retaliation? Although just a kid, the memories of the atomic war threat of the 50’s, air raid sirens and “duck and cover” drills were still fresh in my mind. Could it really now happen? I thought it might and I was scared.
When I got home I found my mom in her room in front of the TV. She was in tears. She had loved Kennedy, we all did. The remainder of that night and nearly all of Saturday was spent in my parents room in front of the television. My mom, in her pain chose to remain in her room taking in the news from there rather than the family room. I don’t know why we continued to watch, most of what was being reported was simply a rehashing of what we already knew. One thing I did learn to relieved much of my anxiety was that Oswald wasn’t a Russian, but an American who tried to defect to Russia. I couldn’t imagine why, but it did ease my fears about war with Russia.
Then on Sunday morning I awoke to the sound of the TV in my parents room. Still in my pajamas I went in and found a spot to stretch out on the bed. My mom informed me that they would soon be moving Oswald from the city jail to a new location. I watched the throngs of reporters, cameramen and Dallas police down in the parking garage anxiously waiting for detectives to bring Oswald down for transport so they could televise the killer live to millions of Americans. And suddenly the elevator doors opened and there he was Lee Harvey Oswald flanked by detectives on either side of him coming toward the reporters.
I remember thinking he didn’t look like an assassin, but that thought was immediately followed by a question “what does an assassin look like?” I had no idea, I guess I was expecting some big, burly monster of a man, but he was the exact opposite, he looked small and frail and though he tried to look defiant, I detect fear in his eyes as the detectives moved him down the corridor. The entire time the word “Live” flashed on the bottom of the TV screen. Then without warning an armed man stepped out from the crowd in front of Oswald and right there on live TV shot the accused assassin. Ironically less than two hours later Oswald died from the gunshot at Parkland Hospital the same hospital where doctors tried to save President Kennedy’s life just two days earlier.
I cant tell you how many times I watched Oswald being shot in that parking garage that Sunday, it had to be dozens upon dozens. And even hours later the words “live” were emblazoned on the bottom of the screen. I don’t know why, but “live” really bothered me. Perhaps because I had actually seen it live and in my 12 year old mind I believed it should be rebroadcast as a replay. Someone might be seeing the footage for the very first time and really think it was just happening. Hey I know in the big scheme of what was going on it was a minor point but it really bugged me! But what did I know I was just a kid.
Weird but I saw the Oswald shooting footage a few days ago on one of the JFK specials (there’s a shitload of them this week) and there they were at the bottom of the screen the word “Live” and you know what ? It still bugged me 50 years later!
I will always remember the JFK era as I’m sure many of you will and wonder what might of been had he not been taken from us that fateful day. Much has been written about Kennedy, his presidency, his vision and of course the aspects of his death. In spite of all the written words there are many who still have there doubts. Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone or was he a fall guy in a major conspiracy? And if there was a conspiracy who was behind it? CIA? Secret Service? Mafia? Big business? Castro? The list goes on and on and we are left to speculate. Even after 50 years there are many who believe these questions have not been answered adequately. I am one of them.
May he rest in peace…
Just a Thought,