Where Were You When They Shot JFK?

Posted on: November 15th, 2013 by admin 2 Comments

Where Were You When They Shot JFK?

Every generation, it seems, witnesses an “earth shattering” event in their lifetime to which, regardless of the age obtained, they can answer the question “Where were you when….”

I have only queried one member of the Greatest Generation that was unable to answer the question “Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?” For that generation the world was shaken (literally) by the events of a seemingly average Sunday morning in a far-off paradise known as Hawaii. The events of that day had a profound effect on the future of an entire generation of not only Americans, but the entire human race. We are barely three weeks away from the blackened anniversary of that event, yet every year for the past seventy two, we hear and see reminders of how the world as we know it was molded by the tragedy as well as the world’s response to it.

For my generation (currently referred to as “old farts”) that event was the assassination of President Kennedy. Most “boomers” were too young to have fully comprehended the sordid affairs of world politics back then. But we knew that the youngest President in our history had replaced the oldest President in our history. His rhetoric, more than his actions, drew us in to a belief that our lives held promise unimagined prior to the election.

My parents, staunch Republicans for as long as I could remember, were mightily disappointed in the election results that slowly trickled in over night in November of 1960. They had made no secret of their support for Richard Nixon and were open about their misgivings over the actions, or inactions, of a wet-behind-the-ears Democrat, despite his being a Navy Veteran and a fellow Catholic none the less.

President Kennedy, from my point of view, was solely responsible for my eventual withdrawal from under my desk at school with the defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis. His proposed Peace Corp resonated with the youth of my time, opening our eyes to the possibilities we held in our hands and how the world could be influenced by the actions of those willing to step outside of their comfort zones and “do” instead of talking about doing. I did not observe his reluctance to enter into the Civil Rights confrontations of his time, but saw the results when he finally acted to quell the discord in Alabama with the support of Federal Troops. The cascade of events that blossomed into Civil Rights legislation in the coming years was directed by his movement from rhetoric to decisive action.

I vividly remember sitting in Mr. Reichart’s World Civ classroom, having just returned from lunch in the cafeteria, while waiting for the bell to signal the commencement of the afternoon routine. One of my classmates ran in the door and stunned the room with the news she had heard while returning to school from her lunch at home. The President had been shot!

Surely she had not heard correctly. Kennedy was too young, too well known, too popular, too well protected to have been felled by an assassin’s bullet. Communications, being what they were at the time, were creating more questions than they were answering. The next four days were spent, sitting in front of radios and TVs. With the internet today it is difficult to imagine rumors and facts emerging with equal veracity. We still didn’t know who Lee Harvey Oswald was when we saw what was probably the first murder ever carried live on TV unfold in front of our innocent eyes. From a crowd of reporters stepped Jack Ruby, his single gun shot unleashing a fury of activity, and launching generations of investigation, rumor and conspiracy theorists. Our entire world was thrown into chaos; events taking place faster than their consequences could be comprehended. The world seemed to be spinning out of control at a dizzying pace.

Then, as if a grand conductor had orchestrated it, the world screeched to a halt.

 

The televising of a funeral procession would not be the type of activity that would draw an audience in ordinary times. But this procession brought the entire country to a halt. For what seemed like an eternity, hundreds of thousands of people sat motionless in front of television sets while a horse-drawn caisson marched from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda. There was not a sound from the crowd of people gathered along the route, only the haunting notes of horse-shoes on pavement, accompanied by military drummers.

A line of people, hundreds of thousands of people, filed past the flag draped coffin that lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The line stretched as far as the eye, and TV camera, could see. It is little wonder that my world had seemed to halt in its tracks. The line had no discernable end from my position in front of our black and white television set. NBC broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the throng filing continuously past both sides of the casket all night long. I probably fell asleep in front of the television that night, there being no sign-off and test pattern to indicate bed-time.

The next morning I, and nearly every American who had access to a TV, watched in silence as the horse-drawn caisson marched across the bridge to ArlingtonCemetery for the funeral. The low, nearly mono-toned voice of Walter Cronkite narrated an event that was still beyond belief to most of us.

Fifty years ago this month, my world, if not the entire world, was re-shaped by the events in Dallas. A lone gunman, if the Warren Commission is to be believed, erased the future and it’s vantage point of observation, and re-wrote the historical references to the Kennedy Administration in a hue of speculation. Events that took root in the fertile ground of President Kennedys’ speeches went on to change the face of history and the mind set of a generation. The promises of a future full of hope were painted in words that still ring true today. Hope guides us. Hope moves us. Action trumps words every time. If we are to survive in a world unlimited by borders we need to take a humanitarian view of our place on this earth.

Politicians must recognize that action, and only actions, direct our future. The rift that separates the aisles of congress is surely smaller than the chasm that stood between the US and USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy found a bridge across the abyss that allowed us to back away from the edge of nuclear destruction. Congress need only to look to our recent history for hope that a solution exists that will allow our government at the Federal level to flow back from the edge of shutdowns and dysfunction. Stalemates, divisiveness, and party lines must give way to co-operation and compromise for this country to attain the greatness first hinted at by a young president that lit the imagination and optimism of a generation of wide-eyed kids over fifty years ago. Do they remember?

Do you remember? Where were you when they shot JFK? I’d like to hear from you at jerryf@gemstateelectric.com

2 Responses

  1. Ron says:

    I was not even 2 years old when JFK was shot. I would have to say that a similar “defining moment” in my young life was the night that Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon in July 1969. However, this event has a link to JFK, from his visionary speech in which he challenged our nation to achieve the goal of getting a man to the moon and returning him safely to the earth. We certainly don’t have a president challenging us to reach that high these days.

  2. Katie says:

    I just saw this as I was looking for an electrician. I remember because I was a senior at Boise High. You certainly described what we experienced. What an impact it had on our lives! I’m still realizing it. And, yes, we need our legislators to come together. They need to find ways to reach consensus rather than compromise, in order to solve the many problems we face today.

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