Fifty-eight years ago, on Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I remember that day well.
I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, living in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas. A friend and I had planned to skip school that day and his mother was going to take us to Dallas to watch the Kennedy motorcade. Our destination was Dealey Plaza.
Unfortunately, it rained that morning and our plans got cancelled and we had to go to school instead. Having rushed to get ready for school at the last minute, I forgot to get lunch money before we left. At lunch time, I went to the school office where we could “borrow” lunch money (you could actually do that back then without getting approval from ten different people and signing sixteen different forms).
While I was in the office, I heard a news flash on the radio that gun shots had been fired at the motorcade and that it was believed that Kennedy had been hit. At that time, there was very little additional information and I left and went to the cafeteria.
I told my friends what I heard on the radio, and most of them didn’t believe me, and one girl even laughed and said she hoped he died. A few minutes later, an announcement came over the loud speaker saying that Kennedy had been shot and we should return to our classes and await further instructions. I don’t remember if I ate lunch or not.
After returning to class we were told that all classes were suspended for the rest of the day and we should remain where we were until dismissed. The teacher turned on the TV (yes, we had TV in school back then, although it was black and white) and we watched the news reports live. Not long afterward, Walter Cronkite came on and announced that Kennedy had died.
The girl who had said that she hoped he died was now bawling her eyes out like she was the only one who was upset (I never liked her anyway). A few of the other girls followed her lead. Most of us just sat there in shock and didn’t know what to do. It was barely a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we were scared that this was the prelude to an attack by the Russians. (How many of you remember our Duck and Tuck Drills – duck underneath your desk, tuck your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye)?
School was dismissed at the regular time, 3:30, and I walked the mile or so home alone, deep in thought about what was going to happen next.
The next few days were consumed with reports of the assassination and the aftermath – Vice President Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President, the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald, the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby (which I watched live on TV), Kennedy’s body resting in state in the Capitol Rotunda, Kennedy’s funeral and John F Kennedy, Jr. standing at attention and saluting as his father’s casket went by. It was all surreal to a young boy.
I’ve never forgotten that day and the days that followed, and I doubt I ever will. I hope my children and grandchildren never have to experience anything like that. America is better than that.
Rest in Peace John F Kennedy.