RAMifications: ‘Killing Kennedy’ gives glimpse of unforgettable period

Posted June 13, 2013 at 10:59 am

‘Killing Kennedy’ gives glimpse of unforgettable period

Although I dislike commentator Bill O’Reilly, and I switch channels as soon as his face appears, I’ll give credit where credit is due. He’s written a book, “Killing Kennedy,” along the format of a former book, “Killing Lincoln.” It really is a well-written book, well documented, and it doesn’t take sides. From my viewpoint, he covered a lot of territory in a non-judgmental way. In fact, I had to check the cover to make sure it was the Bill O’Reilly I usually find so slanted and sarcastic.

What else can be written about the Kennedy White House years? O’Reilly covered some new territory, or at least with a different view, including the Cuban missile crisis. And, oh yes, I remember it well!

Kennedy was informed that Russian ships were in the Cuban harbor, and they were installing missiles aimed at the U.S. The President went on TV and threw down the gauntlet. He insisted that Khruschev halt the installation and eliminate the “clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.” At that moment the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

Kennedy closed his TV address by stating, “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right. Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom—here in this hemisphere and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”

I was at the little store just south of the campus when Kennedy’s comments came on TV. I stood watching, bewildered. Then I scurried back to my dorm room, truly afraid.

In those days before instant-access cell phones, one didn’t make a long-distance call unless it was absolutely necessary. I faithfully wrote my parents, but I seldom called. But on that day, I did.

I was a frightened sophomore, and I wanted to be home with my folks. I wanted them to vouch that the world was okay…that life would go on as usual. I don’t remember what my mom said to me, but it apparently quelled some of my concerns.

The entire world waited in fear and anticipation until—finally—the Soviet leader backed down. I knew about Hiroshima and the Cold War. Still, I never thought extinction could REALLY become a threat. But it did.

For many, that period was a turning point. Kennedy once noted that, “the only two dates most people remember where they were was Pearl Harbor and the death of President Roosevelt.” I vividly remember the Cuban missile crisis, although I didn’t remember the exact date (13 days in October 1962).

Another date takes precedence—November 22, 1963. That’s the date burned into the minds of most Americans who lived through that unsettling time.

In a previous column, I questioned if my children have any idea how those years shaped my ideas and ideals. Perhaps they don’t…but as little children they went to church to ring the bell when the Vietnam War ended; they observed me watch replays of the Kennedy assassination. Perhaps they had a glimmer of what those years meant to their dad and me; he and I didn’t remember WWII and Korea, but we certainly were aware of what nuclear war could do to the world.

I applaud O’Reilly for writing the book. For many, Kennedy’s death was the end of Camelot, and certainly the end of innocence. No other time in my memory equaled that period. I think I’m grateful I experienced it…but I’m not entirely sure. It took a toll that can’t really be explained unless you also lived through it.