I guarantee that nearly every American who was over the age of 10 can remember distinctly what he or she was doing on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated.
Our chemistry professor announced his death; I ran out of the building, still in my lab apron. The flag on the PJ building was already at half-staff. I cried.
That event and the horrific days that followed are forever etched in my mind…in some cases, moment by moment.
On the 50th anniversary of that period (Nov. 22-25), TV has gone overboard in trying to “tell the story.” Same with books. We’re inundated. But I still believe if you didn’t live through it, the immensity of what happened and how it influenced people can’t fully be understood.
For the first time, television was able to provide minute-by-minute coverage. This, of course, was before 24-hour news channels like CNN. But ABC, CBS and NBC put everything else on hold, and covered the events thoroughly.
In earlier times, news traveled slowly…even when a president was assassinated.
But with JFK’s death, minute-by-minute details were presented on TV, and people were glued to their sets.
Even more shocking—TV cameras were right there when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
Everything truly came to a standstill. People didn’t go anywhere…they watched in grim fascination as events unfolded.
We didn’t have a TV at that time, so much of those three days was spent watching at our neighbor’s little married student house (Kenny Willert).
Sunday morning, though, not wanting to disturb them too early, we went to the student union and watched. The room was filled. I remember vividly a foreign student raptly watching, smoking his cigarette lit on the wrong end…and never noticing that it was.
Of course that level of intensity can’t be sustained. People began to take up normal activities again. Thanksgiving was late that year, too, and I remember it as a rather muted affair…many conversations harked back to what happened less than a week before.
I know that the assassination affected nearly everyone, of all ages, but I think it had an extremely strong impact on many “young ‘uns,” such as I was. We didn’t have a frame of reference of tough times. We hadn’t lived through a depression or a world war. Vietnam was still to come, as were the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and other unbelievable assaults to our belief system.
I still wasn’t old enough to vote. I’d never lost anyone really close to me.
But that day in Dallas was a wakeup call of sorts. It made me, at least, much more aware of the world around me, and I really didn’t feel comfortable facing uncomfortable facts.
Of course, at that time, I had no clue about the many difficult things to come down the line (I’m glad I didn’t). But I knew our President had been shot, and if that could happen, what else could? Many years later, I visited his gravesite in Arlington. I cried then, too.
Personally, and as a nation, we’ve weathered many tough times…but the impact of that day in November has never lessened for me.
And apparently for many others, or there wouldn’t still be such interest, commentary and speculation after all these years.
I was just a young bride in South Dakota, and it left a lasting impression. But how about a young woman working in Washington, D.C. at the time, who had a very up-close experience of those world-changing events?
There was once a spot, known as Camelot