I Remember The Day A President Died.
November 22, 2013
Caleb Pirtle III
I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news.
And so do you if you are old enough to have been alive when our world of innocence and ignorance was shattered by three gunshots.
It seems like yesterday.
Or the day before.
A sniper’s rifle fired.
Three shots struck a President.
We were told they came from the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building.
Maybe they did.
Maybe we’ll never know for sure.
But a President lay wounded in his limousine.
A President lay dying.
And nothing would ever be quite the same again.
I was a student at The University of Texas in Austin and, fifty years ago today, had just walked into my Economics class after lunch.
The professor, a young lion with liberal bearings who had convinced me to become as liberal as he was, sat on a table in front of the room.
He wore a strange look on his face.
“The President’s been shot,” he said.
We didn’t have to ask where.
We knew he was in Dallas.
Why did it have to happen in Texas?
Why did it have to happen at all?
Being a journalism major, I immediately left Economics and headed toward the offices of The Daily Texan. We would all have a long day and a longer night.
For the morning’s special edition, I wrote:
“Friday afternoon, a nation came to grief. President John F. Kennedy was dead.
“At 2:10 p.m., the American flag, waving only limply in a slight southerly breeze on the University’s Main Mall, was slowly lowered to half mast. Moments later, the Texas flag was lowered.
“Heads were bowed. There as no sound. In a freshman English class, a girl glanced out the window and cried, ‘Oh, no, the flags are down. He’s dead.’
“Throughout the early afternoon, students had gathered tightly around parked automobiles straining to catch brief announcements of the incident from between splotches of radio static. Others were grouped around portable radios. Some stood alone.
“For a few, there were tears.”
The quotes I gathered would remain with me forever.
Said Ruth Garcia, a sophomore: “President Kennedy was everything I stood for as far as his policies were concerned. I’m extremely shocked, I didn’t realize such a tragedy could happen in this most civilized country.”
Tom Whitaker, a freshman, spoke for the majority when he told me, “This is the biggest shock the country has had since the war. I don’t know about the others, but it scared the hell out of me.”
Gail Beck, a junior, admitted, “I just felt lost. I felt like something had, well, cut loose inside of me.”
And Betty Klingman, a freshman, pointed out, “When I heard about the President’s death, I just went to my room. I felt kind of sick. I don’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense.”
She was right.
For my story, Dr. H. M. MacDonald, professor of government, predicted, “Not only domestic history but international history will now be remade.”
Dr. A. R. Lewis, professor of history, astutely observed, “Much of the country’s opinion and reaction, will depend on the assassin and which wing he’s with.”
And Michel Dassonville, an assistant professor of Romantic Languages, said, “It’s awful. If the same thing happened in France, it would be less a surprise. But they are prepared for accidents. There was no reason. It must have been a crazy man.”
Or a patsy.
Or someone hired by a crazy man.
As I concluded in the article:
“And with the playing of retreat and taps by a quintet of trumpets from the Longhorn Band, the flags were lowered at the University.
“And the sun set in Austin.”
For many of us, it would be a long time rising.