Where were you when you heard the news?

Dealey Plaza

 

On this the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I think back to a sixth grade classroom in Kilgore, Texas.

It was the same elementary school where in my third grade year my teacher had rolled a black and white TV into the classroom, its rabbit ears antenna grabbing a grainy black and white scene of a young president delivering his inaugural address.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he said that day.

It was the same elementary school where in May 1961 we listened to the live report of the flight of the first American into space and believed anything was possible in the new frontier.

On November 22, 1963, a little after noon, we were on the playground after lunch when the principal came on the loud speaker and ordered us to return to our classrooms.

We all knew something was up.

The teachers who lined the halls as we walked to our classes were already crying.

Soon we, too, learned the news.

President Kennedy had been shot.

Not in some far off country, not even in some far off city.

Only two hours from us in Dallas.

Then we learned he was dead.

I have seen Walter Cronkite report it so many times that I believe we watched him make the announcement on a TV in our room, but my memory of that moment maybe blurry.

It is impossible to exaggerate the impact of that day on the lives of those who lived through it, and, I believe, especially on the lives of those impressionable young kids who in a moment stopped believing in Camelot.

The next few years were a collage of such moments for Americans.

Robert Kennedy.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The killing fields of Vietnam.

It was as if in some bizarre way Lee Harvey Oswald had set forces in motion that we could not bring under control.

Of course it was inane for us to believe that the coming of this young president signaled a new birth of freedom, or a world in which violence had been conquered, never again to raise its ugly head.

But to a sixth grader it sure looked that way.

Until November 22, 1963.

 

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