I am 18 years old. My sophomore year in college has just begun in the small college I attend. Friday afternoon, our college debate team of which I am a member will be leaving some time mid-afternoon to go to Fordham University for a debate tournament.
I am standing in Old Main, on a small flight of stairs leading to some classrooms. Suddenly, the news comes flashing through--whether a student or staff member had heard it on the radio, I do not know. But the word comes and it is shocking, earth-shattering. President Kennedy has been shot and killed.
That breathless moment when everything seemed to cease. Our world suspended. What to do? Not just what to do personally. But what to do for the whole country, maybe even the whole world.
Television was still in a kind of infancy--even though President Kennedy's appointee as chair of the Federal Communication Commission Newton Minow had pronounced its being "a vast wasteland." Our small college had only ONE television set available for public viewing. That television was in the Commons area of Old Main.
For the next few days, while the country plunged into inarticulate mourning, we students gathered around that television. CBS had made the decision to begin broadcasting and continue until the president had been buried. So we watched while Walter Cronkite led the country in an extended wake.
We students did not spend the entire next four days in front of the lone television. We went on with our student lives. The debate team missed any Saturday news--we had agonized over whether or not to go to the Fordham tournament but in the end we went. On Sunday, the college choir had a church service to attend, and so we were in the house of one of the church parishioners to have Sunday dinner when we saw on that television a man, named Jack Ruby, step up to Lee Harvey Oswald and shoot him. The dissolution of any meaning in our world seemed complete.
On Monday, when the President was going to be buried, some students with cars drove to Washington, DC. Most of us stayed on campus and continued our television vigil.
This 50th anniversary--November 22, 2013--also a Friday. As the grainy black and white footage from those four days of continuous broadcasting, sometimes interrupted by a few splashes of color footage from film, are replayed--I am transported back. I am once again a college sophomore, standing on the steps in Old Main, conversing with fellow students on the Debate Team--the President has been assassinated.
Now, fifty years later, I know how very young eighteen is. How very innocent. Yet on that day, November 22, 1963, our world changed. And we were suddenly older--not old, maybe--but the brightness of life had been dimmed in an inexpressible way. Things would never be the same.
And, of course, we were right--we still had so many fresh tragedies to go through--Vietnam, more assassinations including Jack Kennedy's brother Bobby, civil rights struggles, dogs lunging at people trying to secure the right to vote, Kent State, Watergate...
On and on. What was lost that day was bright-eyed innocence.
November 22, 1963.
It was a shocking day for everyone, including non-Americans.
We lost "our" President that day. Canadians were as shocked and changed as our American cousins. When Ruby murdered Oswald on TV. . .how surreal . . . that went in my "only in America" file. We will never understand the willingness to accept widespread gun ownership in the US.
I was 30 when that happened but I still felt that loss of all innocence.
AC, Philip and Ginnie--
Isn't it striking how we all--with somewhat differing backgrounds--felt that incredible sense of loss with JFK's assassination.
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