The Assassination of President Kennedy
Anyone who is 55+ clearly remembers President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. We will shortly recognize the 50th anniversary of this horrific event. All of us old enough to remember that day recall that virtually all Americans were riveted to our black & white TVs watching the coverage by the “3 networks” which broadcast non-stop updates of this great tragedy. Those who are alive to remember the assassination understand that it had the mega emotional impact of 9/11.
Earlier this year I had two opportunities to relive those memories in visits to the Newseum in Washington DC, which for my money the world’s best and most interesting museum. Their Kennedy exhibit will be open through year end. It’s a unforgettable experience and a reminder of the horror of the assassination and the following days.
However even more unforgettable was a visit to Dallas in the summer of 1999. As part of a family cross country trip, our family visited a museum in Dallas which is now called simply the Sixth Floor Museum. It was July 13, 1999 and we visited the building that once was the famous Texas School Book Depository on the corner of Houston & Elm Streets. This stop was part of our family’s memorable 10-week summer of 1999 cross country trip. The destination du jour was Dallas, and we couldn’t visit Dallas without this stop. For many years Dallas did not know how to handle the memory of Kennedy’s assassination. The Book Depository building became the Dallas County Administrative Building. Coming to grips with its historical significance, in 1989 the 6th floor was converted into a museum, the Sixth Floor Museum, about President Kennedy.
As I peered out the window onto Dealey Plaza below, looking at the “hair-pin turn”, it was obvious than no vehicle could speed quickly through such a sharp turn. The “grassy knoll”, a term rarely used except related to Kennedy’s assassination, was right across the street. I do not shoot guns, don’t like them, wish no one had them, and will never own one. Regardless, from my limited knowledge, it didn’t appear that it would be difficult to shoot at something moving slowly below on the street from that 6th floor window. That’s what we believe Lee Harvey Oswald did on Friday November 22, 1963. From what I’ve read (and who knows what is fact and what is fiction), I do believe he was the shooter, but I do not believe he was merely a sole crazed gunman acting alone, and therefore personally wonder why we are hiding the full truth.
I was 11 years old in Mr. Ski’s shop class on November 22, 1963 in 6thgrade at Florence M. Gaudineer Junior High School in Springfield, NJ. There was an announcement that President Kennedy was shot, and a few minutes later the announcement that he was dead. Anyone 55+ can tell you where they were when they found out.
Our country changed on November 22, 1963. Innocence was lost. Fear was rampant. Was this a Communist assassination? Will we go to war? The world was a very dangerous place then, as it is now. There was a real threat of nuclear war, tremendous instability in the Middle East, and racial tension at home. Though much has changed in the almost 50 years since President Kennedy was assassinated, ironically many of the same underlying issues remain.
The 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination will occur on November 22nd. No doubt there will be an avalanche of information and stories and remembrances in the coming weeks. 50 years later, do we really know the truth? I suspect not. I remember as a child actually buying a paperback version of the Warren Commission Report, released in the fall of 1964, which was supposed to be the definitive report on the assassination. I remember it was really thick and did not read as a novel. It was tough to digest so I read as much as I could but then put it down. The wisdom was that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Really? Were others involved? That’s the part about which we all have a gnawing feeling; because it’s still hard to believe Oswald acted alone.
The events that unfolded that fateful weekend in November 1963 were mind numbing:
Friday 11/22/63. The shock of the assassination. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President standing next to Jackie Kennedy with blood on her dress. President Kennedy’s body was flown back to Washington. There was massive sadness and fear, and while obviously different, not totally dissimilar to the shock on 9/11. Suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended at a movie theater within a few hours of the shooting.
Sunday 11/24/63. Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby live on network TV. What! Was Ruby a “hero”, a patriot or part of a deeper story.
Sunday 11/24/63. Still numb, NFL games were played. Huh? Did the Giants win? How many yards did Y.A. Tittle pass for? Who knows? Who cares? But you gotta have NFL games on Sunday, right? The games were not televised, since coverage of the assassination was all that was televised. Not even Red Zone coverage. To this day this was the worst decision ever made in the history of sports. What was Commissioner Rozelle, a great sports commissioner, thinking? “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy”, he said. He later deeply regretted the decision, and said so on many occasions.
Monday 11/25/63. The funeral. One million people lined the streets of Washington DC for the funeral procession from the Capitol to the White House. The rest of the nation watched on TV. Horse drawn carriage. Young John, only 3, saluting. The country was still numb.
Then life went on……
There were not 500 channels of TV back in 1963. Ralph Roberts was still a young man knocking on doors in Tupelo, MS in his newly acquired 1,200 subscriber cable system. Comcast’s subscriber base was a little smaller back then. There were just the 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS—and also Public Broadcasting, and maybe an independent station or two in major markets. That’s it. And the Kennedy assassination & its aftermath were all anyone could think about, watch or talk about.
And 50 years later I am still fascinated and stunned by the assassination. I would have far greater respect for our government if on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, there would be some official release of the full truth of the events of the day. We have a right to know. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for new information.
But on July 13, 1999 while visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, I was able to recall the impact of the assassination by staring out of the 6th floor window. And ironically just 3 days later, on July 16, 1999, while driving across Route 10 in Texas on the way to the west Texas town of El Paso, we heard the news that his son, ”John-John”, had tragically died flying in his own plane.
November 22, 1963. Now 50 years ago.