A few years back, I asked What was the first public trauma – as opposed to a personal trauma, such as a death or divorce in the family – that you recall? And while not my first event, the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, when I was ten years old and didn’t understand what happened next – I was not yet seeped in Presidential succession law – was terrifying. The death itself was already scary enough.
It certainly didn’t help that Miss Oberlik, our fifth-grade teacher, told us the news, LEFT THE ROOM, for some reason, which got us talking among ourselves about the meaning of it all, and then she comes back and SCREAMS at us for not being quiet, like everyone else in the school (who, I suspect, hadn’t been ABANDONED by their teacher). I wondered later if she had gone off to compose herself after dropping that bombshell on us.
Like much of the nation, I was glued to the television that weekend. I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, in real time. Of course, I viewed the funeral, and John-John’s salute of his daddy.
Such a strange time, now that I look back on it. A lot of households I visited, especially after the shootings, had pictures on the walls, and the only ones that weren’t family members were of JFK and Jesus Christ. It was not my grief that I remember; it was the tears, seemingly out of nowhere, of many of the adults around me. And if not tears, then an overwhelming sadness that came like unexpected tidal waves.
The 50 cent piece, starting in 1964, bore Kennedy’s image, which I find, in retrospect, to be an amazing feat, changing coinage so quickly. Idlewild Airport in New York City – famous from the Car 54 Where Are You TV theme – was renamed for the slain leader, as was Cape Canaveral, though the latter was eventually switched back.
In 1964, the Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, generally referred to as the Warren Commission Report was released. It claimed that Oswald was the lone gunman, not involved in a conspiracy; and that the bullet that killed the President also wounded Governor John Connolly of Texas. One of the local newspapers had excerpts of the Warren Commission report, and I not only read them, I clipped them out of the newspaper, and put it in a three-ring binder, something I believe I STILL have somewhere in the attic.
Over the years, there are those who dismissed the report as a coverup, or at least as a lazy effort of accepting the FBI’s analysis as fact, rather than doing an independent investigation. The Oliver Stone movie JFK (1991), which my girlfriend at the time and I referred to as JiFKa, was about New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s belief that there was “more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.” Conversely, at the end of his novel 11/22/63, Stephen King says he’s over 95% sure Oswald was the lone shooter, though his wife Tabitha believes otherwise.
The one time I got to meet Earl Warren, along with a number of my classmates in the early 1970s, I really wanted to ask the by-then retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court about this topic; instead, I asked him some arcane question about corporations as people, which was an issue back in the 1870s as well as the 21st century.
I still wonder, if only a little, what the whole truth of the matter was.
CBSNews.com to stream 1963 broadcast coverage of JFK assassination, and/or one can buy the coverage on Amazon. I think not for me, thank you.