Over the last few weeks when channel surfing on the television, nearly every network has been featuring documentaries on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assignation of President John F. Kennedy. For a generation that lived through that tragic eventful period and the turmoil that seemed to follow, all it takes is one simple black and white picture and you are not only compelled to watch but somehow are left to relive those events and the feelings, once again.
The painful event still brings tears to the eye and the deep down sadness of why he was taken from us. Everyone has a snapshot of where they were when the President was shot. So many Americans felt a deep connection to this very likable man and his family. Please indulge me, as I share my story.
As a young 9-year-old boy, I was living in Dallas, Texas at the time. A third grade classmate who was to attend the landing of Air Force One at Love Field, had prepared the class all week for her thrill of lifetime, an opportunity to get a glimpse of the President of the United States and the first lady. Our class was able to touch that event through her participation. As such we were all connected and anxiously awaiting her report back to the class.
In that era, especially as young children, we were in complete awe of our President, a World War II naval hero on PT 109. He was the man who set us on the course to put a man on the moon. He saved our nation and perhaps the world from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was the man who challenged us to discovered what we could do for the nation, rather than what the nation could do for us. He made it clear that the tasks ahead would not be easy, but it was up to us to step forward and do our part. He inspired us.
At that time we had no talking heads on cable TV or talk radio hosts who would put the President down nor constantly oppose his actions. In fact most radio stations would play a comic impersonator, a fellow by the name of Vaughn Meader who would lovingly poke fun at the first family. We considered the White House to be Camelot, the stuff dreams and movies were made of and when you’re a 9-year-old, red blooded American, there was no bigger star than the 35th President of the United States and he was flying into our town on that shiny new plane called Air Force One. This was an era of success and confidence and America was leading the world.
As I recall the events of the day, our classmate returned thrilled at what she had seen. She was only a few feet away from the President, he looked right at her and waved. As she was relaying her exciting encounter, word reached the classroom that shots had been fired at the President. We were all in shock and as I recall she was totally destroyed. To be on such a high one moment and then to have that moment shattered so quickly was almost too much for a young child to comprehend. In many ways the entire nation and perhaps much of the world was feeling exactly the same way. We were all totally unprepared for what was to take place over the next few days and the next few years.
As a class we knelt and began to pray. We soon learned of the President’s fate. The excitement and optimism of those prior days seemed to vanish into thin air as we kept asking why and no teacher, parent or adult could offer an answer.
As a wide eyed young boy the events of the next few days were unimaginable. Everything came to a complete stop. I mean everything. We were all glued to our radios and television sets but unlike other parts of the nation the grief and fear in Dallas was compounded by the fact that he was shot and killed in our city. The nation would blame Dallas and somehow we had let the young President and the nation down. Over the weekend we would witness the assassin being gunned down, putting further shame on the city and fueling even higher levels of fear as to exactly what was happening and who was behind all this.
I think no matter what age one was when President Kennedy was killed, none of us were ever quite the same again. We had something very special stolen from us the bright shinny day in Dallas. Many call it a loss of innocence, I’ve heard others describe it as we lost our optimism and it was replaced with pessimism.
In retrospect perhaps no one, not even Jack Kennedy could live up to the legend that is President Kennedy and those thousand days of Camelot. But the 9-year-old boy in me still believes we owe it to President Kennedy and future generations to reach for the stars, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.