Do you remember where you were
It was the day my youthful innocence died.
It was the end of the Age of Innocence for many people my age. It was the day the world seemed to change forever.
Like many others, I remember exactly where I was that November day exactly 50 years ago.
I was hanging out with my friends outside on a break from our studies at Christ Lutheran School in La Mesa, Calif. It was called recess. I had just turned 13 years old a couple of days earlier.
One of my classmates, Jennifer Fischer, came up and told us the president had been shot and he was dead.
I didn’t believe her. That kind of thing was just not possible. Oh sure, we had read in our history books about Abraham Lincoln being assasinated by John Wilkes Booth, but that was a hundred years ago.
That kind of thing couldn’t happen now. This must be Jennifer’s idea of a stupid joke.
But the fact that she was choked up and tears were running down her cheeks was a strong indication that maybe she was not pulling my leg.
It was true.
President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Back in class, my teacher, Mr. Lamb, told us what little he knew about it. We listened to the radio to hear what details were available. There weren’t many.
At home, my family watched it all on television. Amazingly, no regular programs were on it was all news about the killing of JFK. For several days.
Nowadays that is not so shocking. There are news programs on 24 hours a day. Regular networks break in to programming all the time for a news bulletin.
But in those days, news was only on for an hour in the evening and that was it. The three networks (and there were only three – ABC, NBC, CBS) even went off the air at night. Local stations “signed off,” usually with the playing of the national anthem and a picture of a color guard. Then came a “test pattern” that showed on the screen for a while, and eventually even that turned to just static. The test pattern would suddenly appear again in the morning, alerting you to the fact that the station was about to come back on the air.
Television was much different back then.
But all that changed in 1963.
Television covered the killing of the president, the funeral, the new president sworn in all of it, from beginning to end, and it was all done live. It was the event that may have led to the creation of CNN.
We stayed glued to the TV. And that is why we were able to watch in horror as we saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald in the stomach right as it happened on live TV. It was shocking.
Everyone was stunned at JFK’s death. Even those who hadn’t supported or voted for him. People cried in public. Businesses stayed closed. Everyone had a stunned, sad look about them – because they were.
Perhaps it was the fact that he was so young, with a beautiful young wife and two cute little kids. He sure wasn’t an old man president like his predecessors Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhauer. He was the age of my parents, not my grandparents.
Perhaps it was because he was “my president,” the only one I had any real personal knowledge of.
Or maybe it was just the fact we suddenly realized that some weasel-looking loser could just shoot the president because he felt like it.
It was hard to grasp that idea in 1963. Today, when there seems to be a shooting reported somewhere every single day, that is not so difficult to understand.
The generation before mine had their own rude awakening with a “date that will live in infamy,” Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
We have had another more recent “Moment in Time,” of course, a date that again changed our lives and our country.
Nine eleven. Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.
Instead of one man being killed, thousands were.
And the Age of Innocence died for another generation of young people, who will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the attack on the World Trade Center.
You never forget such things. Even after 50 years.