I’m old enough to remember that people always used to talk about “where you were when JFK was shot.” I was very young in 1963, 5 to be exact, so nobody ever asked me where I was. I can tell you this much, just because I was only five then doesn’t mean that I can’t recall every detail of that day. I’m only surprised that it was 50 years ago!
On November 22, 1963, I was in Kindergarten in the afternoon, but I was home in the morning, and since we lived in California, the events of that fateful day broke while I was still at home… or more accurately at Hughes Market with my Mom. Her usual grocery shopping day was Thursday, but since this was my sister’s twelfth birthday, and she was having a slumber party that night, my Mom dragged me to the store to pick up the stuff she needed for the party.
We were picking up the birthday cake in the bakery section when a lady came out from the back and said that the radio has just said there was a report that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and my Mom was mortified. It was my five-year old’s view that she was mortified because something terrible happened in Dallas; she was from Ft. Worth, you see. Then it seemed to hit her that we were talking about the President! We quickly went home where she turned on the TV. I recall that at some point I made a smart alack comment of some kind and she whacked me across the face, one of only two times she ever did that, such was her shock that day. I also recall that shortly after I was delivered to school, Mrs. Dahlstead (yes, I remember the principal’s name) came on the intercom to announce that Mr. Kennedy had died and that Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was the new president. I thought she had said “Lemon” instead of Lyndon, but my Dad straightened me out later. I almost got another whack from him, but he realized I wasn’t being disrespectful, just confused… whew!
During that afternoon, my Mom was beside herself, and when I returned home, she was all upset trying to figure out if she should cancel my sister’s party that night. On the advice of Father Duffy, she went ahead with it, since they hadn’t let school out early that day. When the time came for the party, they dressed me up in a tie like I was going to church, and I hated it, but being so fancy didn’t keep me from doing my duty as a little brother and annoying my sister as much as possible until my Mom made me sit in their bedroom with my father and watch the news. I remember seeing all of the newsreels of the day, and watching Air Force One return to Washington, where President Johnson gave his speech at plane side. That’s when I decided I wanted to be pilot when I grew up!
I remember all of the other events that followed. Seeing Oswald shot on live TV, the funeral and all the rest, and on that next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I remember thinking that it was very sad that Mr. Kennedy didn’t live long enough for the holiday. I had the same thoughts on Christmas, a month later.
Funny, the things you remember from a five-year old point of view.
That terrible day had an impact on an entire generation. I think those who are old enough will agree with that. Let’s all pray that no such horrors will ever again effect an entire generation. Of course, let’s also be thankful that despite some near misses, it hasn’t over the last 50 years.