I am as young as anyone can be, and still have clear memories of November 22, 1963. 

We were not as callous back then, for nobody had murdered a President in 62 years. And though my parent's generation had weathered Pearl Harbor and World War II, there was something about the loss of Jack Kennedy that caused this most undemonstrative generation to react in ways very similar to the repercussions from Diana's passing 34 years later. 

It was the first example of the continual coverage of a news event on television. Many believe that the "four dark days" were the beginning of the end for newspapers. In the search for breaking news of the event, it was television that provided the updates on both the President's progress to Arlington and the Oswald murder in a crowded police garage, the first real-time murder in broadcast history. 

Part of the terror was based on the fear of war. We forget now about how frigid the Cold War really was. Only in recent years did we learn how close the world came to nuclear war the year before. Now we know that each country's generals and hardliners were so anxious to go to war that both Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, lived in utter fear of a coup and in terror of an alternative scenario, which was that most total of wars. 

If one parses the list of men who could have been in either chair during October 1962, it's a wonder we are here. Literally. And though some may discuss the legacy of either man in many ways, that fact alone secures their place on the list of great world leaders. Each took the option of nuclear war off the table. But one had passed from the scene violently and suddenly, and memories had not faded from the origins of World War I, which began with an assassination, not quite 50 years before. 

That must have been why, the first thing we heard walking out of school that day, was a hysteric woman telling a crowd of traumatized five and six-year-old children, that we were going to be vaporized by the coming Russians. There were not many viewing options, only three or four in most places. All had sworn off advertising revenue for the weekend, until the state funeral on Monday. 

Though the images on TV showed endless images of grieving adults, the reaction was decidedly different in my parent's house. Though my father was silent about all that happened, my mother was unable to forget her animus towards the Kennedy's and very pissed off I was not going to be in school on Monday, both for the inconvenience of my presence and the fact it was due to mourning for President Kennedy. It was not until the Oswald shooting that the subject changed, largely due to the eerie resemblance our neighbor had to Lee Harvey. 

While the daily drama played on in the background, I sat that weekend transfixed by all I saw. Not only did I truly learn of death and its finality, the coverage lit the fire under my lifelong love of history and interest in politics. In a household like that portrayed in the Great Santini, where utter terror and fear of my parents was a daily norm, I was grateful for the brief respite that somehow was afforded me. 

I made it nearly through a football-less Sunday, (games were played but were not broadcast) before my mother leveraged my father's usual beer intake, to trigger the usual Sunday ritual, that ended with me backhanded and crying in my room, until my mother came in feigning shock that my father would go so far. Left unsaid was that her unsubtle shadings of truth and badgering were what triggered my November 24th beating. And it was the next day as my parents enjoyed their morning ritual of breakfast with Wheaties and ridicule of me as I awoke, that I began to understand a truth that defined my life until their passing. That my family truly believed I was defective. With the many frailties I was born with, in the end, I was simply and forever more a  "f---ing loser." 

As the years went by, it became obvious that something happened that weekend that transcended the usual order of things in my parent's world. As I grew older, it became obvious that whatever else had changed in my family's many moves, my interest in politics and history and reading began that strange and awful weekend. 

In the terror of my life, it was my search to learn all I could about Jack Kennedy and the Presidency that made it possible to dream that there was a place and time where there was a promise of joy. By the time I was finally safely away in college, it was obvious that our martyred President had some flaws and was imperfect, it never really mattered to the little boy that laid awake that night wishing that President Kennedy had been my daddy. 

Its been fifty years since that awful weekend. Hours spent watching the endless footage of his life that weekend, made Jack Kennedy my first and most enduring hero. JFK lost his life that weekend in 1963, but in no small measure, his life touched many lives after his passing. He believed in hope, in things larger than oneself, and in the endless possibilities of tomorrow. Some of that magic rubbed off on many then and even now. He really may have saved our world. His urging and example inspired me, and countless others not even born in 1963. Jack Kennedy once said, "I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battles or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." For that reason alone he will never be forgotten. 




Popular Posts