I will never forget that November day in 1963. I was sitting in 6th hour freshman biology listening to Mr. Butt lecture about DNA and Mr. Johnson's voice came over the intercom announcing that President Kennedy had been shot and died in Dallas. It rained as we rode home on the school bus that day and as I watched the wipers slicing back and forth across the windshield, I noticed how unusually quiet the bus was. I have seen so many photographs and films from this time, it is hard to separate what I truly remember from what I have seen repeatedly over the years. Kennedy was the first president that truly had been part of my young consciousness. My sole earlier memory was asking my dad if he was voting for Eisenhower or Ike and his uproarious laugh in response. We sat on the gym floor at Whittier School and watched JFK being sworn it three years earlier. I remember feeling for sorry for Robert Frost as the old man struggled to read his poem at the ceremony. The paper shook with the wind and his old age.
The country came to a stop for three days that November. School was cancelled and my family, who usually only watched TV for an hour a day, was glued to the little black and white set watching the somber funeral with the riderless black horse and little boy saluting as the coffin went by.
All these memories came flooding back to me today as we visited the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository where Lee Harvy Oswald balanced his rifle on a stack of Houghton Mifflin textbook boxes, leaned out the window and took aim. Even after all this time, Dallas seems to struggle with being so closely identified with this tragic event. There were many tourists gathered in Dealey Plaza, looking at the X on the pavement which marks where the fatal bullet had struck the presidential motorcade. The museum gave a fair account of events leading up to November 22 and showed Texans gathered at Love Field waiting to applaud their arriving president as well as full page ads in the local paper criticizing JFK For a number of decisions he had made. I was reminded how many big events took place during Kennedy's short presidency. There were panels on civil rights legislation, the Cuban missle crisis, the Peace Corps, the nuclear test ban treaty, the Berlin air lift, Kennedy's goal to have a man set foot on the moon within the decade, sending military advisors to Viet Nam, and numerous White House events in support of the arts. Although JFK was not the saint that he had been portrayed immediately after his assassination, he clearly was a charismatic leader and had many difficult issues on his plate. Watching the films where he waded into crowds and shook hands with the crowds, reminded me how much things have changed. It took 25 years for a congressional committee to make a final evaluation of the film, photos and recordings that were made that day and conclude that Oswald was the sole assassin. There are still questions about Jack Ruby's motivation in shooting Oswald. Was he trying to save Jackie from having to attend an Oswald trial, or was he paid to eliminate a murderer who might talk and point to others in the conspiracy?
These speculations do not have the same inherent level of interest as they did 40 years ago, but the memories of Camelot still appeal to people who wish the White House was still the magic place it was when they were children.