Looking ahead to Dallas plus 50 …

It is my fervent hope — indeed, my belief — that public television is going to relive a terrible moment in our national history, one that is burned in the memories of those old enough to remember when it happened.

In November, the nation is going to look back 50 years to a day in Dallas when a 46-year-old U.S. president was murdered as his motorcade rolled past the School Book Depository Building.

I am expecting public TV to be at the front and center of that tragic remembrance.

President John F. Kennedy’s death shocked us all.

Where was I on that day? I was lying on the couch in my parents’ living, sick with a cold; I stayed home from school. The news bulletin flashed on the screen: Shots fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas. The president may have been injured.

Then came the terrible news. The president had been hit and had been rushed to Parkland Hospital.

About an hour or so later came the worst news: The president was dead.

Students in my hometown of Portland, Ore., were sent home when the news became known. I telephoned my mother at her office when I knew what had happened. She shrieked over the phone. I was not quite 14 years of age on that November day.

My first thought, so help me, was that the Russians were responsible and were going to invade the United States. Our president was dead and that was the time for the communists to attack us. Well, it didn’t happen, obviously.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was in that Dallas motorcade, took the oath of office on Air Force One and flew back to Washington, D.C., to try to say something — anything — that would lend comfort to a grief-stricken nation.

In the five decades since then, every theory under the sun has emerged as to who did this terrible deed. I remain convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald, who was arrested that afternoon, was the killer. He didn’t get to stand trial, as he was gunned down in the Dallas Police Department basement by Jack Ruby a couple of days later.

But stil, the theories have persisted. Some of them are serious; others of them are concoctions of wild imaginations; still more are the product of individuals who just like keeping conspiracies alive. We would learn later about fears within the Kennedy administration about the “right-wing extremists” who opposed Kennedy’s policies prior to the president’s trip to Dallas. However, Oswald — who I believe fired the fatal shots — was a dedicated communist. Go figure.

Public television will be doing its part to tell and retell that terrible story. KACV-TV will be full of programming later this year as the nation remembers this dark chapter in its history.

It will be painful to watch, but we must.


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