I remember what I was doing 50 years ago the morning of Nov. 22, 1963.
I was lying on my parents’ couch. I had stayed home from school that day, as I was suffering from a cold. The TV was broadcasting its usual daytime fare when suddenly a news bulletin flashed on the screen. Shots were fired at the presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas. The voice said it was unclear whether the president had been hit. Details to come when they become available, the voice said.
The details then came. Rapidly and in very short order. I sat straight up. President John F. Kennedy had been hit by the gunfire. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Then, shortly before noon Pacific Standard Time (in my hometown of Portland, Ore.) came the horrible news. The president is dead.
I called my mother, who was working. She let out a shriek. She hadn’t heard the news. My sisters came home from school at mid-day.
My first thought, even as someone not quite 14 years of age, was that the Russians were going to invade us. Our president was dead. We were defenseless, I thought. I didn’t quite realize, of course, that Vice President Lyndon Johnson — who was in Dallas on that terrible day — was taking the oath of office on the spot. He was in charge. We had a president after all.
And then the nation fell into its deep period of mourning.
A half-century later, we’re going to relive that terrible moment. Just as the nation looked back this summer at the 50th year since the March on Washington and the unofficial birth of the modern civil rights movement — not to mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spellbinding “I Have a Dream” speech — the United States and the world will mark the death of a young president who many still believe had much to offer the nation that elected him.
Public television will be full of specials, documentaries, commentary and analysis — and probably even will discuss some of the conspiracies that have been knocking around since Kennedy’s murder.
Historians will tell you it’s important to know where we’ve been to understand where we may be going. President Kennedy’s death at an assassin’s hand in some ways marked the end of our national innocence, or so some historians have noted. The road traveled by our nation since that day hasn’t been easy, but we’ve gotten through it.
I’ll be looking forward to remembering that time and perhaps looking back on it now as a grown man who’s been through a wonderful personal journey of my own ever since.
Think of it. Fifty years. It seems like yesterday.