November 22, 2013.
Of those of us alive in the United States, there are three events that will forever be “where were you”. They are Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and nine eleven. Those who remember Pearl Harbor are now in their late 70s and beyond. Those of us over 55 can remember the other two and can vividly recall where they were on those truly infamous days.
November 22, 1963 I was a young officer’s wife at Little Rock Air Force Base. My husband, the history major, got me interested in current events. We went through the Cuban Missile crisis, which was a scary time when you live on a Strategic Air Command base. I always watched the presidential press conferences; I became interested in the civil rights movement. (A pretty traumatic time for a white girl from Spokane Washington living in Little Rock Arkansas) We all watched the televised White House Tour with Jackie Kennedy. Friends were joining the Peace Corps and we were all pretty starry eyed and idealistic.
That day I was at a lunch at the Officers’ Wives Club. Someone approached us and told us the president had been shot. I thought she was joking and waited for the punch line. The look on her face let me know there was no punch line. One of the other women and I drove home in silence listening to the radio. I continued to hold out hope that it was not as bad as the news reports were indicating. When we got to my driveway my companion, a catholic, gesticulated the sign of the cross. This chilled me as I recognized she was acknowledging something I could not yet bring myself to believe. He would be alright. This could not happen.
I hurried into the house to watch television in time to see the now immortalized scene of Walter Cronkite removing his glasses. If Walter said so, then it must be.
The United States came to a standstill for next several days. Everything closed down. No television shows, everything was solemn. Even our neighbors on the base, who had shown little love for the President were in shock and saddened. Some talked about how even though they did not agree with the politics of this President, they were saddened by the death of a family man and felt compassion for his widow and two small children. Many of our neighbors had children the same age.
We were glued to the television when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby right there on live television. We watched the funeral procession with young John John saluting the carriage carrying his father. We were all in various stages of trauma.
None of what I am telling here is new. Our younger generations grew up with these facts and it’s all been repeated over and over again this last week in the 24 hour news cycle. How does one convey the trauma, the feelings, the utter dismay. We are now accustomed to violence, murder, unthinkable acts. Not only was I young, but our nation was young. We were optimistic, we were hopeful. We had a president that inspired us to be better than we thought we could be.
In later years our jaded selves learned more. The man we admired had faults, was human and certainly not as healthy as we thought. But none of that mattered. Our dreams, our ideals were shattered. There would be many more assassinations, riots and violence and the scourge of the Viet Nam war. We were no longer young and idealistic.
Now we are no longer young. Some have never regained the idealism of youth. But for some of us, the dream lives on.