It’s a week and a November 22nd when every Baby Boomer is going to tell you where they were and I am no exception.
At age 13, I was in Mrs Sonigan’s 7th grade speech class when the class abruptly ended at Pickering Junior High near Wyoma Square in Lynn, Massachusetts. This was just one year removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis when, at age 12, I thought it was over for me and everyone else by way of nuclear annihilation. But then Kennedy, not listening to General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay, and Khrushchev, resisting his own hawks in the Kremlin, cut the deal to allow me to get to junior high.
I don’t know whether the news from Dallas came over the principal’s office intercom or from Mrs Sonigan herself on that Friday. But school got out early for the weekend. There was a bus ride home full of nervous guessing by some classmates and then a long, sad three days of black and white television.
The murder of the 46-year-old 35th President in Dealey Plaza profoundly changed the course of U.S. History in ways we’ll never know. Some historians and observers says Vietnam and much of the turbulence of the 1960s may have been averted had Kennedy lived. On the other hand, there is some doubt that Kennedy could have gotten all that was attained in the aftermath and mood created after his death. President Johnson’s legislative genius is greatly responsible for the civil rights acts and a War against Poverty (Head Start, Meals on Wheels) that came out of the Kennedy and Johnson years.
The war in Vietnam that haunted JFK’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the subsequent murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (on the night of my senior prom) killed the “high hopes” Kennedy brought.
Being Irish and Catholic and living in Massachusetts we took it like a death in the family. In truth, however, the mourning was ecumenical and universal. “This is a sad day for all people,” President Johnson drawled getting off the plane with Kennedy’s body. Before 24/7 cable, McLuhan’s electronic “global village” connected all in grief and shock to watch the events unfold on TV.
The other and more uplifting thing to remember about 11-22-63 is that a ton of people in local and national offices, including me, came into or got interested in politics and public service because of Kennedy’s “Ask not” call to serve.
That is still the lasting part of JFK’s 1,000 days in office — days long ago but not forgotten this week.