Posted in Observations

Anniversary Year

jfkIt wasn’t until last week, when I was browsing in my local Barnes & Noble, that I was reminded this year marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It’s only January, but the current array of Kennedyana on bookstore shelves is growing geometrically, and TV documentaries hashing and rehashing the Zapruder film will appear with increasing frequency in the coming months.

I was a twelve year-old in 7th grade on November 22, 1963, and this was the first national trauma I experienced firsthand. I remember other landmark events of that time—the 1956 political conventions (only because they preempted “The Mickey Mouse Club”), JFK’s inauguration (because a snow storm cancelled school that day) and the flights of the Mercury astronauts—but this, of course, was entirely different.

My not-yet adolescent frame of reference was limited: my first reaction upon hearing the school principal’s announcement that the President had been shot was “Lincoln was shot. They don’t shoot Presidents anymore.” My parents’ generation, of course, remembered other incidents: Giuseppe Zangara’s attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt ending in the death of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and the shoot-out in front of Blair House, then occupied by the Truman family while the White House was undergoing renovation. And they had experienced FDR’s death in office, though as my mother told me during JFK’s televised funeral, the circumstances were very different. FDR was visibly ill during his final months, and it was wartime, when death was a constant event. The murder of a president in the prime of his life in 1963 was on another plane altogether.

Since then we’ve learned more than enough about JFK’s reckless behavior, his reliance on amphetamine injections from a shadowy Dr. Feelgood and other excesses, both personal and political, of his administration. The conspiracy theorists have run amok, fingering anyone and everyone from Lyndon Johnson to the Mafia to the CIA. I’ve come full circle myself, going from Oswald as the sole shooter to the existence of a grassy knoll gunman and back to Oswald alone. Occam’s Razor, people.

However, this year I think we need to put all this aside and remember the depth and commonality of loss the country suffered when its president was murdered. Not to wallow in grief, but to give full acknowledgment to the enormity of a nation’s elected head of state being removed from office through violence. Yet we also need to be reminded that in times of national tragedy, the country can and will endure. For all its being abused and misused by politicians and interest groups of all stripes, our Constitution is a marvelous thing, a document that provides structure and assures continuity when it feels like the world is falling apart.

So when November 22nd arrives let’s remember not just the man and the deed, but our ability to move forward, beyond tragedy.

3 thoughts on “Anniversary Year

  1. Yes, I remember that feeling of gloom that wouldn’t go away. Not for several months, but then the Beatles arrived in February ’64, and things brightened up, at least for me. And oddly enough, the one thing I didn’t see live was Oswald getting shot. I was in the kitchen at the time, making a sandwich. The weird stuff you remember….

    1. I’m with you, Betty, about remembering weird things. The Levines – my parents old friends who were visiting – brought a deli platter, including herring in cream sauce. I’d never had it before. Now, herring in cream sauce always brings me back to our den and the garage of the Dallas Police Department. And Mary and Selig Levine.

  2. You bring up lots of memories, Betty. First off, Holy Cow! FIFTY years? Can that be? Like you, I thought of Lincoln when I heard in my last class (I was a senior in h.s.) that Kennedy had been shot. I thought, unlike Lincoln, modern medicine would save JFK, right? My mother kept saying, please don’t let the assasin be a Jew or a Negro. Well, a Jew did shoot Oswald, on live TV, not less. I was in the den, by myself, and came running upstairs where my parents were talking with a couple who were visiting from out of town. “They shot Oswald! It was live on TV! I saw it!”

    Most of all, I remember that the entire nation seemed enveloped in a cloud of sorrow. (Well, maybe not in Texas.) When I finally left the house, after days of watching on television, it seemed very strange, but you knew that everyone else was also enveloped in that nightmare and we all seemed to be in a daze.

    I have two books that I will be reading over the next few months. The novel “11/22/63” and William Manchester’s “Death of the President.” The atmosphere of hatred against Kennedy in Dallas before his visit is very much like the venom spread by the Tea Party and many others in the GOP; very scary. As JFK is deciding whether to go to Texas, you want to yell: Listen to your advisors who say not to go! (Manchester lived up the street from us in Middletown, Connecticut and we would sometimes get his mail by mistake.)

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