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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Week Never to Forget

Now, everyone be honest when you answer this question?

Was there anything significant about last Monday, November 22? How about the twenty-fourth—or the twenty-fifth?

Think hard, for there is also a little touch of irony mixed in.

After all, it was only forty-seven years ago.

If you can’t pin it down, you aren’t by yourself. I was surprised when none of the local media I read and watch failed to feature it. I had to go online to MSNBC to find any mention of the incident. In all fairness, a few stations did pick it up on the evening news—you know, sort of a knee jerk reaction when they realized the significance of the date.

Reminds me of the lack of exposure for D-Day; Pearl Harbor; and others.

Forty-seven years ago last Monday, November 22, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

There isn’t a person who was alive back then who doesn’t remember where he was when the news hit the airways.

I was teaching at Haltom High School in the Birdville School District (yep, that is a real school district) on the outskirts of Fort Worth.

There was a great deal of animosity toward the president back then. He was Catholic; he was rich; his ideas were too liberal; and half-a-dozen other common gripes when folks don’t like a president. Many voters felt he was leading us in the wrong path although he had earlier stood up to Russia and forced them to remove missiles from Cuba.

In case you don’t remember that incident, I’ll just remind you the U.S. was only hours away from a nuclear war.

Our country had never had a Catholic president. I didn’t know much about Catholicism, so I was concerned about the influence the Church would have on Kennedy as president. Consequently, I voted for Nixon who had served as vice-president under Eisenhower.

I know, I know. I was much younger and lot dumber. And sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever gotten any smarter. My wife says I haven’t.

But anyway, on that day, a Friday, during my conference period, I popped in the men’s lounge for a cigarette. Two or three of us were sitting there discussing Kennedy’s visit to Fort Worth the night before and his parade currently underway in Dallas.

The door burst open and the shop teacher stuck his head in. “What do you think about shooting Kennedy?”

Now the sixties were a different time, a different period with little or no political correctness.

Thinking he was just joking, I popped off and said, “I think it’s a good idea.”
The other guys laughed with me.

The shop teacher gaped at us. “No. I mean, it happened. Some Dallas idiot shot the president.”

We were all stunned and mortified by our joke.

The principal came on the speakers, announcing the news.

The rest of the day, we sat in classes with our students, everyone listening to the
minute-by-minute report of the tragedy that had taken place not thirty miles from us.

There wasn’t a sound in that whole school building when the announcement came that the president had died.

I didn’t see the TV, but word was that Walter Cronkite broke down when he announced
the president’s death.

That year Thanksgiving came late, the twenty-eighth, so instead of just Thursday and Friday holidays, the district turned us out for the entire week. We stayed glued to the TV. On Sunday, November 24, we saw Jack Ruby shoulder his way through the crowd and shoot Oswald.

Kennedy was buried Monday, the twenty-fifth. Everyone in the country watched the procession. None can forget Jackie’s tender kiss on the flag draping the casket, nor Caroline’s tiny hand touching the coffin, nor the poignancy of little John-John’s salute.

None of us moved a muscle as the casket was placed on the caisson and the procession began.

Those days will always be etched in my memory just as Pearl Harbor and the other significant events that mark the passage of our civilization from an age of innocence to the global miasma of uncertainty and confusion facing us today.

The irony? The assassin of the president died the day before the president was buried.

I once scoffed at the Camelot allusion regarding the president and his wife. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t laugh at it. I would embrace it.

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