I was a baby, just turned 2 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on a Friday in November 1963. I have no real memories of the time beyond a hazy recollection of sadness and a little black and white TV kept in the corner always being on.
Of course I’ve heard (and read) a lot about that event since — I attended an elementary school that bore his name. I grew up in “Kennedy” country, also known as Massachusetts, though by the time I was old enough to cast a vote, the name had been tarnished beyond repair. Still Jackie always fascinated me. To this day, I believe John F. Kennedy was a great President; understanding that he had his flaws (we all do) and was taken from the world before he had a chance to make any big mistakes. I think his ideas and intentions were good, he was a genuine war hero, young and charming and full of potential. That image of Camelot holds us all captive even now – 50 years later.
Watching the news footage from the day of the assassination, I’m struck by how innocent those times were. It goes beyond the shaky black and white footage, beyond image quality and how very far TV news has come since then. People wore hats and were genuinely moved to tears at the news. There was decorum and respect for authority, there seemed no need for excessive precaution. No one knew quite how to manage (or report) a crime of such magnitude — the very public murder of the leader of the free world at a time when free really meant something — it was a true unknown.
Sadly we’ve come very far from those days.
It’s as if the assassination of JFK somehow caused the US (as a country) to grow up, and grow up fast. It was the moment we as a nation first realized we were not invincible, when the idea our government could lie to us took hold. Our handsome, smiling leader was killed right before our eyes, the best security of the time had been outwitted by a little man longing for greatness. We had to get tougher. We needed to become more wary, less trusting. And so we have, to the point that TV news often appears to be rooting for a death toll, a path of destruction or juicy back story in the events they cover.
“If it bleeds, it leads.”
Generations since have each had their “Kennedy moment” — an event so shockingly terrible that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. The shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 was the first such event for many of my age… watching that was horrible, especially after all the hype about the first teacher in space. Then there was 9/11 — a sunny Tuesday morning that shook us all to the very core, that left us feeling under siege, not safe in our own country. A shame that there are many other events in schools and cinemas I could list, but that is totally depressing, not at all what I’m after here.
It’s no surprise, if you think about it, that the Kennedy assassination spawned so many conspiracy theories. People believe the truth is being withheld — that someone knows and isn’t telling or has taken the secret to the grave. I don’t think we’ll ever have the truth of that day, but not having an answer fuels the questions, gives credence to the theories.
And then there’s this — with all the 50th hoopla, the documentaries and remembrances, I can’t help but think of Caroline, the last of Camelot, alone to mark the day. How terribly sad and lonely it must be for her. What harsh memories must it bring to mind. God bless her. My heart breaks for her, and I hope she is surrounded by people who love her, that she finds comfort in the knowledge that so many share her sense of loss.