OPINION – We are falling upon one of those iconic milestone’s in history that will call for, of course, a media barrage of epic proportion: the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Now, I haven’t looked at a U.S. history book in quite some time, so I don’t know if the JFK assassination is a feature or footnote for today’s students. The upcoming observance of his death, however, will serve as a poignant reminder of just how far the generation gap can widen and how radically things have changed since President Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. The much-younger generation just doesn’t know what we lost that day.
Maybe they will learn as the prose grows in the days leading up to the anniversary. Already I am seeing stories relating to that day, trying to explain that day, even though it remains wrapped in mystery and controversy. I mean, why don’t we, 50 years after the fact, know who hatched and executed the plot, which investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded was, indeed, a conspiracy?
Some of us will never learn the truth about that day and the events leading up to it, but we will always remember it as one of the most shocking “Where were you when you heard the news” moments of our lifetime.
I was a sixth-grader at Iveland School in Overland, Mo. My teacher was a gentle, soulful man named Marvin Beckerman who helped me find my inner-self on social and cultural issues.
He was a rather tall, slightly overweight man who wore heavy, black, horn-rimmed glasses and spoke so softly that I asked to sit up towards the front of the classroom so I could hear him.
The first day of school, I was terrified of him.
The second day of school, I realized that this was a man I could learn from, and not just the Three R’s.
And I am ever grateful that I was in his classroom on that gray, stormy day as the wind swirled and the rain fell at a steady, mournful pace. There was no recess that day, and we went back to the classroom after lunch instead of the playground.
We were in the middle of a lesson when one of the school administrators walked up to the classroom door and motioned for Mr. Beckerman to step into the hall.
He was ashen when he returned.
“I have some bad news,” he told the class. “Apparently, President Kennedy has just been shot in Dallas, Texas. I don’t know how he is, but in a couple of minutes, the principal will put the radio broadcast on our speakers.”
He sat behind his desk, tears spilling from his big, sad eyes.
Moments later, the classroom speaker sputtered on and we were listening to a news broadcast from Dallas.
There wasn’t much new information and after a few minutes, the speaker went silent.
Mr. Beckerman told us that the rest of the day’s lessons would be put to the side. He encouraged us to take out our library books and read.
A couple of hours later, the school bell rang, dismissing us for the day.
I walked out into the rain and saw my mother behind the wheel of our 1956 Pontiac. I opened the door and could see she had been crying.
“They killed President Kennedy today,” she said.
And, like the rest of the nation, I went home to grieve.
Dad came home from work early that day and we sat glued to the little black and white TV, watching the news as the networks went into 24/7 coverage that would last through the following Monday, which was declared a national day of mourning, meaning no school, no work, nothing as the nation buried its young leader.
I remember we went to my grandmother’s house the next day, then church on Sunday. On the way home, Dad decided we needed an ice cream, so he drove us to our favorite parlor. He parked the car and we walked to the door, only to find it closed.
As we got back into the car for the drive home, the radio announced that Jack Ruby had just shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Department.
It was utterly unbelievable.
Of course, the JFK assassination was, in reality, the way the world did business back then. It was nothing for feuding governments to use assassins to eliminate foes. Even the United States had blood on its hands, having backed insurgents in The Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and elsewhere.
The lid on violence in this country, in fact, was lifted with the killing of JFK as Robert F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gov. George Wallace and Malcolm X were gunned down in short order. It’s how the world turned back then. We slipped further into madness.
We had kids killed by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State, we had cops beating the hell out of protesters in Chicago and Miami. We had terror in the streets with race riots in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Watts, and elsewhere across the nation.
It was not a pleasant time in U.S. history.
Until those gunshots echoed through Dealey Plaza we were a nation of hope, leadership, unity.
We were a nation with resolve and purpose; building and seeking; growing and maturing.
The nation was led with vision, vigor, purpose, dignity, but most of all the promise of a better future and it was not a stretch to refer to that time in poetic terms that are undeserved when discussing those who followed and how the honor of a nation was soiled by greed and power these last 50 years by shills more intent on personal gain and petty politics than serving the nation.
JFK was a fan of the Broadway musical “Camelot,” which became a metaphor for his administration.
His favorite line from the Lerner and Loewe score was:
Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.
His grieving widow wrote her own coda, a statement remarkably prophetic and poignant that pretty well sums up the last 50 years.
There’ll be great Presidents again, but there’ll never be another Camelot again … it will never be that way again.
Sadly, she was right.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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