Funny how a simple date has the capacity to define a generation.
For my parents, the date always carried in their heart, was December 7th, 1941. Today's young people will most likely have September 11th as their foremost remembrance. For my generation, every time the date November 22nd appears on our calendar, we flashback to the horrific day of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.
That date is etched into my heart and mind. It changed the world forever and took the innocence of an entire generation. Many of us considered ourselves the “children of Kennedy". President Kennedy represented a new moment of hope in our history. He convinced us that to honor our country and to serve others in the world was a great aspiration. His grace, charm and charisma left us breathless. The concept of "Camelot" in the White House was real. The President was the leader of a new land and, at his side was the fair lady, Jacqueline. We were optimistic and proud.
There is a cafe in War, West Virginia that has a calendar on the wall permanently showing November 22nd, 1963. When asked about it, the older waitress simply says, "Honey, that is the day our hope died. That calendar has been like that since that day.” The anniversary of his death this week, hung sadly in my mind as well.
Being a junior in high school, I was between classes when a classmate rushed up and shouted, "They shot Kennedy". The guy was always the class clown and I didn't take him too seriously; I thought it was a horrible joke. The rumors buzzed as I settled into my next class. There was a terrible anxiety in the air. We gathered around the radio in Mr. Hickey's history class and listened to the bulletins pouring out of Dallas.
A few minutes later, the dreaded announcement came over the small transistor radio, "The President of the United States is Dead" quickly followed by classical music. I lost it. Soon everyone in our small high school in Woodstown, New Jersey was crying and sobbing. Most of all we were stunned, no one quite knew what to do. I was out of control and kept hitting my fist into my locker and weeping like a baby.
After a silent school bus ride home, I turned on the radio and my favorite rock-n- roll station, WIBG in Philly, was playing only classical music. My parents stopped work early and came home in disbelief. We all gathered around the television set to watch the news. I saw tears in my parents’ eyes. The sight was extremely rare and it scared me.
After many hours, my father broke the sad living room silence and enlisted me to ride with him to Sherman Ale's country store to get some groceries. The newsstand headline confirmed in the darkest and boldest of print, "PRESIDENT DEAD!" Even with the massive headlines, I just couldn't believe our brilliant, young leader was gone. It wasn't possible.
My father and I returned home just as the television cut to the live feed of Air Force One’s arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. My family watched in horror as the First Lady, her suit splattered with the President’s blood, followed the casket of our fallen hero. Mrs. Kennedy’s heartbreaking eyes confirmed that the day was, in fact, real. The band played sorrowfully through the television speaker while an entire world was quiet as he was placed in the hearse and taken to the White House. We knew then it was true.
I, like most Americans that night, cried myself to sleep.
(This was reprinted from a blog post five years ago)