Between the time the John Kennedy was murdered while riding in a Dallas motorcade on a Friday and the following Sunday when the nation watched his flag draped casket carried through the streets of the nation's capital, two other significant events of that three day span took place. The murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin took place LIVE on national TV and, of course, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the next president all happened within hours of each other.
I recall wanting to stay in front of the TV every second but my stern father wouldn't allow that. It was Saturday, the day after the assassination and there were leaves to rake, lawns to mow, and with no football games (at least college games) time to complete some tasks that had long been overlooked. Maybe it was because my parents had seen the death of a president before, even an assassination attempt on Truman's life, that they tried to avoid the 24/7 media coverage. I, however, could not. I kept sneaking into my room and turning on my transistor radio to listen to any further developments in this ongoing tragedy.
When I heard the bulletin that Oswald had been shot, I rushed out to the rest of my family and boldly announced, "Oswald's been shot, we gotta turn on the TV, it just happened."
Even my sometimes tyrannical father couldn't prevent the Packard Bell from showing us the latest incredulous event unfolding.
They showed the scene over and over. The name Jack Ruby surfaced. It sounded like something out of the wild west and being Texas, it certainly figured.
We all knew something big was going done, but as Bob Dylan would later sing, "You know something's happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
In the last few days, on this 50th anniversary of the events that taken together comprise what we call the Kennedy Assassination, I've followed and heard many stories, recollections, and versions of how those days have impacted and informed the years and culture that followed. I would agree with the PBS newscaster Jim Lehre who simply noted that the big take way for him was the fragility of it all. Just how fragile our lives and world view can be.
Sure it was a right of passage, a loss of innocence, and wake up call. It was any other cliche and personal experience you can name. For me, it opened the door to mistrust and fear of my own government. In the years that followed I had an opportunity to see Bobby Kennedy speak about a month before the night he won the California primary and was assassinated himself. After marveling at the entire Kennedy clan and hearing some opening remarks, a noisy disruption broke out behind me in the large crowd that had assembled at Cal State Northridge. They were chanting something inaudible but I got a glimpse of a sign one person held. It was Don Costello, a boisterous character from my high school years. He's apparently traded in his cheerleader outfit for political theater. The chant and the sign all said the same thing. "Open Up the Archives" They knew there was more to the story. Somehow if they encouraged Bobby Kennedy, as President, to review the assassination of his brother and tell the truth to the American people, we would all be better off. They certainly didn't think Lyndon Johnson would do it; he was out of the picture now. I can't help but wonder how many young men and women in that crowd that day went to Vietnam. How many never came back alive?