On this day in history, a President of the United States was assassinated, shot and killed in Dallas and while it was not the first time in the history of our country that the President was murdered, the death of the 35th President changed our culture in a very poignant way and embedding the people of the United States in a mystery that despite what the Warren Commission reported on, has never really been solved and won’t be until the sealed records are eligible to be unsealed – and even then they may be buried again.
And I was around when it happened. I was eight years old, sitting in my third grade classroom when a knock came at the door; our teacher, Mrs. Tilford, excused herself and stepped outside, only to come back in a moment later, her face distraught as if something wrong had happened.
“Children, gather your things – everyone is going home,” she had said, her voice trembling and, at least to this very curious third grader, looking like she was going to cry.
We were still in our seats, kinda waiting for her to tell us why we were going home early and, after taking a moment or two to compose herself, she uttered the words I would remember for years to come: “Someone has shot and killed President Kennedy…”
I remember being shocked along with the rest of my classmates, knowing that killing someone was bad but not really understanding exactly why this was very bad. We finally managed to get out of our seats, get our coats and stuff, and leave school. I only had five blocks to travel from the school to the apartment building we lived in and I was surprised to find both of my parents home – and they were upset, sitting in front of the slightly new black and white TV while the voice of some man on the TV was talking about how the President got shot and relaying the news that he’d just been pronounced dead.
I sat with them and watched on the TV as the unseen man told how President Kennedy and his wife were riding in the presidential limo (“Daddy, what’s a limo?”) when gunshots rang out and the President slumped over, his wife holding him, how the Secret Service agents went into action, and that, apparently, the governor of Texas had gotten shot, too.
I remember bits and pieces of that day after I got home, how my father was angry when he heard on the TV that, apparently, the President didn’t use his famous bubble-top and, somewhere along the line, they’d caught some guy named Lee Harvey Oswald and had arrested him.
I remember watching on TV as that Oswald guy was being taken somewhere, surrounded by a lot of serious-looking police officers when some guy in a dark suit jumped in front of Oswald and I heard a loud bang – I will remember the look on Oswald’s face as the bullet hit him as well as the look on the face of the officer standing to Oswald’s right with the big cowboy hat on for the rest of my days as the voice on the TV reported that some guy named Jack Ruby had just killed the man who had killed the President of the United States.
Everything else is a bit of a blur because it seems to me the next thing I remember was President Kennedy’s funeral, his flag-draped casket being taken to the Capitol; I remember the riderless horse and someone on TV explaining why the horse had no rider – but there were boots in the stirrups and they were facing backward.
I remember seeing that famous salute rendered by his son, too.
It was a terribly sad time and I remember the adults around me being angry – really angry – and asking the question, “How could this have happened?”
Fifty years later, people are still asking that question. I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery, once to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and once to President Kennedy’s grave, where the eternal flame continues to burn. It’s been five decades since that horrible day and I’ve seen almost all of the stuff on TV that tries to explain what really happened that day or tries to prove that there was some conspiracy to kill the most popular President of our time and, yeah, how the United States government itself had ordered the hit – I’ve heard that the CIA did it and, recently, that President Johnson himself was a part of the conspiracy… or was it Castro down there in Cuba? I know that that whole Bay of Pigs incident pissed off Fidel and his Russian handlers big time – that was some scary shit because it was the first time (that anyone really knew of) that we were close to pushing the nuclear button – and, yeah, we spent a lot of time hiding under our desks and marching through the halls of the school to its air raid shelter, marked by that then cool-looking Civil Defense logo.
Fifty years… and there are no concrete or definitive answers. There are still files that have not been declassified and made available to the public, files that were ordered sealed until 2017 and, supposedly, they were ordered sealed until this future year because by then, everyone who could have been associated with the assassination would be dead and buried, according to conspiracy theorists.
I’ve never got caught up in the conspiracy theories; what I know is that when I was eight years old, a President of the United States was murdered publicly, that he had the most impressive funeral I had ever seen, and that no one seems to know beyond the shadow of any doubt why this popular and powerful President had to die – and who ordered it to be done. The events of that day did serve to prove something I learned many years later: The first rule of assassination is to kill the assassin and that what the pirates used to say is also true: Dead men tell no tales.
Eventually, the entire true story and facts will be revealed…