Monday, November 18, 2013

The Saddest Place to be--Dallas, Texas, November 23, 1963

I'm sorry, but the media is wrong.

Not everyone took Kennedy's assassination seriously. When I came home to New Mexico for Thanksgiving, I was shocked to find friends who laughed about keggers Sunday night and sleeping in the day of the funeral. They were miles from the epicenter. I suspect their numbers were legion.

I was a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The story I want to tell has evolved over the last 50 years, and questions still exist.

I had a poly sci class at 11, and classmates offered me a chance to go downtown to see the President. I refused. Two years before, my senior year in high school I stayed awake till 4 a.m. to find out Kennedy had won. I was grief-stricken. My Modern European History teacher looked as bad as I did, and he had stayed up as late. He was elated.

I had a noon business math class. When I left class, something was going on. Something bad. People were sitting in their cars and listening to their radios. I heard one boy tell another,"That means Lyndon Johnson could be president."

And I began to run.

I burst into my sorority house to find the cook and I the only ones in the television room. I heard Walter Cronkite say the President was dead. I remember we backed away from the television. We both had our arms extended to ward off this truth.

I was so young I still believed in civilization. The last assassination wasWilliam McKinley Sept. 5, 1901. I honestly thought civilization had grown up beyond  killing a President.

The school held a candlelight vigil. Of course it did. What else do schools do? I went.

I heard they caught Oswald. As a journalism major, I thought to order a paper. The Dallas Morning News was sold out. I have my Dallas Herald, which has been defunct for years. And yeah, I'm wondering if it is worth anything.

I went to church on Sunday, First Methodist in downtown Dallas. After the sermon, a man brought a message to the pastor. He froze, then told us carefully that Jack Ruby had killed Oswald. We prayed. I didn't listen much. I was absorbing a crazy reality.

That afternoon, three of us drove downtown with thousands to circle Dealy plaza. In the car, away from supervision, we laughed and joked with each other. No, not about the President. But we laughed. I realized a few days later I had heard no laughter at all for three days.

Dallas took it hard.. We young people took it hard. We felt smirched.

In 1965, I spent 10 weeks in Europe. When people learned I was from Texas, they always asked about Kennedy, and Dallas. I remember an African student who was shocked I would speak to him. He was used to apartheid. We spent an interesting afternoon drinking tea and talking. I hope he felt better about Americans afterwards.

Let's see. It was the Birch Society, an ultra-conservative group with a base in Dallas. We speculated about assassination beforehand.  Not too seriously. But we speculated. Was it after Kennedy's death that politicians and Popes quit traveling in open cars where they were fish in a barrel? I think so.

I love pageantry and history. I was glued to the television on Monday.

I later went to work for the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

The Kennedys spent Thursday evening and night in Fort Worth, only 30 miles from Dallas. A couple of years ago, a friend and I ran into a docent at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. We knew each other's names. He and Mrs. Carter picked art especially for the President's suite with Mrs. Kennedy, knowing of her great love of great art. He toured us all over the museum to show us those paintings then.

A PBS show featuring them recently was shown on television, and they were wonderful paintings.

In my years as a reporter, I also met one of the surgeons who served the President in his dying moments.

This morning, a newsman I know published a picture I knew well. You see, when Oswald was buried, no one would carry his coffin to the grave..Reporters I knew for years picked up the casket and carried it. It opened a door for occasional news stories through the years. Oswald's mother was grateful. And, well, the casket needed to be taken to the burial spot. They were kind of neutral. No one would scoff at them unnecessarily. Not even the funeral home provided staff for this.

I have watched some of the hoopla and interviews, but not many.

I don't intend to listen to the showpiece Friday.  I still hope to visit the Sixth Floor Book Depository Museum, and I would like to before I die.

Assassinations are big. Kennedy was adored by so many. This assassination, to me, is a demarcation.  Before. Kennedy was called the Camelot Administration. And then there was After.

Please get it. I was not a fan. But---MURDER.

When the towers were destroyed in 2001, I was shocked, hurt, sorry that enemies had hurt us again, horrified by the number of victims. But when Kennedy died---

The world has never been the same again.

1 comment:

charlotte g said...

Getting through this day has been harder than I had imagined. Qoq.