Many of us who live “ordinary lives” seem to drift by thinking that one day is just like all the others. As we grow older we tend to think that way even more. However, there are events that take place that forever shape our lives and our view of life in general. It is amazing but you can almost remember every detail of those significant days.
It was not unlike any other crisp autumn day in Osceola, Arkansas USA. Grudgingly, I crawled out of bed, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got dressed and gathered all of my books for yet another day in the fifth grade. Thanksgiving was now less than a week away and that meant four whole days away from school.
Baseball season was over and NFL football and NBA basketball were in full swing and I listened intently to the scores on the car radio as Dad drove me to school that Friday morning. For most of the day the sun was shinning, revealing the bright colors of the autumn foliage. It was not until mid-afternoon when the tone and mood of the day began to shift.
By the last recess of the day, around 2:15, the sky had turned a dull gray and a very cold north wind had begun to blow. There was a distinct chill in the air – something that I had not felt before. Still, we went about our routine of pretending we were Johnny Unitas in a game of schoolyard football. By the time we got back to our classroom the rumors were beginning to circulate.
“Was the president was shot today?” one student asked our teacher. Some students actually cheered when they heard the report but I believe it was because they believed it was just a hoax and not because they actually hoped President Kennedy was dead.
Mrs. Byers' normally stoic voice became quite shaky. A look came over her face that made her look very different.
“We're weren't supposed to tell you (the children) but since you asked, it is true President Kennedy was shot and killed today in downtown Dallas, Texas,” she stated as she wiped a tear from her eye.
I heard the words but they didn't really sink in. Barely 11 years old, I understood the words but at that point I hardly understood the ramifications of that moment in history. By the time we headed home from school there was a heavy rain beating down. I would like to note here, it later seemed as though it was raining almost every place in the world from which television was reporting. It was like the angels in heaven were grieved to tears over the horrible event of that November 22 day.
When I entered my home, Mom was glued to the TV set listening to every word Walter Cronkite had to say and watching every historic minute. Our entire family would watch TV almost non-stop for the next three days.
Page 2 of 3 - By nightfall, the alleged assassin was in custody at Dallas Police headquarters. The real life drama continued to unfold as the world got the first glimpse of the man accused of killing the 35th president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. With cameras rolling, officers paraded Lee Harvey Oswald from one interrogation room to another. Along the way, officers displayed the mail-ordered rifle believed used to murder the president of the United States.
It must have been the quietest Saturday on record. Nothing moved on the streets. The stores closed. College and professional football games were cancelled. The people of America were unified during these hours of grief. We cried with the Kennedy family and beat our chests asking, “How could something like this happen in America?”
The body of the president was brought back to Washington where it would lie in state in the Capitol building. Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the streets of D.C. to pay their last respects to their former commander-in-chief.
More drama unfolded on Sunday morning. Mom, my brother Mike and I attended church like any other Sunday morning. Dad stayed at home continuing to watch the proceedings of TV.
Attention returned to Dallas where Oswald was about to be transferred from the city jail to the county prison facility. As officers were escorting the alleged assassin, a dark figure stepped out of the crowd and fired a shot point blank into Oswald's abdomen. He collapsed as officers struggled with the gunman who was eventually subdued and later identified as Jack Ruby, the owner of a nightclub and strip joint with reported ties to organized crime.
Oswald was forever silenced. While he might never have told the entire truth there was no doubt now that the public would never hear his side of the story.
Dad saw the events unfold right before his eyes on live TV.
“Come here, you won't believe this,” Dad said as we walked through the door. “They were transferring Oswald to another jail and a man came out of the crowd and shot and killed him.”
On Monday, Mrs. Byers brought a TV to school so that we could watch the president's funeral processional. Television sets were rarely allowed on school campuses back in those days. The images of the longest weekend were forever etched in my memory. There was Jackie Kennedy kneeling alongside the casket containing her husband, kissing the American flag as a token of respect of her fallen husband. Those who remember those days will never forget a young John Kennedy Jr. saluting the coffin as the body of his slain father passed.
One of the last images I recall was the “Eternal Flame” at the foot of the grave of the president as the world said goodbye one last time.
Page 3 of 3 - Without question, I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald fired those fateful shots in Dallas but I still subscribe to the conspiracy theory. There are simply too many coincidences that must somehow but figured into the equation but we really probably never know for certain.
It doesn't seem possible that 50 years have passed. The three shots that rang out in Dealy Plaza in Dallas on November 22, 1963 violently brought an end to Camelot and the age of innocence. Tragedies and wars of epic proportions have occurred over the last five decades but probably none that had the lasting repercussions. America as we knew her was gone forever.