Reflections on the Kennedy Assassination

kennedy-sotu1I was 10 years old, sitting in my fifth grade class, when Mr. Schrader, principal at Irving School, came and knocked on the classroom door. He talked to my teacher in hushed tones. She physically recoiled, put her hand over her mouth and looked mortified by what he had told her.


My teacher returned to the class, visibly shaken, walked over to the door that connected with the sixth grade class and rapped on it. She spoke briefly and softly with the young sixth grade teacher next door. Suddenly that teacher turned white as a sheet and passed out cold in the doorway.


Something serious was up.


It was another fifteen minutes or so before the PA system revealed what had happened. President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas.


As I recall, school ended for the day shortly thereafter. I was excited to be heading home because my brother Mike was supposed to be arriving for the weekend from the Marine Corps.  I wanted to know what he thought about this.


But that didn’t happen. All military leave had been canceled and all branches of the service put on high alert. Instead my mother met him at the bus station with a bag of sandwiches and told him he had to head back to Camp Lejeune.


We sat glued in front of the television set over the next few days as the details slowly trickled in. Everyone was in shock. The neighborhood streets, normally full of kids playing after school, were empty.


A day or two later I watched my first murder live on TV as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. What the hell was going on?


No single event in my lifetime so changed the world. A young, energetic president lay in a casket, his infant son saluting as it rolled past. Iconic images were seared in our collective consciousness. The Zapruter film. Oswald reeling fro the bullet. The grassy knoll. Mrs Kennedy trying to climb to the back of the limo to retrieve a chunk of JFK’s skull. Crazy shit.


Ironically my brother Mike would be among the honor guard that watched over JFK in the rotunda as Americans filed by to pay their respects.


Pandora’s box was open. Over the next few years assassination became all too common as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy followed.


About a month after the assassination my fifth grade class did a memorial presentation at a school assembly.  Quotes from JFK were read, and the Robert Shaw Chorale’s recording of Deep River was played. When I got my first job in a record store, I bought that recording. I sobbed when I listened to it, not quite wondering why, but knowing that all of the emotions of that time were let loose by that tune.


A portrait of JFK hung in my parents’ bedroom throughout my childhood. It was one of the few effects I requested when my mother died in 2005.

~ by Daniel Buckley on November 22, 2013.

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