JFK ASSASSINATION — 50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK

On November 22, Americans will commemorate  the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. I’ve been  remembering my own experience of that overwhelming event recently because of all the television movies and documentaries about the  background and the occasion.  I was in my last year of college at William and Mary in Virginia when the President died. Some of my classmates attended the funeral since it was only about 150 miles north to Washington, D.C.

 

Eternal Flame & gravestones President John F. Kennedy & wife Jacqueline.

Eternal Flame & gravestones President John F. Kennedy & wife Jacqueline. Photo taken by Hans Giraud.

As a diary keeper, it was vitally important for me to write down my thoughts about that  heart-breaking time. I have to chuckle a bit at my serious tone, as if I were documenting this tragic event for history, which indeed I have since my blog does have readers all over the world. I have kept most of my diaries through countless moves (27 at last count)  and here is my contribution to the reactions on campus in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s hard to believe that it was 50 years ago!

22 November. At 1:50 p.m. today the greatest political as well as human tragedy I have known in my 20 years occurred when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, by an assassin’s bullet. This was such a momentous and horrible tragedy that I must set it down.

It affects me as a human and as an American. One can hardly believe it happened—in fact I can still scarcely take it in, nor for that matter can anyone else on this campus or in these United States or, I doubt, in the world.

The tragedy occurred in Dallas (central time) at 12:30. Twenty minutes later the news came over the radio as I was calmly addressing a letter to Steve [my love interest at the time]. When the radio said a perhaps fatal wound, I couldn’t help hoping that he might live. But little chance with a gunshot wound through the right temple. It was utterly unbelievable.

I went to work this afternoon [I had a part-time job in the Law Library] but could only bear it for a half hour. At this time it wasn’t sure that he would die but then he did while I was there.

Horror & disbelief were the first reactions. About my first words were, “Oh, My God.” On my way to work I had passed Sandy’s room and told her. Her first words, “Oh, My God.” Peter Lawford’s comment: “Oh, My God,” and perhaps countless others said the same.

No one could do anything. No one could think of studying. What could one do? Little groups of students, stricken faces, people saying hi extremely somberly. It was as if the world had fallen on our shoulders and we didn’t know quite what to do with it—rail against it, scream, cry, be disgusted. What the hell was this world coming to when some lunatic shoots the President? What did this damn lunatic expect to accomplish? Kennedy was cut off in the prime of life—he was only 46. Younger even than any other President before him—and two young children.

All we could do was sit around and listen to the radio and discuss the ironies of it all. What would it do to the country, to the whole world? Condolences poured in; important men from everywhere spoke their two words about their grief. The WORLD was shocked—everyone feels a loss. The UN had a minute’s silence; Broadway closed all theaters; parties were canceled.

Coming back to the dorm from the Law Library, it was as if someone had slapped me in the face again. It wasn’t like Towney’s death [a friend who had died earlier that year]—it was more abstract, but I started crying a little. A great hero had died. It was a man I had seen in the Senate chamber during my high school junior year then later during one of my working summers, both in Constitution Hall and on the lawn of the White House. Thus he meant a great deal personally to me. I liked him as a President, despite all the criticism everyone else handed me about him. He stood up for what he believed and now he is a martyr.

Now we have President Lyndon Johnson, ironic throwback to Lincoln’s assassination. (I suppose I was referring to the fact that Lincoln’s Vice President was Andrew Johnson. History does seem to repeat itself!)

Johnson being sworn in as President, Jackie Kennedy by his side.

I wonder what my father thinks and my family. It is interesting to hear various views on his death. The consensus of opinion is much the same however—shock, grief, tragedy for the world, etc.

Dallas, Texas, thou will go down in ignominious history [I must have remembered my Shakespeare – I was an English major, after all].

Years later, I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in the Book Depository in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullet. My son drove me down the street where the event took place and the area still carries the emotional vibes of what happened there.

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