November 22: Gunshots in Dallas

1-Mike Staton

This guy’s name is Mike Staton. He’s the author of this post.

 

 

When I first saw Cherley had assigned me November 22, I scratched my head. There was something about November 22 that left me shivering, something I should remember but didn’t. I scowled, trying to remember. November 22? What happened on that date? It was just two days after my birthday… then I remembered. Death. The President of the United States. John F. Kennedy.

I was barely twelve when the 35th President of the United States was assassinated. I don’t remember anything about my birthday party. I do recall those traumatic days after Lee Harvey Oswald set up shop in the Dallas Book Depository building and took a bead on President Kennedy’s head.

Kennedy1

Indeed, the Kennedy assassination on this date in 1963 can be seen as a watershed date.

There’s been a horde of books, movies and TV specials made since the assassination, some reliving the terrible Friday event fifth-two years ago, others examining the findings of the Warren Commission. A whole cottage industry offering all kinds of conspiracy theories has grown exponentially since Kennedy’s death. Maybe things will calm down once the Baby Boom generation passes from the scene. Maybe not. Folks still buy conspiracy books about another assassination – President Lincoln’s. Funny that few people pay any attention to other assassinations – James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901. Even a former President took a bullet during in the early 20th century… Theodore Roosevelt. And don’t forget… John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan in March 1981.

Roosevelt had been President from 1901 to 1909. In 1912, he ran for a third term as a member of a new party, the Bull Moose Party. In October of that year, Roosevelt was shot by a saloonkeeper. He wasn’t coughing blood, so TR delivered his speech. In his opening remarks, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He lost the election to Woodrow Wilson, but gained the admiration of generations of Americans.

Kennedy2

Yes, I saw Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin.

President Kennedy didn’t survive the assassination attempt. Unlike Roosevelt, who took a bullet in his chest, Kennedy’s death-dealing bullet smashed its way into his brain. He never stood a chance.

President Kennedy had been declared dead when we were called out of our sixth grade class in the afternoon and brought into the Meyer Elementary School’s lunchroom, which doubled as an auditorium. Every class from sixth-graders down to kindergarten were brought into the lunchroom. And then we were told that President Kennedy was dead, shot and killed by an assassin. One teacher told us Lyndon Johnson would be the new President, and his wife Lady Bird had been a teacher.

Kennedy4

President Kennedy has a meal with his daughter Caroline. Through the decades we’ve seen many such photographs that humanize him.

We were kids. Our biggest desire was to get home and run out and play – maybe pretend we were soldiers, ride our bikes or start a pickup game of baseball or football. We couldn’t bother with the Evening News. If we stayed in the house at all, it was to watch the Bozo show or Yogi Bear cartoons on TV. A few weeks before, we’d donned our Halloween costumes. Now we were looking forward to Christmastime… decorating the tree, caroling, seeing the downtown Christmas decorations. I had zilch interest in national and international news. The civil rights movement barely registered. Vietnam could have been on the backside of the moon.

Kennedy5

This iconic photo shows young John-John saluting his father at President Kennedy’s funeral.

For the next several days, I spent an exorbitant amount of time on the den’s couch watching marathon TV coverage of Kennedy’s funeral and burial and Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting death by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Truly, I think it was the weekend after the assassination that birthed my journalism career. Not just journalism, but a love of history, a fascination with the scientific process, an obsessive need to understand what makes people tick. I’m still trying to figure out that last bit. I’m totally perplexed by the craziness of the 2016 Presidential campaign. How the heck can so many people want a television personality/businessman as President of the United States, a fellow who made his money filling his casinos with slot machines?

In the months that followed, I helped a neighbor of mine, Mark Wagner, dig a deep hole in his side yard. We covered the top with two-by-fours and a tarp, then carved out reliquary holes in the sides for candles. We turned our underground chamber into a shrine for President Kennedy.

In the last decade or so, with the rise of the Internet and social media websites like Facebook, I’ve tried to reconnect with Mark as well as his sister Laura. But no luck. They lived two houses away from us on St. Elmo Drive in Rialto, California. Then they moved to Anaheim and we moved back to Ohio. We saw them one more time – in the fall of 1965 shortly before we made the cross-country move. Mark and I were eighth-graders, Laura a seventh-grader. I often wondered how their lives turned out in the decades since Lee Harvey Oswald changed our world.

#

I’m an author. Two published fantasy novels – The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin. They are the first two books of a trilogy. The third one, Assassins’ Lair, will be released in January. I also have short stories in two anthologies, Boys Will Be Boys and All About the Girls.

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31 Responses to November 22: Gunshots in Dallas

  1. Wranglers says:

    I remember it well. I was like you, not interested in the news, I was too busy being a kid. I am voting for Trump if he stays in. Weird I know–he’s not moral and he’s rude, but he went bankrupt twice and came out of it. He is not a politician, he won’t be pushed around, and he stands on a lot of issues that I’d like to have resolved. People were really against Reagan, and he ended up being a great President. Oh well, we’ll see.

    Your blog got my brain working early this morning. Congratulations on all your stories in “All About the Girls”. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was before my time, but a big part of American history. I love hearing stories from events that people remember from the past.
    JFK: a tragic loss to the United States of American, may his memories forever be cherished.
    Thank you for writing such a heartfelt blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s amazing that you can remember the exact day President Kennedy was shot. I remember when President Reagan was shot, I was in college, but I don’t recall the exact date or even the season.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Doris says:

    Like you, I remember the day, but not much else. History is full of defining moments, and I think each generation may have one. Unfortunately, many of those defining moments are similar, for we tend to forget the lessons we each learned the ‘heartbreak’ way or have not passed their importance on to the next generation.

    I truly respect and appreciate your sharing your memories. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks, Doris. I am learning that aging and the passage of time do indeed dim are memories. And I fear that the old saying is true… we are doomed to keep making the same mistakes and not learning from the lessons of the past.

      Like

  5. Great post, Mike. I was very young when President Kennedy was killed so I remember nothing about it. My husband is six years older and he has a very distinct memory about being in school, being told, and being glued to TV news in the aftermath. He will appreciate reading your post, I am sure. I always enjoy learning from my fellow bloggers on this site, and your post is one of those from which I can glean a part of history that I don’t remember. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on L.LEANDER BOOKS and commented:
    November 22. Does the date ring a bell? Where were you? Author Mike Staton writes a post on Writing Wranglers and Warriors that explores one of the biggest tragedies to hit the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In my mind, November 22, 1963 has always been the day of lost innocence. I remember it very well and Kennedy’s assassination still seems clearer and more appalling to me than many other disasters I’ve learned about in my life. (Maybe because I was younger?) I was in love with the Kennedy era. Life was good, our president and first lady were beautiful people and everything seemed perfect. Until that day. I was fifteen years old and in General Business Class. We were answering questions as the teacher picked from raised hands when the intercom came on. “President Kennedy has been shot.” We heard the voice of Walter Cronkite, whom we all trusted because he brought us the news. “I repeat, President Kennedy has been shot in the motorcade in Dallas, TX. We will have more news throughout the day and a special report this evening.” Our class became eerily still. No one said a word. Tears started to stream down cheeks while hurt and astonishment was displayed on others. We were actually let out of school shortly after that, and our household began the marathon television programming that followed the aftermath, while the world looked for a killer.” My father worked for our county Democratic party and I know there was a hasty meeting, but most wanted to hear more about the incident. I felt lost, deflated, let down. How could God take someone who did so much for our country and who was well-loved? Poor Mrs. Kennedy. I watched her stoically hold her composure although I know she must have been crushed. I grew up that day. No longer was I the “innocent” kid who lived in small-town America. I had reached the big time and wasn’t so sure I wanted to be part of it. Thank you Mike for your post. I’ll never forget the day, nor the president, but as I aged I learned a lot more and everything reported at the time wasn’t even true. But I thought it was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I think the reporters of the time did the best they could reporting the events considering the maelstrom around them. Like you, I’ve read lots since them, including stuff about more than one shooter, Cuba and Fidel Castro, etc. Movie producers even make movies advancing their own pet theories concerning the assassination. I think guys like Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley, Jules Bergman… they still held journalism to a higher standard than the journalistic flakes of today. It has swung way over into entertainment, I think. And political bloggers don’t even try for truth and accuracy.

      Like

  8. Wranglers says:

    Yesterday’s generation was 9-11, this generation’s tragedy had not happened. My daughter was very upset at Elvis’ death-she was six. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Elvis is a tragedy, a life extinguished too early because of his addictions. Same holds true for Michael Jackson. For me, being a fan of space exploration, the lost of Challenger and Columbia hold great meaning.

      Like

  9. katewyland says:

    I was working on a homecoming float when someone came in to tell us about Kennedy being shot. Needless to say that was the end of homecoming. I remember being glued to the TV, absolutely devastated. Kennedy was my hero. I had even worked on his campaign although I was too young to vote. In later years, of course, we learned there was a lot of fantasy in his Camelot, but at that time it seemed like the magic had gone out of life. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Yes, real-life facts have dismantled some of Camelot, things like Kennedy’s womanizing ways. But in the years since we’ve seen how his level-headedness, along with his brother Bobby’s commonsense, saved us from a potential nuclear war. The generals were ready to send in the bombers and release hell on Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He went with the safer course… we took out missiles in Turkey and the Soviets took out their Cuban missiles. War averted. I’m not sure today’s saber-rattling politicians have such wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Nancy Jardine says:

    I remember it, too, Mike. I was 11 and still in Primary School. In those days, our evening television broadcasting in Scotland didn’t start till about 5.30 p.m. ( it was a kids programme from 5.30-6) with the main news at 6 p.m. That night the schedule was full of postponements and interruptions when new footage was shared to the BBC and Independent TV in the UK. It was probably the first time that such interruptions had happened and was a ‘biggie’. It was the talk at school for days afterwards even though at that age most of us kids were clueless about politics.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Neva Bodin says:

    Great post Mike. That certainly was a memorable day and shocking. The US seemed so insulated from such great tragedies to me at that time. I had just started nurses training. This is my daughter’s birthday and it tends to overshadow the anniversary of Kennedy’s death to me now, but I still feel that shock and loss when I stop to remember that day. I always learn something from your posts, often it’s what a great and gracious thinker you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Gracious? Wow. Thank you, Neva. I really think it was a more innocent age — before the major commitment of troops to Vietnam, before we lost faith in our government. When you put the assassination, Vietnam and Watergate all together, we see why anti-federal government sentiment and rhetoric is so high.

      Like

  12. Mike Staton says:

    Thank you for all the great comments. I love reading about the Nov. 22 memories of others old enough to recall the days of President Kennedy. He was quite the popular president, a World War II hero (PT 109) and author of Profiles of Courage. I was 16 in June 1968 when his brother Bobby was assassinated as well. I often wonder if he would had been elected President if not shot down after winning the California Democratic Primary.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Travis says:

    That was before my time, but remember hearing my Mom talk about it. For me I vaguely remember the Reagan attempt, the Challenger explosion and of course, 9/11.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m like Travis. It’s before my time but it’s such an integral and important part of history that I feel everyone knows about it. Although as I get older, kids these days seem to be aware of it less and less which is sad. As far as historical important events, I’m also with Travis: Reagan’s assassination attempt and the Challenger exploding stand out in my mind. But #1 for me where it affected me personally are the Rodney King riots after the verdict was announced. I was a UCLA student living in a sorority house on campus and remember my mother freaking out and insisting I come home to Orange County, an hour away. I drove home (probably not the smartest thing to do looking back on it) and along the 10 Freeway in the more urban areas, I saw burning buildings and fires erupting for miles. Smoke was everywhere. It was like a war zone and I will never forget it.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Scary stuff, Sarah. If my memory isn’t letting me down, I can remember live TV news coverage of the ’65 Watts Riots. We lived in Corona then and I sat glued in front of the TV watching the coverage. At 12 and 13 I was becoming a news junkie.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Joe Stephens says:

    I’m just over a decade behind you, so I was only two months old when Kennedy was killed. The moment that changed my world was 9/11. It scares me a little that kids are already not really understanding the significance of that event. We teachers try to put faces on it for them, but it’s an abstract to their minds. I think the death of one person is easier to wrap your head around than that of almost 3,000.

    Like

  16. S J Brown says:

    A piece that I am working on right now has me wondering about friends from my past as well. I do agree that many of us have that one defining moment in time that shapes our direction in life. Others have a collection of events that slowly molds us into who we become.

    Like

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