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.
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.
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.
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.
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.