Wednesday, November 22, 2006

43 years ago

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, USA at 12:30 p.m. CST (18:30 UTC). Kennedy was fatally wounded by gunshots while riding with his wife in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza. He was the fourth U.S. President to be assassinated and the eighth to die while in office.

That is exactly what Wikipedia says.

On that day I was sitting in the school assembly hall listening to a pep rally. I was 13 and in Jr. High School in Westfield, Massachusetts. Cheerleaders were bouncing up and down to get us all worked up for the upcoming weekend's football game.

Suddenly the school principal, took the stage and asked us all to be quiet...something seemed wrong. He announced that school would be closing immediately, as the president of the United States had just been shot. He said that it was not yet clear how bad the injury was, but that we were all to go home and pray for the well-being of our former senator, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Almost everyone was crying -- teachers and students. JFK was "our man". At age 11 and 12 I had worked for his campaign by driving brochures around from place to place on my bicycle. He was Roman Catholic, the first Roman Catholic president. And the anti-Catholic prejudice in the election had been vocal and strong and hateful. Yet, he had won. He had won for all of us Catholics, all of us who were kids of immigrants. And, he had been the beloved senator of Massachusetts -- our home town guy. The day he was inaugurated was my birthday, and a snow-day to boot. So I got to stay home from school and watch the inauguration on our little black and white TV and to hear his now famous inuguration address.

And that day he was shot -- I remember going to my locker and seeing everyone walking fast, confused, like a hive of disoriented bees. I think I walked home with my friened, Sandy. I must have.

The next days were a blur. School was closed because it was a weekend. So we were all glued to the TV. We had fallen in love with a president who had a vision for this country -- who found it scandalous that children of different races experienced different qualities of education -- that anyone in America went hungry at night. He was strong enough to stand up to other countries without dragging us into war. There was the Peace Corps, an honest expression of our obligation to help those less fortunate than we. Project Head Start - a way to give low income kids a chance at education. There was a feeling of vision, of hope --a sense of proud and valient leadership.

And that afternoon, it was taken from us.

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