I was walking home from school.
My best friend asked if I had heard the president was shot. I hadn’t. I thought it was some sort of joke.
I said I didn’t believe him, but he insisted, adding that our principal came into class and said so. At this Chicago Catholic school where most of the teachers were nuns, the principal’s word was divine truth.
“She didn’t come into our class,” I countered.
By then I was home, and when I walked into the kitchen I saw my mother was crying. She didn’t have to say anything. I knew it was true.
And that’s where I was when I learned President Kennedy was assassinated.
The 50th anniversary of his assassination is still a month away, but articles are already being published about the assassination and his presidency, new books are being released, new conspiracies are put forward and old ones being rehashed.
For those of you who don’t remember Kennedy or the times, I’d recommend a couple of books. One is “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” by Richard Reeves, where I learned that Eisenhower didn’t like him and JFK didn’t exactly realize the influence his own words had on the Civil Rights movement.
Another good biography is “An Unfinished Life,” by Robert Dallek, where I learned that when asked if he was a liberal or conservative, JFK answered: “I’m a realist.”
Like many of my generation who remembers exactly where we where when we heard the awful news, I’ve spent the last 50 years asking why, wondering who did it, and imagining all the what-if scenarios.
I’ve read many of the conspiracy books. It was easy to see conspiracies everywhere after a decade of Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and then Nixon’s fall.
After considering Kennedy was killed by a government plot, or by a power hungry Lyndon Johnson, or by an out of control CIA, or by organized crime or, finally, by a Secret Service agent in an incredibly tragic accident, I’ve come to the conclusion that Oswald did it and he acted alone. Everything else is bunk. Modern technology and ballistics prove it.
The realization that Oswald acting alone killed Kennedy leads one to the disorienting conclusion that Kennedy was killed for no reason. It was a senseless act with no overarching meaning. It changed the trajectory of the nation, but in a way that was just one of thousands of random possibilities.
Maybe we would have avoided Vietnam, maybe not. The breakdown in society we experienced in the years that followed was probably inevitable. But no Johnson and maybe no Nixon to follow? It is an interesting parlor game to consider.
Understanding my obsession with all things JFK, and obviously I am not alone in this obsession, might help the younger generation understand us Baby Boomers.
We forever long for it to be noon on Nov. 22, 1963, because the downward spiral leading to exactly where we are today began at 12:30 p.m. with those three shots. For us, the Kennedy assassination will always be an open wound that will never heal.