I know that this is normally a sports-related column, and I will mention sports in this piece, but on the 50th anniversary of one of the most historic days in our country’s history I have chosen to say a little about the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I have always heard that there are events that cause a person to remember where they were and what they were doing and this is truly one of those.
November 22, 1963! I’m sure that most of my readers were alive on that date. I know that I was. I was an 11th grader at R.E. Lee Institute. I really didn’t have any political ideas and hadn’t determined if I was a conservative or liberal, on the right or left, or right in the middle of the road. I guess that I was really a “know nothing” when it came to national politics.
I did like President Kennedy though. Why not? He was my President, he was young and energetic and he had a pretty wife. I had no idea about his political leanings. It really didn’t matter to me. I had just turned 16 years old on November 11 so voting hadn’t really entered my thought process yet.
It was fifth period in my normal school day and I was in military class. Our entire company was gathered in the rifle range in the military building. We were lined up behind tables cleaning our M1 rifles when our PMS (Professor of Military Science) Captain Jake Privette walked into the range with a couple of other officers. He didn’t often come around during this activity as our company officers would normally handle things.
Even though Captain Privette’s entrance wasn’t normal, we thought nothing of it until he spoke. “Can I have your attention please,” he said. “We have just been informed that President Kennedy has been shot.” Those may not be his exact words but it is close.
The first thing that came to my mind, and many others I am sure, was that this was a joke. The military staff would often play jokes on us especially on “down days” such as weapon cleaning day.
From out of the back of the room came a response! “Did they get Bobby too?”, yelled one of my classmates. Obviously he thought it was a joke too and the Bobby he was referring to was President Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. When I saw the reaction of Captain Privette I immediately knew that this was not a joke. He yelled out “Who said that?” and rushed to the back of the room to apprehend the big mouth.
We all were silent and stunned. What had happened? Why would someone do this? How badly is the President injured? Is this the actions of Russia? Is this just the start of even more action against our leaders? Are we headed to war? All of these thoughts rushed through the mind of a 16 year-old who all of a sudden saw his world turned upside down.
Sixth period was study hall and all I remember about that class was that no one studied. We just sat in silence except for the sobs of some of the girls in the room. We still did not know about the condition of the President. There was no TV and certainly no internet or cell phone access. We were just waiting for someone to tell us what was going on.
We had basketball practice after school in what we now know as the “old gym” on the Lee campus. By this time we knew that the President had died and that made things even more ominous. I remember that Coach Bobby Chaney gathered us together and went over the situation in Dallas concerning the President. He told us to just do some individual shooting which is what we did for about a half hour. The only noise in the gym was the bouncing of the balls on the hardwood floor. We didn’t work on anything that would cause us to have to concentrate too much. No one’s mind was on basketball!
We were dismissed from practice early and I went home. From that point things are a bit blurry. I just remember watching TV to get as much information as I could and trying to figure out what was going to happen next. I didn’t know if I was supposed to cry or not. I don’t remember shedding any tears but there were so many questions still unanswered. I guess there are still some unanswered questions today.
That was me on November 22, 1963 - 50 years ago. I’m sure you have a story that is special to you about that sad and memorable day.