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I will never forget that day — 58 years ago, Nov. 22, 1963, when I heard the news, I was walking between my third and fourth-period classes. I was a senior at Venice High School in Venice, California. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
“Shock” is not an accurately descriptive word to explain my feelings at that moment. What I do remember is that my school of about 3,300 students was eerily quiet. No one could talk, and it was apparent that continuing classes would be a waste of everyone’s time. It was a Friday, and a decision was made to cancel all classes for the remainder of the day.
Like most people stunned by information unable to comprehend, I do not remember anything from the next couple of hours. I know we were sent home, but I cannot remember if I walked or took the bus. The next thing I remember was sitting in front of our television watching the account of what happened that day in Dallas.
The Zapruder film had not been discovered at that time, so most of what we saw were pictures of the location and the hospital. Also heard was a replay of Walter Cronkite removing his glasses and saying:
President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
I believe it was later that day when we learned that a rifle had been found in a third-floor office of a book depository. Not long after that, it was announced that a suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been arrested. He had been in the U.S. military and purchased the rifle used to kill our president through the mail. We would learn a lot more later, information which would result in multiple conspiracy theories.
Most of what we saw was repeated constantly until Sunday, when we were horrified to watch Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. As the Dallas police were moving the alleged assassin through the basement of the police station, the owner of multiple strip clubs and dance halls reached out with a handgun shooting him in the torso.
Oswald died, and Ruby was eventually sentenced to death. Ruby had close ties with members of the Dallas mafia, which caused an increase in the number of those same conspiracy theories.
For three days, we cried often. Every American felt an enormous loss. A young, energetic, patriotic, and intelligent leader had been taken.
Three images will always remain in my subconscious. First, after President Kennedy’s coffin was placed on Air Force One, I bawled as his widow, Jacqueline, dressed in all black, stood with the 36th President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, staring down at the body of her murdered husband.
The second was Oswald’s face as his body was invaded by a bullet. The third and most famous was President Kennedy’s young son, John Junior, “JJ,” as he saluted his father as his casket passed by on its way to the Capitol Building.
President Kennedy had been extremely popular with younger Americans. His rhetoric gave us confidence and hope. Yet, to this day, I believe that our grief was slightly more severe than others. I often wonder how he would have handled the escalating situation in South Vietnam and if the war would have lasted until 1975 if he had not been taken from us.
It was customary for the graduating class of Venice High School to leave something for the next group of seniors in an area known as the “senior court.” My class agreed on a bronze bust of John F. Kennedy.
Op-ed by James Turnage
Featured and Top Image by Anders Krusberg Courtesy of Peabody Awards’ Flickr Page – Creative Common License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Donna’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image by John Lee Lopez Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License