Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 1963

Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, but I haven't seen anything about it anywhere, which surprises me. It used to be that there would at least be a comment in the newspapers on this anniversary. I guess forty-five years is a long time in the memory of estadoünidense; I wonder if there will be any mentions of a certain event in U.S. newspapers on Sept. 11, 2046 (I'm pretty sure I'll have received my eternal reward by then)?

For me, November 22, 1963 was really November 23, 1963, due to the International Date Line. I was in the third grade at Okinawa Christian School. My friend, Michael Bennett, the Nazarene missionary kid, had spent the night. Our house had a small apartment attached, and so Michael and I spent the night in there, up half the night laughing and making third grader type jokes (waddaya mean, I still do those, Grandmère Mimi?). One of the ways we entertained ourselves that evening was mocking a photograph of President Kennedy making a speech; he was pointing in to the crowd, and we had him saying silly things. Eventually, we went to sleep.

Early the next morning, as we were enjoying our breakfast of Rice Krispies and planing the day, my mother came and knocked on the apartment door. We opened the door, and she came in, sat down at the table and said, "I want you boys to be kind of quiet today and not run all over the neighborhood. Something very bad happened last night and you need to keep it down." We asked what happened, and she said, "Some body killed President Kennedy last night." Then she left. Michael and I just looked at each other in disbelief. Being the children of Evangelical Missionaries, and going to a school where we had an hour of Bible Class every morning, taught with a strong dose of Evangelical Protestant theology, which had convinced my nine-year-old self that God would punish people for any mistake, whether they knew they had messed-up or not, we knew that we were in big trouble. I was pretty sure that God was punishing us for making fun of the president the night before (just a LITTLE egocentric, eh?). I'm not sure if Michael Bennett carried the same guilt, but he seemed to be as troubled as I.

I remember my parents and other missionaries having discussions about the assassination for the next few days, and my father was convinced it was a conspiracy. I remember going with him to Ft. Buckner, one of the large U.S. military bases on the island to watch the flag, which was flying at half-mast, come down and listening to the bugler sound To the Colours and then Taps. I remember how sad everyone was: estadoünidense, Okinawans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Fillipinos, everyone I knew. And I remember how this event seem to affect everything for years afterwards.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated forty-five years ago today, and there doesn't seem to be anything anywhere acknowledging this tragic moment in history. Many of the readers here are around the same age as me; share your memories in the comments.


Tengrain said...

Nice post, Padre.

They say everyone remembers where they were when it happened, and I think it is true. You certainly have a good recall of it.

Me, I was too little to understand why the adults were all crying, so I cried too. I remember mom dressing me in my little shorty suit and pointing to John-John on the TV and asking if that was me.



Fred Schwartz said...

Perhaps, just perhaps -- there is a new dawn. Maybe we pick up where we left off in 1968 -- For your readers reflection:

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day ...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

written and sung by Dion

PseudoPiskie said...

I was at work when one of the keypuncher's mother called and told us to turn on the radio. The entire "data processing" department was glued to the radio for the next half hour or so. Since we had the only radio - some of us worked odd hours occasionally - others in the office joined our vigil. When we got home we were all glued to the tv. I saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald. A very scary, sad time.

Our Farm: Keith and Megan said...

I also was too younge to remember exact details of the day, but I still remember the great saddness in our home - My parents were missionaries in Panama, we lived in Mt. Hope at the time. My father bought our first television set so we could watch the funeral.

I enjoy your blog Padre, it brings memories and some time Friends (thanks so much for all the post about Elizabeth Leigh) back to me.

My father, Edwin Webster & my brother Butch Gammerra were both priest in Panama, at different times they both were at Christ Church by the Sea.


Mary Clara said...

Thank you for this post, Padre Mickey. The day is one I always mark. I was in India on Nov. 22, 1963, teaching at a small rural college. A Canadian colleague broke the terrible news to my roommate and me. We were shattered and felt particularly bereft at being so far from home and unable to take part in the national mourning with our own people. We were comforted, though, by our Indian neighbors and hosts, first of all by the very eloquent and heartfelt tribute from Prime Minister Nehru, who addressed the nation by radio. Then it was announced that a 'condolence meeting' would be held at the college, a custom we hadn't encountered before. We felt we could hardly face a meeting as we were too sad to speak to anybody, but we needn't have worried. The students and faculty gathered in an open field, in a big circle, and after the head of the college said a few words of condolence we simply stood in silence together for several minutes and then quietly dispersed. It was very comforting. President Kennedy was already beloved in India, and people continued to reach out to us as they felt the loss keenly, too. After his death, his picture could be found in many a peasant's home, in a place of honor along with those of Gandhi, Nehru, and various saints and deities.

Of course, it didn't become completely real to me until I came home the following year.

Padre Mickey said...

Welcome, Megan! I know of your father; his legend looms large in the Diocese of Panamá, especially since he was Dean of the Cathedral for a while. I know your brother Butch. He's part of our extended family. We met in Chicago at the Missionary Orientation. He was headed for the Virgin Islands at the time. The Lovely Mona said "You always find the other bad boy and hang out with him at these things!" When his grandmother died several years ago, he stayed with us. I also know your sister Mary, who was back among us for a while, but I think has returned to Canada. Great to hear from you.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their stories, and, wow, Mary Clara, that's some story you have. I remember when Prime Minister J. Nehru died; I was still a boy on Okinawa but we were all heart broken again. Those were happy and sad times.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

It was horrible.

I was at college in the San Francisco Bay Area...I was still sleeping and I was hung over...the clock radio kept being turned down lower and lower by me...I hear The President has been the time I was actually conscience I hear the reporter speaking from the hospital and the President was dead...I raced into the annex, into the tv room...everyone was riveted...nobody talked, school was shut down...years later it was something I noticed during 9/11 and days afterward (I worked at a five star hotel in Puerto Rico)...I´ve had great shocks and grief in my life inbetween but there is really something quite amazing about a society and culture where it seems everyone was in shock...that´s how it was when Kennedy was murdered...his death was even more the unthinkable because he and his family were beloved.

It´s almost like it´s still too painful for me to think or write about.

Jane R said...

I was a child in Paris, 10 years old. It was evening. My grandmother was visiting from the U.S. The phone rang and she picked it up. (My mother may have been working on Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen.) She walked in from the bedroom to the front of the apartment where the rest of us were and said "the President's been shot."

We really do all remember where we were when it happened. (Now we also remember where we were when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11/01.)

The next day, when I got to school, one of my French friends said her mother had told her might not be in class that day.

The French were in shock. They loved JFK and remembered his 1961 visit to Paris with his wife, who charmed General De Gaulle, who was president at the time (and whose birthday, by the way, was November 22 - so he received the bad news on his 73d birthday) and who spoke fluent French. (When was the last time we had a bilingual First Lady? That was it.) JFK knew his wife had been a big hit and toward the end of his stay, he quipped at the beginning of a speech "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris."

Ann said...

It is also my birthday so I remember. I was teaching 4th grade when a boy ran in with the news - I thought he was kidding around (he was that kind of child) and then I remember one of the kids in my class saying - oh good! (obviously his parents did not like JFK) - I was shocked. The principle of the school came on the intercom and mad the official announcement. I don't think we got much more work done that day. My husband's birthday is 9/11 -- our daughter wrote a special essay for us. here

Jane R said...

Yeesh, I was eleven, not ten. I can't even remember my age! Or rather, I was thinking of 1962 for some reason...

FranIAm said...

I had turned 6 just 11 days earlier. I was in the car with my mother and her best friend Jane and with Jane's daughter Kathy, who was my best friend.

It was Jane's car, an old Mercury Comet, black. We were driving down Post Road in White Plains NY.

Kathy and I wanted to listen to the radio, not hear our moms talking, so we were bugging them. Jane turned the radio on and the words were clear - the President had been shot!

Jane screamed and started crying and pulled over to the side of the road. We were about one block from where my father worked so we all went there, Jane could not calm down.

All of the adults were upset and that only got worse as the day went on.

I don't remember much more about that day, but I do remember the funeral on TV. I was obsessed with Caroline and John-John as it was - kids in the White House. It seemed cool.

I was too young to understand but understood it was bad.

FranIAm said...

I just read this post which talks about JFK and so much more. Thought you and/or your readers might like it.

Mary Clara said...

Padre Mickey, I too remember when Nehru died, just six months after JFK. I had just left India and was in Bangkok, enroute home. It was a blow, though not unexpected as he had been in poor health. I felt extremely fortunate to have seen him in person the year before when he received our group of teachers and students soon after our arrival in Delhi. He made an indelible impression on me, and I still remember where I was when I saw the newspaper headline.

Jane R said...

I remember where I was for that death as well. I was on the street near home, walking home from school, and I heard one man saying to another "Nehru est mort" (Nehru is dead) and what struck me was the fact that these were working-class men. (There was a Renault auto plant in our neighborhood.)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Padre, I was a day late in my remembrance, so I posted on the calendar date that you heard the news in Okinawa. I also posted Kennedy's speech to a gathering of Protestant ministers in Houston during the presidential campaign of 1960. That was a bold move on his part. The speech is timely today. We've moved backwards since that time.

I was at work when Grandpère called from his work to give us the news. I was glued to the TV for days, whenever I wasn't at work. I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. What a terrible time!

I'm surprised, too, that the anniversary was so little noted.

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