Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1963

Today is the 47th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, and there appears to be a few mentions of this fact today, which is much better than what happened on the 45th anniversary of his murder. I read an article by Mrs. Kennedy's Secret Service person and there was mention of the fact on NPR this morning. For many of us of a Certain Age ahem! this was a defining moment in our lives, but nowadays the anniversary slips by with little comment.

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-seven years ago today, and this year there is some acknowledgment this tragic moment in history. Many of the readers here are around the same age as me; share your memories in the comments if you feel so inclined.

1 comment:

Penelopepiscopal said...

I, too, was a third-grader caught up in third gradery (making fun of boys, adding the Barbie Dream House - the cardboard box one, not the garish plastic one - to my Christmas list, reading Pippi Longstocking and The Bobsey Twins etc.) and we were in class when someone from the principal's office came to speak to our teacher. Everything got really quiet, and stayed quiet as she told us what had happened, that our president had been killed. Nobody really knew what to do or to say - how could we just go on with our lessons after that news? So we went home. And everything was quiet all day at home, too.

What I remember well was that I had a sense that I was being asked to be a citizen of our country, which was a new experience (our silly stop drop and roll drills notwithstanding). As third graders, we were mature enough to know that something big was going on and that we were old enough to participate in some kind of national grief, but we were also still just kids, not used to dealing with matters of such gravity (not most of us, anyway). It wasn't something to make fun or joke about. It was - if only for a moment - a day of growing up too fast.

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