Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 1963

Today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. 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-eight 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.


Paul said...

I was a senior in high school. When the news came everyone was stunned. The Latin Club was going to host a big event that weekend; we cancelled it. I remember watching the funeral on television with my mother. This shook the entire nation, including Republican households like ours. Even those who detested Kennedy, and there were many, were rattled and sobered by this. When we lost Martin and Bobby later on it was clear that the optimism of my youth rested on shaky ground.

Lori K said...

I was in second grade, in a new school (which happened a lot because my dad was in the Air Force) and I just remember thinking that if Camelot wasn't safe, none of us could be safe. Of course, years of preparing for The Bomb didn't do much for my sense of security, either.

it's margaret said...

Padre --I was in 2nd grade at John Muir at Ashby and Claremont in Berkeley. The principal came in the room and asked to speak to the teacher in the hall. She came back in the room in tears and told us to put our heads down and think about the president because he had been shot. --no prayer in the classroom in Berkeley!

After about forever --or so it seemed, she said we could all get our coats and go home if we wanted to. I did. We did not have a TV, so I told my mom the news --she went and rented a TV so she could watch the news and everything.... I thought that was very cool. But then I remember feeling uncomfortable because I had never seen adults weep. All of 'em. Openly. Deeply.

And then my dog had 10 puppies.

Mary Clara said...

Thanks for this post, Padre Mickey. It is always a day that I commemorate. Like you, I was overseas on that day. I had left Dallas six months earlier after graduating from SMU and was teaching in a rural college in India. The news came over the radio and was simply devastating. That it had happened in Dallas only added to my sorry. Two things I particularly recall: The faculty and students of the college gathered for a "condolence meeting", which meant that they gathered out of doors in a big circle and kept silence for a few minutes to express their sympathy. The silence was very comforting; I could hardly bear to speak to anybody. Then that night Prime Minister Nehru addressed the nation over All India Radio and with characteristic eloquence gave a beautiful tribute to the fallen American president.

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