Sunday, November 22, 2009

That awful day in Dallas

The 1950's ended on this day in 1963. Even though the country had "transitioned" (a noun that had yet to be verbed then) from the befuddled, grandfatherly presence of Dwight D. Eisenhower to the vigorous and youthful John F. Kennedy, we were still young and kind of innocent then. The innocence was stolen when Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK that day in Dallas, 36 years ago.

We had gone back to our 7-M homeroom at the close of the school day to get our report cards. Even as we went through the halls, some people had already heard the news, and there was a murmur in the heart of the crowd. Not until the principal's voice came on over the intercom system and made the announcement that the president had been shot and we would now be listening to the radio coverage of the event did the rumor become the news.

But here we are, 36 years later, and we still wonder about so much. The very basis of any story - the who-what-when-where-why is pretty much filled in. Our youthful president was the who, his murder the what, the when and the where is established, but we don't know why. We don't even know for sure if Oswald acted alone or had help, or at least advisors and co-conspirators. He had been a troubled man, drifting in and out of the Marines and various political persuasions, but we will never know with certainty all the details.

Two days later, while being paraded around for the press like a Derby winner or something, Oswald was gunned down by a shady nightclub impresario who went by the name Jack Ruby. This remarkable episode of police ineptitude gave the nation its first live-on-TV death that Sunday morning, even as we headed for church with the burden of grief. Or was it police ineptitude, or the playing out of a grand scheme to use this patsy Oswald to do someone's bidding and then wipe him off the map before he could talk too much?

Of all the people involved - the Kennedys, his successor Lyndon Johnson and his family, Texas Governor Connally and his kin - only Oswald's widow, Marina, survives, and she doesn't seem to have any information about all this anyway. The only thing we do know for sure is that the nation changed tremendously that day, 36 years ago. Our national sorrow continues, and I feel it still, most powerfully on this day every year.

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