Today dawned with misty fog and heavy cloud cover and would be best described as gloomy. The weather matches the glum mood of those old enough to pause, remember and reflect about the tragedy on that fateful day in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Throughout the day, we’ll collectively listen to news media retrospectives and will repeatedly hear sound bytes of Walter Conkrite’s voice announcing the 35th President of the United States had been shot and then later confirming that he died. The images, so familiar to us, will assail us on social media or television as they chronicle the every movement of JFK and Jackie that day, from the time they disembarked Air Force One, to the limo ride in the motorcade, then a frantic Jackie cradling the President after the shots rang out and finally, Jackie, still clad in her blood-stained, rose-colored suit, watching LBJ take the oath of office. We can’t even count how many times this past five decades we have seen the pictures of that day and its aftermath – a flag-draped coffin, the funeral cortege and then sadly, John-John’s salute to his father which cannot help but pull at our heartstrings. We often see the final resting place for JFK and the eternal flame as pictured above. The Zapruder film allowed us a glimpse of our vibrant President and the First Lady as they rode through the throng of people who wanted to see, and perhaps snap a photo of, the motorcade on that sunny Dallas Friday, but of course it captured more than the joy of the innocent bystanders, who watched in horror as a reportedly trio of shots took down their leader. Anyone over the age of 55 or 56 should be able to recall the events the day of the assassination; by now you and I have already heard a host of recollections and reflections of people like you or me via our local radio or TV stations, and now my thoughts will be included herein.
At age 57, for me there are only four significant historical events that stand out in my mind – JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, the Challenger incident and 9/11. The moon landing of course was not a tragedy, but a triumph, and it has its own place in history. I don’t recall what I was doing that day, but it was certainly spoken about and all over the television. The Challenger tragedy happened while I was at work, as did 9/11. Someone heard the news about the spacecraft and we gathered in the conference room while the explosion of the space shuttle was played and replayed. I will never forget the date because my grandmother died the next morning of a massive heart attack enroute to the hospital after suffering chest pains. In my mind, I will always equate those two sad events. I have already recounted my recollections of 9/11 in an earlier post. But on November 22, 1963 I was living in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. I have vivid recall of that afternoon as if it were yesterday. I was in second grade at E.A. Orr Elementary School and my beloved teacher, Mrs. Jamieson, was standing near the blackboard, her back toward us, chalk in hand while she showed us the fine art of cursive as to the letter “S”. We watched attentively while she was encouraging an improvement to our penmanship by slowly writing the letter “S” on the blackboard. We all sat with our pencils poised on our paper. Suddenly, an announcement came over the crackly public address system that President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. Mrs. Jamieson whirled around to face the class and kept saying “oh my, oh my” with her hand over her heart. She, usually a very prim and proper, old-marm type schoolteacher, was suddenly all aflutter. While I have fond memories of a kindly teacher, eager to help her students and loved by all of us, she was not the type of person easily given to emotion. I can picture her standing there, now facing the class, in her black, lace-up oxfords, a pea-green, two-piece knitted dress, a small string of pearls, perm-waved hair and her eyeglasses dangling from a chain around her neck. She had rather a shell-shocked look, then hastily pulled a kleenex from its usual spot, near her wrist in the sleeve of her outfit. She dabbed at her eyes, but the tissue was not large enough to soak up the moisture when her tears flowed quickly and heavily and soon were streaming down her face. We, as second graders, did not fully understand what was going on and were bewildered, if not scared, by Mrs. Jamieson’s sudden emotions. Like our teacher, we heard the announcement, but unlike her, it did not immediately register. But we began to get sad as we watched Mrs. Jamieson struggling to get a grip on the situation for which she had sadly lost control. She walked over to her big desk and sat down for a moment, gulping down sobs, and then reached into her desk to get another tissue, resulting in more eye dabbing and noisily blowing her nose. Finally, she resumed her composure somewhat and addressed the class, asking us if we understood what had happened and then requesting we put our small hands over our hearts and follow her as she said a prayer for President Kennedy’s recovery from the bullet wound. We collectively murmured the prayer after our teacher. After we said “amen” and our heads were no longer bowed, Mrs. Jamieson stationed herself once again at the blackboard, and though visibly shaken, she tried, once again, to impress upon her young charges how to make the curves for the letter “S”. Later that afternoon, a second P.A. announcement confirmed that President Kennedy has indeed passed away from his wounds, and again Mrs. Jamieson lost her composure and reiterated what the principle had said so as to reinforce the full effect of the tragic loss in our young minds. She then apologized to her class for getting upset and I remember her saying “you will soon go home and see your parents upset like me for the country which is our neighbor and friend”. I remember television images that weekend and the following week as my parents watched the replay of the tragedy and the poignant days that followed, and though I am not an American citizen, I am just as sad as you to recall and recount this sad event.