A Day We’ll Never Forget

John F. Kennedy motorcade, DallasThere are just a few days that will live in the memory of Americans: December 7th, 9/11 and November 22, 1963. That last date is indelibly stamped in the memories of those of us who were old enough to be aware of the events that day in Dallas and Washington.

It was on this day 50 years ago that our young President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot to death in his open limousine in Dealey Plaza in the heart of Dallas, Texas.

I leave it to other’s to tell the events surrounding the assassination of the President. I’m only going to tell you how I and my friends handled the events of that day.

On that Friday, all of the students of Nazareth High School in Brooklyn, New York were assembled in the auditorium/gym of our brand new school. At the time I was a sophomore in a school that only had two classes: freshmen and sophomores. There were probably 750 students in attendance.

We were assembled to watch perhaps the worst play that William Shakespeare ever wrote, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A touring acting company was putting on the play. I’m guessing it was an attempt by the Xaverian Brothers who ran the school to soften the edges of a bunch of city kids.

As with sat through a dreadful first act we started to realize that something was happening. Teachers began whispering to each other and a few began to cry. What was going on?

At the end of the first act our principal, Brother Thaddeus, came out on the stage and told us in somber tones that the President of the United States had been shot and was now dead. Teachers broke down and began to cry in earnest. The students were mostly in shock.

We were taken back to our classrooms and after saying a prayer for President Kennedy we were dismissed. When I arrived at my home bus stop, I went with some friends into our local diner.

It was there that I witnessed the depth of emotion that the death of John Kennedy was causing across the length and breadth of America. Men and women were openly weeping. THe tough short order cook had tears streaming down his cheeks. All were doing this while they continued to do their jobs.

When I got home my mother was in the kitchen crying and was almost inconsolable. Friday night was scout night in my parish and this was so shocking that all of the scouts in my troop showed up in our uniforms only to be told that our meeting had been called off.

Now, 1963 was not the era of the 24-hour news cycle or cable news networks. We lived in the era of the 6 O’Clock News with occasional news alert. In those days we had three choices for our national news: ABC, CBS and NBC. All of the other channels carried game shows and syndicated content.

However, when your President is assassinated all bets are off. The networks carried every event surrounding the assassination. They carried Lyndon Johnson’s hurried swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One.

They carried the loading of the president’s flag-draped coffin into the cargo hold of the Presidential plane. Hours later, they carried the landing in Washington and the motorcade to the East Room of the White House.

They carried the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald by the Dallas Police. And the following morning they carried the assassination of the same Lee Harvey Oswald by Dallas bar owner Jack Ruby. Oswald’s death opened up a tsunami of speculation, newspaper articles and books about the assassination that continues to this very day.

On Sunday, his coffin was taken to the U.S. Capital on a horse-drawn caisson. Accompanying the caisson was a military escort with one horse that had reversed boots in the stirrups.

We heard eulogies from various politicians. Then came the ordinary Americans who lined up by the thousands to pay their respects to their fallen leader.

Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the late President was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

One thing that we should all remember. John F. Kennedy may have been elected as a Democrat but once he was inaugurated he became the American President and to this day he’s still my President.

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