Everyone who is old enough remembers November 22, 1963. Three shots rang out, the President was dead, and so was an era in American history. It was a turning point, the unofficial beginning of the sixties. More assassinations, civil rights, and Viet Nam would follow. If you were old enough, you have a story. I wasn't even born yet, but somehow still feel connected.
Friday was the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy. Just about every network had either a news special or documentary showing the footage, and rehashing the news. The Zapruder film, of course, old clips, and network and local reporters on the scene. I watched as much of it as I could.
I'm not sure why I've been so obsessed. Maybe because I entered this world just over two months later (72 days later to be exact). Mom has told me the story several times about her being alone at home with Dad at work, turning on the television, and trying to figure out why Walter Cronkite was on in the middle of the day. Neighbors coming over, everyone in disbelief. I was in the womb, and maybe I was taking it all in.
Maybe it was because it was the first big news event in the history of television. Did you see how the Dallas police catered to the press? Lee Harvey Oswald probably wouldn't have gotten shot if it wasn't for reporters wanting not only to see Oswald transported to the County Jail, but hoping to shout questions at him. Jack Ruby wandered in like it was a public meet-and-greet. No one cared until the gun went off.
Maybe it's just because it was an historical event. I watched the Royal Wedding for crying out loud. Whether its the Olympics, the Super Bowl, or the Emmy Awards, I'm in front of the set when it comes to big events.
I do think it was more than that, though. 1964 (the year I was born) was the first full year after the Kennedy assassination. The Civil Rights Act was passed. The United States entered the war in Viet Nam, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power in USSR, and Bob Dylan wasted no time, releasing an album that featured the song The Times They Are A Changin'.
I interviewed people in Grass Valley, splicing stories about where people were on that day with the actual 50-year old bulletins from ABC Radio and CBS Television. I talked to co-workers who were in elementary school, a man who was at Vandenberg Air Force Base at the time, which went into complete lockdown. One man told me be had mono and pretty much slept through the entire thing, and a woman coming out of a CVS pharmacy turned out to be the first female mayor of Grass Valley, was working for the Democratic National Committee at the time, and had actually met President Kennedy. All had gripping stories, and most were nothing but eager to tell them.
Maybe it had nothing to do with the fact that I was almost born, or it's news value, or historical significance. Maybe I'm just like everyone else. There's some deep connection to that time and place, the grief, and the sadness. I wasn't born yet when that bullet struck Jack Kennedy, when Mrs. Kennedy departed the plane in Washington, still in her blood-splattered dress, or when Caroline and John John were at the funeral, drums rat-a-tat-tatting, and the little boy saluting the casket for the final time. I wasn't alive yet, yet somehow, it feels like I remember.