The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

November 19, 2013

50 years can't fade a day to remember

For the record — and to ease the burden of research for my future biographers — I was eating a tuna fish sandwich … on white bread … with lettuce and mayo.

I don’t remember what I had for lunch last Wednesday or Thursday, but I do recall what I was doing and what I was eating on Nov. 22, 1963, when I learned that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

It’s easy to remember for several reasons, not the least of which was that in all my 13 years, I had never seen my mother react the way she did on that Friday afternoon in our split-level house in Plainview, Long Island.

The then-41-year-old woman screamed, “WHAT?!!” and threw herself violently onto her knees right in front of the big black-and-white television set in our living room. She didn’t want to believe what she was hearing: Our gallant, vibrant, young president had been murdered.

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of that horrible day that in many ways stole the innocence of a generation that hadn’t — like its predecessor — been hardened by the Depression and World War II. That generation would soon learn more than it wanted to know about a place called Vietnam and bear witness to a decade of strife and upheaval.

Amid the 1960s tensions of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, we had the television images of civil rights marchers being beaten in Alabama, the horrifying Associated Press photo of South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a suspected Viet Cong officer in the head during the Tet Offensive, and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

On the other hand, we had the Beatles, teenyboppers and a couple of guys who landed on the moon.

And, for me, at least, all the turmoil began on Nov. 22, 1963, when a beloved president died in Dallas, Texas.

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