It was a mild, sunny Friday afternoon in the Cornfield. As usual on a school day, I was sitting in Mrs. Smith’s 4th grade class. Thoughts of the upcoming weekend filled my mind with revelry.
The daydream, as Mrs. Smith droned on about Indiana history, came to an abrupt halt when the principal’s trembling voice came out of the wooden box mounted in the top center of the wall behind the teacher’s desk.
The halting voice, filled with sorrow, announced that our beloved President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been struck down by an assassin’s bullet and was dead. Mrs. Smith’s eyes began to tear. Shock was on her face.
The class seemed transfixed as if turned to stone by Medusa’s stare. One by one, starting with the girls in the class, weeping and crying took over.
The girl sitting next to me (I think her name was Sally) was bawling her eyes out. My 8-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend why Sally was crying. I began to laugh at her and make fun of her, not understanding what the principal’s words meant. Mrs. Smith came over to chide me and explain in terms my immature mind could comprehend what had happened.
As she spoke, my laughter turned to tears as well.
My mind went back in time to that dark night in the parsonage in Anderson, Indiana where my Dad was pastoring, watching the black-and-white television and listening as President Kennedy demanded the Russians to remove the missiles from Cuba or risk all out war. I recalled the Russian leader, Nikita Kruschev, taking his shoe off and pounding it on the table at the United Nations threatening to bury the United States in the ashes.
The man who had stood up to the red threat and made the Ruskies back down was dead. The King of Camelot was dead. His queen, Jackie, and the young princess and prince, Caroline and John-John, were left without a husband or father.
None of us rushed out of school, frolicking in the fall sunshine as we normally would with the weekend beckoning. With slow steps we made our way home.
Life was not the same. Childhood was not the same.
The world stopped at 12:30 (CT) that afternoon in Dallas, Texas.
Over the next few days, not only did Americans mourn, but the peoples of the Earth lamented the loss of the Leader of the Free World. Even our enemies, the Russians and Chinese, expressed condolences and disbelief that JFK was gone.
A few days later on live television, I watched in horror as Jack Ruby, gun drawn, walked up to Lee Harvey Oswald, the President’s assassin, and shot him dead. The police officers surrounding Oswald seemed to not see or did not care that the two-bit hoodlum Ruby had a gun out, pointed and walking quickly up to Oswald.
A half century later and another image that remains etched into my mind is that of a 4-year-old John-John in a short-pants suit standing smartly on Pennsylvania Avenue saluting as the horse-drawn wagon bearing his father’s casket came down the street, surrounded by a weeping throng. The young prince was the picture of strength in time of trouble and hope in an hour of despair.
The fabric of the World was torn that day. Life was changed for an entire generation. The end of an era had come to a sudden and deadly halt.
Conspiracy theories continue.
The question of “What if?” still dominates the conversation when anyone pauses to remember that fateful November day.
From the Cornfield, that day is as real today as it was a life time ago.