The Day the World Stopped

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

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 Khrushchev, 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 p.m. (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 shoot 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.

Ask Not – Remembering

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Today is the anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death at the hands of an assassin in Dallas, Texas. Across the Cornfield and across the nation, people are remembering the years of Camelot, when a young, charismatic politician stole the hearts of Americans.

At the time, though many throughout the nation still were at odds with the President on policy issues, he had managed to capture the people’s hearts as had his wife, Jackie, and children, Caroline and John-John. Speeches would denounce his politics and yes, even his religion, but would in the next breath extol what a determined, caring man and war hero JFK was.

A phrase which has become synonymous with the Kennedy years and the course of a nation was his appeal during his inaugural address on January 20, 1961: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Today that concept, that idea, seems to be alien to many Americans and especially lost on most of our national elected officials.

The concept and its origin is steeped in debate. Some arguing it goes back a thousand years or more to Plato or Juvenal. Others cite President Warren G. Harding who made a similar statement to the Republican National Convention decades before. Others cite JFK’s former school headmaster.

No matter the origin, the sentiment of the line is rooted in a belief shared since the foundation of this great nation – the idea of individual responsibility, individual fortitude, individual enterprise and individual ingenuity to build and sustain a nation unlike any other before it.

Ronald Reagan voiced a similar sentiment with his quip that government is the problem and not the answer. Kennedy recognized this. Kennedy knew government was only as effective as the people and what the people were willing to do for themselves and for country.

While JFK in his “New Frontier” speech to the 1960 Democratic National Convention made known his desire to expand on the more social platform instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he also was a pragmatist who understood the need for the individual doing his or her part and not relying solely on taking from or asking for government to provide the solutions and answers.

That concept, that sentiment, appears so lost in the political climate of today. It is lost not just with the Democratic Party of which JFK is a legacy, but also with Republicans who are far afield of either Abraham Lincoln or Reagan.

From the Cornfield, as we remember Kennedy, let us once more look inward and say with him, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

And let it begin in the halls of Congress and in the White House.

The Day the World Stopped – 11/22/63

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

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.

‘Ask Not…’

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

As the 52th anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death at the hands of an assassin in Dallas, Texas on November 22 approaches, across the Cornfield and across the nation, many people are remembering the years of Camelot, when a young, charismatic politician stole the hearts of Americans.

At the time, though many throughout the nation still were at odds with the President on policy issues, he had managed to capture the people’s hearts as had his wife, Jackie, and children, Caroline and John-John. Speeches would denounce his politics and yes, even his religion, but would in the next breath extol what a determined, caring man and war hero JFK was.

A phrase which has become synonymous with the Kennedy years and the course of a nation was his appeal during his inaugural address on January 20, 1961: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

Today that concept, that idea, seems to be alien to many Americans and especially lost on most of our national elected officials.

The concept and its origin is steeped in debate. Some arguing it goes back a thousand years or more to Plato or Juvenal. Others cite President Warren G. Harding who made a similar statement to the Republican National Convention decades before. Others cite JFK’s former school headmaster.

No matter the origin, the sentiment of the line is rooted in a belief shared since the foundation of this great nation – the idea of individual responsibility, individual fortitude, individual enterprise and individual ingenuity to build and sustain a nation unlike any other before it.

Ronald Reagan voiced a similar sentiment with his quip that government is the problem and not the answer. Kennedy recognized this. Kennedy knew government was only as effective as the people and what the people were willing to do for themselves and for country.

While JFK in his “New Frontier” speech to the 1960 Democratic National Convention made known his desire to expand on the more social platform instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he also was a pragmatist who understood the need for the individual doing his or her part and not relying solely on taking from or asking for government to provide the solutions and answers.

That concept, that sentiment, appears so lost in the political climate of today. It is lost not just with the Democratic Party of which JFK is a legacy, but also with Republicans who are far afield of either Abraham Lincoln or Reagan.

From the Cornfield, as we remember Kennedy, let us once more look inward and say with him, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

And let it begin in the halls of Congress and in the White House.