J.C. Knight was the name of the first school I ever attended in Jonesboro, located in central Indiana just outside of Marion. Like most everyone else, I hold onto the memories of my early childhood, including those events we experienced in grade school.
My fifth-grade year was most notable for three events in particular. The school year was 1963-64. The first event was reading a piece in the Scholastic Reader about some place called Vietnam. The article talked about America sending military advisors to help stave off the threat of communism. All of us in Mrs. Ottinger’s fifth-grade classroom knew about communism.
In February of that school year America was introduced to Beatlemania. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The Ed Sullivan Show was regularly watched at my house on Sunday evenings. That was until Feb. 9, 1964, when Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to mobs of screaming teenagers. My dad wasn’t about to allow me to watch such an open display of rebellion. It is hard to describe to today’s younger generations the excitement and energy that was experienced. It wasn’t only the music that changed because of their arrival, but it cannot be overstated the impact this rock and roll group had on fashion, the arts, politics as well as our attitudes toward our traditions and way of life.
The third event was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I, like most of us who have now entered into our 60s, was sitting in a classroom when the loud speaker suddenly came to life with radio news reports of something happening in Dallas, Texas. I remember clearly understanding that it was something that involved President Kennedy and something about a motorcade. Certainly we all understood it to be something of a serious nature. Not knowing what a motorcade was, I thought to myself that the president had been involved in a car accident. And then I heard the radio newsperson state clearly that President Kennedy had been shot. And then I heard him state that the president was dead. And then my world changed forever.
That was 50 years ago. It’s strange how so much time can pass so quickly.
Earlier this summer, my wife and I traveled to Dallas for a vacation. We went to Dealy Plaza where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that ruined “Camelot.” The Texas School Book Depository has been turned into a museum where lines of people regularly await their chance to revisit such an important period in history.
It is fascinating to witness the exhibits and the timeline noting the political and social environments that existed in 1963. But it is still so eerily strange and can provoke an inner darkness when you stand almost on the exact spot where Oswald is said to have had Kennedy in the sights of a mail-ordered 6.5 Carcano Model 91/38 rifle. Everything is just like you saw over the past five decades in the never-ending news reports that have kept the tragedy alive, except when you are there everything seems so much closer.
When seeing the street from where Oswald took the shots from the sixth floor you feel like you were right on top of Kennedy’s limousine. Even when you place yourself behind the fence of the grassy knoll, you begin to doubt the lone shooter theory because it gives you the perfect angle for a shot such as the headshot that jerked the president backwards so violently. You think that almost anyone could’ve made that shot.
When you are standing on the sidewalk along that portion of Elm Street, looking at the two Xs that are painted on the pavement showing where the bullets found their marks, it’s not so much that you are reliving history; rather, you feel as if you are absorbing it much like a sponge absorbs water.
Even with the undisturbed traffic flying by, you are surrounded in a kind of quiet solitude while contemplating that it was 50 years ago on this very spot a young president was about to lose his life while in classrooms all across America, a generation was about to lose their innocence.
I find it fascinating that 50 years later, the legacy of Vietnam still strangles this nation in how we respond to global conflict, and year in and year out MTV still produces polls that show The Beatles are still the No. 1-rated pop group of all time.
And as fall approaches, I’m sure there will be countless documentaries and special reports concerning the murder of President Kennedy. Many school-aged children will most likely learn about the event for the very first time. If only they could appreciate the importance of history.
What a time it was — to be alive 50 years ago.