Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Was Ten

(Source)
It was one of those watershed events, those things that you will remember until you draw your last breath. You remember where you were and the circumstances, even 53 years on.

Like the title says, I was 10, 10 years old and in the fourth grade. Though for many a year I recalled being in the third grade when the President was assassinated. Perhaps because I found third grade to be the most traumatic grade* of my childhood, I conflated the two. At that time I have to say that there had been very little in the way of traumatic experiences in my young life.

No pets had passed away yet, often a child's first experience with death, all four grandparents were still alive and well. All my other relations were still alive and no friends had yet to meet the Grim Reaper. I was spared that experience as a child, thank God. (I am all too familiar with Death these days.)

I remember being in class, there was some sort of commotion in the hallway, our teacher left the room (a lady whose name escapes me, and yes, that bothers me), only to return moments later with that sad, serious look which grown-ups get when something has gone very wrong. At that point she announced that school was cancelled for the rest of the day and that the buses would be there soon and that those that walked to school (uphill, both ways) could proceed home at that time.

Our natural joy at being dismissed from school was immediately quelled when someone, probably one of the girls, asked why school was being dismissed so early. (Someone always has to ask why.) Well, the teacher obviously was very distraught but managed to tell us, in a very serious grown-up voice, "Someone has shot the President." (He might have still been alive when we were told, I don't remember anyone saying that he was dead.)

While we weren't all that attuned to world affairs and the like, we did know who and what the President was. We also knew that he was a very young man (or so a grandfather or two had said) and no doubt too young to be dead. We also figured that "the bad guys" had killed him. In those days the only bad guys were the Communists. Of the Russian and Chinese varieties. Yes, there were other Communists but those were the big two. Every other Commie rat bastard in the world answered to them. Or so our Dads told us.

So we headed home. I remember walking home with a couple of other kids but can't remember exactly which other kids those were. Maybe it was the traumatic, scary nature of that day or perhaps my memories have faded. At any rate I do have one crystal clear memory of that day. We found a light bulb next to the road. An odd place for a light bulb indeed, but there it was. I decided that it would be a good thing to throw onto the sidewalk. Why? I dunno, it's one of those XY chromosome things no doubt.

Well, throw it I did, not surprisingly it broke, with a rather loud pop, which for just a moment sounded like a gunshot. (C'mon, this was Vermont in the old days, we knew what gunfire sounded like.) But still, that loud pop on that particular day made us feel that we were being perhaps a bit too flippant. So we marched the rest of the way in silence.

The rest of that time was a blur. I remember seeing Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby, though not live, the event occurred a few moments before I came into the room. My parents were so shocked that no one thought to shoo my brothers and I out of the room.

I remember a solemn parade with a very young John Jr. saluting his father's casket. I remember the skirl of the pipes and the muffled drums. The marching footsteps, the jingle of the horses' harness.

I remember a horse with no rider, empty boots reversed in the stirrups. That horse being led by a ramrod straight soldier.

While we had experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis not quite a year earlier, war was something abstract, I remember my parents being frightened but this event, this murder of a President of the United States frightened them even more. Was this the first move in an attack on the United States? Those were the sort of rumors we heard back then.

Another thing I learned that day, though neither of my parents cared much for President Kennedy and neither had voted for him, they were still shocked and saddened at his death, Though they disagreed with him politically, he was still the President. The President of all we Americans.

Fifty-three years ago. Parts of that day and the subsequent days are as clear as if it was yesterday. Much is now shrouded in the mists of time. Still and all, it was a watershed event, much like Pearl Harbor was for my parents, much as 9-11 is for my generation and my kids' generation.

To think that my parents experienced all three. Mind boggling.

America changed on that day. For better or worse I cannot be the judge. Personally, I think it was the former. That may have been because of my youth. But I do know that JFK's successor dragged us into Vietnam. I also know that one of LBJ's closest advisers in that war was a fellow named McNamara, who had been appointed by JFK.

Still and all, the nation changed. Those were grim times for the generation ahead of mine.

Fifty-three years ago.

When I was ten.





* My third grade teacher, Miss McClain, was about a billion years old. She would fill the 15 foot wide blackboard with arithmetic expressions, which had to be finished that very day. Even if one had to stay after school. Though I grew to somewhat enjoy arithmetic, I have ever since disliked blackboards and the smell of chalk. Traumatic to a nine year old, though in hindsight, not very. Of course, Miss McClain was probably only in her sixties. So now I myself am a billion years old. Yes, I do remember the dinosaurs. Vaguely.

32 comments:

  1. Being slightly less ancient there are times when I'm sure I remember watching the drama unfold on television and times when I'm sure I have no real memories of the event at all.

    Looking at the headlines I had to wonder who the 'ell that McCormack fellow was. Whackopaedia tells me he was Speaker of the House and second to LBJ until January 20, 1965. If that's accurate, we lacked a vice prez for 14 months. I had not knowed that. Which makes me feel a bit silly.

    I hated the damme chalk board too. One time in about third grade I had to write a list of classmate names on the board -- I have no idea why. We had a German kid in the class named Uwe (OOH-vah) which I wrote as Ewe. Which made my teacher blow snot and delighted all of my peers.

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    1. Yeah, as soon as you mentioned McCormack I thought, "McCor-who? As number 2?"

      Did a little more research and discovered that the 25th Amendment, which was adopted on 10 February 1967, was put forward to cover that whole, "Whoops, what if we don't have a Vice-President?" One of the few things the Founders didn't think of, or perhaps they thought so little of the office that they didn't feel it important.

      Heh, "Ewe" as opposed to "Uwe." I would have been one of the delighted ones.

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  2. I think Vietnam would have been handled differently and this country would be less divisive. We'll never know.

    Oh for the good old days when all bad things could be blamed on the dirty commies.

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    1. I think you're right regarding Vietnam. Kennedy was an actual combat vet, Johnson was a politician in uniform during the war. I think JFK might have seen through McNamara's incompetence. Maybe.

      Heh, the good old days.

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    2. Yes, JFK was a combat vet, he was the one racked out when his boat was run over by a vessel that it could have outrun.

      I, too, was shocked and saddened when he was shot, but I have never bought into the idea that he was a " hero ".

      Paul L. Quandt

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    3. Didn't say he was a hero Paul, merely comparing his service to LBJ's. Big difference in their records.

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    4. You didn't, but many have/do.

      Paul

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  3. I was almost at the end of watch, while returning from a WestPac deployment.
    What might otherwise have been a lighthearted occasion instantly became quite somber.

    On another note, we were aleady "playing soldier" in Nam, just not at the levels of less than a year later.

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    1. I know we had troops in Vietnam advising the ARVNs when JFK was in office. Green Berets for the most part as I recall, JFK was much enamored with special forces.

      Yes, the Tonkin Gulf incident occurred less than a year later (August of '64).

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    2. When I was reporting to my ship in '62 I overnighted at Hickham AFB.
      There was a platoon of Jarheads, fully outfitted, in transit to SE Asia (fill in the blank).
      The first thing I saw, when I awoke in the bottom bunk, was a sleeping Corporal's "piece"
      It had been carefully placed under the mattress.

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    3. Might have been these guys -

      April 9, 1962 - The leading elements of Marine Task Unit 79.3.5, a helicopter task unit codenamed Shufly commanded by Col John F. Carey arrived at Soc Trang, Republic of Vietnam. Significance: This was the first Marine squadron-sized unit together with a small security force to deploy to Vietnam as a result of the establishment of the U.S. Military Assistance Command on February 8, 1962. They were to provide helicopter support to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in its campaign against Communist Vietnamese forces called Viet Cong (VC). (Source)

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    4. I learn from my readers. (Again.)

      :)

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  4. Mt earliest memory is of the Kennedy Assassination. All I remember is sitting on the couch with Mom, and something really, really bad had happened. I will not comment on LBJ, as is I were to start, I would be here all morning on the Evil that man did in his lifetime.

    What I find truly disturbing, is the steady rise of hatred on he part of the Left, just since I became an adult. I remember nothing but concern, when Reagan was shot. But I do believe there would be those who would celebrate an attempt, and certainly a successful assassination of a Conservative president. Note how, during Republican administrations, there are books, plays, and films about killing the POTUS, but they stop, instantly upon the election of a Democrat. I hope the CEO of that California IT Security company goes to jail for his threat to kill Mr. Trump, " pour enourager les autres " to behave, and think twice before saying anything that stupid. Alas, here is our immediate future: https://pjmedia.com/trending/2016/11/19/how-long-before-the-left-begins-calling-openly-for-trumps-assassination/?singlepage=true

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    1. If there is any justice in the world (which is becoming ever more doubtful with each passing day) anyone issuing a threat to the President elect needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

      The Progressives are out of control and have been for eight years. Coincidence? I think not.

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  5. I liked Proof's take on this date in 1963. A better man's passing, IMHO.

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    1. I won't argue that. C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. One of those giants whose shoulders we stand on.

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    2. Thanks, juvat! I was thirteen and in jr. high school that day. I was watching TV s few days later, too, when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on national TV. Interesting times.

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  6. My memories of that day are very similar to yours, Sarge. Eight years old, third grade, teachers were called to the office, and came back with TVs on rolling carts so we could all watch Uncle Walter cover the story. It was a time when we were all Americans, and nothing else. Those times have been rare, in our lifetime.

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    1. Very rare. We, as a people, have lost our sense of history, our sense of being one nation.

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  7. I was in 7th grade. I will always remember Mrs. Tye coming in with tears in her eyes, saying the president had been shot. We were sent home immediately after class, and I remember my mother, who hated TV, sitting mesmerized with my grandfather and grandmother. Tears streaming down all their faces as the first news reports came in the President Kennedy was dead.

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    1. Families gathered. Heck, even strangers gathered and mourned.

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  8. I was a second semester freshman, having just finished my first class, and went back to the fraternity to watch Challenger launch.

    Some 20-odd years later, I'm consulting with a lady who's advising me on my engineering analyses. She happened to move into the top System Safety job at NASA the week before Challenger. I never asked her about it, not wanting to reopen old wounds.

    Bruce Jones

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    1. Yeah, good call Bruce.

      (I'd just got home from class. I was an "older" college student. Think thirty-ish.)

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  9. I now know I am four years younger than you because I was six and in second grade (I began school at the earliest possible time, due to a fortunate placement of my birthday in relation to public school guidelines of the time.) I was in the Boston public school system.

    As you might imagine, my city and my state were filled with those who celebrated Kennedy as a sort of secular saint. With one side of my family very Irish Catholic, I had grown up in houses where Kennedy's portrait hung on walls alongside portraits of Jesus Christ - literally equals in prominent placement. Certainly, Christ had the larger portraits, but Kennedy was seen as the absolute fulfillment of the Irish having overcome the hideous treatment they had received at many hands during some earlier times in America. "No Irish Need Apply" no longer applied. The older generations of the Sullivan side of my family were shaken mightily by assassination.

    For my part, yes, it is a memorable moment, one wherein someone does not forget some of the places they were, but I was just young enough for much of it to have become a blur with age. I remember television being four days of nothing but news coverage. I was shuttled out of the house for some of the time, taken by my younger aunt (herself only about 18) for rides here and there to keep me occupied with less somber pursuits. I distinctly remember the pall in the air, the relative quiet, how laughing seemed discouraged, and I recall the amazement of seeing all flags flying at half mast - the first such occurrence of that in my young memory.

    For years afterward, the very same newspaper you have at the top of this piece was stored in a linen closet in our home. Every three or four years, as I grew older, I would take it out and read it through - along with the two other relics of the 60s My Mom deigned to save for history, the Moon Landing in 1969 and the Red Sox pennant in 1967. I wish I still had those papers to pore through once more. The magnificence of such mementos came especially from seeing the normalcy that actually carried on as the world at large became engulfed by something enormous to us. Advertisements still ran for downtown shops and local grocery stores. The funny pages were still funny. Sports were mostly reported as usual. The "women's pages" still carried recipes, hints for better household living, etc.

    One last memory occurs to me. Because of Kennedy's death, My Father - a football player in his youth and a huge fan as an adult - became an American Football League devotee for the remainder of their days as a separate league. The AFL cancelled their games the Sunday following the killing. The NFL did not. Prior to the assassination, My Dad rooted for the New York Giants, the NFL franchise nearest Boston back in those days. From that late November onward, he switched his allegiance to the then relatively new Boston Patriots of the AFL and he would curse the NFL as unpatriotic heathens from that time forward.

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    1. JFK certainly won one for the Irish. I remember some of the vitriol over his Catholicism. Didn't understand it then, don't understand it now. (Heck, at least half of my ancestry were Catholic. My youngest is Catholic.)

      I was going to post the cover of the Boston Herald for that day, couldn't find a big enough picture. (Yup, I thought of you!)

      Your Dad was a prescient man.

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  10. Ft Leonard Wood road marching in freezing drizzle. We hit the barracks and the company clerk came running through the barracks with the news. Those who had transistor radios turned them on. We listened to the news, went to chow, then came back to the barracks and packed up. We were ready to go.

    A few days later we were in Class As and marched to a gravel pit to be read the official order. By then we were in a full scale blizzard. Guess the reason for the gravel pit was for some type of shelter. I remember watching a WAC Major wearing a skirt, and on the arm of a Sgt Maj. Felt sorry for her. I'm sure no hose were warm enough for that temperature, and she was slipping on the packed snow in her regulation shoes. Our 1st Sgt had us wearing combat boots with bloused trousers. Airborne be damned.

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    1. Dang, freezing drizzle? I feel bad for that major!

      Oh, and you too WSF.

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    2. That morning I was standing an IG Inspection with the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. We were in the barracks awaiting the inspection party for the "junk on the bunk" and a transistor was playing music of the day when the news broke. Minutes later the inspector (A classic "hi-diddle-diddle, right up the middle" Marine infantry officer arrived.) He started on the first Marine inside the door and asked if we had heard the news of the President having been shot. Yes sir! was the reply, and this dumb a$$ major asked the kid "No Marine would have done that, would he?" Somewhere I have a photo of the color guard marching to the division flag pole to lower the flag to half staff and you can clearly discern the tears running down the face of the sergeant of the guard. John Kennedy challenged a generation "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It was a better time than we face today.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)