Fifty years ago to this very day my 5th grade class was interrupted and we were told that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. A lot of the kids in my class began crying. I did not understand this. I had shook Kennedy's hand three years earlier, so he was a person I had met, yet I was not overcome by emotion like many of my fellow classmates. Did they have a closer relationship with JFK than I?
In 1960 when John Kennedy was campaigning for the Presidency one of his stops was Tech-Plaza, a local strip mall near my home. My mother took me to Tech-Plaza the day JFK spoke there. This was to be a secret from my father, he was a Nixon supporter, but my mother, like most of the young women of that time, was enamored by JFK. So I stood in the crowd holding Mom's hand and listening to a speech that I could not, nor wanted to, comprehend. Kresge's Five and Dime was directly behind the platform and I kept my eyes alert to it staying open. My thoughts were on getting to the Kresge's soda fountain and enjoying the banana split I had been promised. My silence over seeing Kennedy could be bought cheap.
After finishing talking on the platform, Kennedy came into the crowd and shook hands. Mine was one of them. This was not because of my desire, but because it was my mother's desire. She had taken my shoulders and propelled me directly in JFK's path. "Shake his hand, Johnny," my mother instructed. My name is John but, back then, my mother called me Johnny. I like to think that Kennedy, upon seeing as how I was such a cute and bright little kid, had heard my name and decided to name his future son after me. Sure, why not? Who can prove otherwise? Or who would bother to take the time to prove otherwise? So, we'll go with that story. JFK named his son John after me. If you remember, back during Camelot, the little boy was called John-John. One of those Johns could have been in reference to me.
You do recall that the White House Kennedy years was called Camelot?
Anyway, back to 1963. My classmates are crying, I'm perplexed, Kennedy is dead. Then something good happened. We were allowed to leave early from school! Getting out of school at an unscheduled earlier time is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a ten year old boy. I began to think that that Kennedy was an alright guy for getting shot like he did. Two hours of schooling had been dismissed. Let the weekend begin! The next day I changed my tune because Cartoon Saturday was preempted by assassination coverage. But on that Friday afternoon, I couldn't thank JFK enough.
For years, one of the most popular ways to start a conversation was to ask, "Where were you when Kennedy was killed?" I imagine today a conversation starter would be "Where were you on 911?" yet I can't recall anyone ever asking me that. As horrid as 911 was, the Kennedy killing seemed to have a bigger impact. I think this is because of the advances in communication. In 63 there were no internet sites, cell phones with twitter accounts, or cable network stations. In 63, there was 4 channels for Detroit television and after the Dallas shooting each one was dedicated to coverage of the assassination. This went on for days on end. In 2001, after 911, your main stations may have been covering the towers falling but you could still change to another channel and catch the daily broadcast of the Beverly Hillbillies. Your morning dose of Regis and Kelly may be preempted but you did not have to miss one of the hourly showings of the oft-repeated Law and Order episodes. Now, apparently, this is the way of "The New Frontier."