Today is November 22nd. I don’t really need to dig into the archives of Triumphs & Tribulations to see what I should write about. History has already done that for me. That written, this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series is: the JFK assassination.
How I first came across this moment? Obviously, I wasn’t living on November 22, 1963. In fact, my parents were both just 1 ½ years old at the time. I’m reasonably certain they have no recollection whatsoever about the events of the day in question. My first exposure to the Kennedy assassination was in 3rd grade. That’s when I first learned about the Office of the President of the United States. The way I remember it, Miss Williams asked us if we knew anything about the Presidents. A few of my classmates mentioned George Washington being on the $1 bill and Abraham Lincoln being on the penny. But one of my classmates mentioned a president who had got shot in his car. Miss Williams was certainly shocked by that answer and educated us on who that particular President was: John F. Kennedy. I went over our heads for the most part. I watched Oliver Stone’s JFK over the summer in between 3rd and 4th grade and that’s when my interest piqued. That led to me reading Assassination!: Kennedy, King, Kennedy by Stephen Goode. And that’s how the JFK assassination came front and center on my radar.
What it meant to me then? Reading about the assassination in that book as a 4th grader, it all seemed so scary. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I was no stranger to hearing about people getting shot in the head. After all, I lived in a pretty dangerous neighborhood. But reading about a President getting shot just felt like something much bigger. As I grew older, I learned a lot more about the assassination…the suspected and likely conspiracy, the Bay of Pigs stuff, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the drama with then-Vice President Johnson, the concerns over Vietnam. It was a lot of layers. One of the things that really captivated me in my youth was the famous Walter Cronkite broadcast of the grim news: the flash, as he called it, that made everything official. I’ve seen a lot of incredible breaking news stories over my lifetime but I really don’t believe there has been anything like that on live television. It still gives me the chills.
What it means to me now? When I was younger, I was still somewhat naïve as to the total dynamics of exactly what happened in Dallas on that Friday afternoon some 56 years ago. The truth of the matter is that we really still don’t know. The government has released some of the files from that day but a good deal of the juicy stuff is still classified and if I was a betting man, I might not get to see them even in my lifetime…and I was born an entire generation after Kennedy was killed. What has galvanized me in recent years is the Cuban Missile Crisis and how that may have played a major role in the events of Dallas on 11/22/63. During my time in the Air Force, General Curtis LeMay was revered as one of the greatest leaders in the history of our service. Winning the General Curtis LeMay Services Award was a big deal for the Services and Force Support Squadrons I supported as a civil engineer. Hell, I respected the dude because he was a fellow Buckeye. But, after learning more about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how he was blatantly disrespectful to Kennedy and was gung-ho about dropping bombs on Cuba rather than going about it diplomatically, my tune has changed on him. He was an asshole and Kennedy should’ve straight-up fired him just like President Obama fired Stanley McChrystal. Nevertheless, I do wonder how Kennedy extending the olive branch to Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in the year after the brink of nuclear war angered the powers-that-be in 1960s DC. I wonder if they feared what was coming down the pike if he was to secure a likely 2nd term in office.