JFK: 50 Years Ago and What I Remember

JFKBy Richard Lutz

If you are of a certain age, you will remember where you were…exactly…when you found out John Kennedy was shot 50 years ago today.

I was in a school study hall, a young kid. We sat in long silent rows and we all had school jackets that were too big for us.

Miss Bull, big, friendly, happy, was in charge. She sat at the front of the seated rows of boys, all supposedly doing their homework or passing off what could be thought of as studying.

Another teacher came and said something quiet in her ear. Miss Bull put her large head in her hands and held the position as if it was forever.

Then, she made the momentous announcement that the president had been shot. She stood up in front of us all. Then she sat down.

I don’t know if I was more surprised that there had been a political shooting as the fact that Miss Bull,who all the boys liked, seemed not to be in control of herself.

Teachers were not supposed to act that way.

I went home. Then another new world opened. It was on TV. Gunsmoke, the western, was a tv show that showed violence. As was any of a dozen cop shows.

But 50 years ago, you didn’t get real violence, real murder on your screen. Until that day, November 22, 1963.

We saw the cavalcade, the secret service agent trying to crawl onto the car, Jackie Kennedy trying to cloak the terrible wounds, the arrest of Oswald, the murder of Oswald.

A few years later, I opened a drawer in my house. There in front of me was a newspaper cutting, carefully sculpted from the front page, of the assassination. Either my mother or father had cut it out.

For their generation, presidents did not get shot. To remember this, and never to forget, one of them had spent the time to find a pair of scissors, scrupulously surgically excise it from a paper and carefully set it aside in a drawer.

That memory of the newspaper cutting,in a way,was as dramatic, as important,as unerasable as the bullet that killed Kennedy. It lay there in a closed drawer, maybe forgotten, but still alive. I don’t know what happened to that article. Maybe I should have kept it.

10 thoughts on “JFK: 50 Years Ago and What I Remember

  1. A moving moment, Richard. Yes, you should have kept that newspaper story. Meanwhile, I was at my usual Friday evening Scout meeting in Aberdeen (Scotland) when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember it well and how shocked our leaders looked.

    • My memory is different! John Ferrari runs into our class from the other 6th grade class, (you have the seating arrangement correct but I remember George Lotze in there as well), which in itself was unusual. He blurts out something to the affect of “The President’s been killed” and Mr. Reed responding something to the affect of “Now John that is not something to make a joke about” etc., etc.

      I forgot that the assassination report came during sex education – most of which (the sex ed that is) I still remember – I think. I guess that’s why I’ve always been nervous about sex in convertibles…

      One fact I do remember is that JFK Jr. and I share a birthday since it was just three days after the assassination.

      Here’s a question. Why is the murder of a head of state called an assassination, but when some poor schlub is killed for pocket change it’s just a murder, or worse a mugging gone bad?” Is there such a thing as a good mugging … I digress.

  2. Loved this post. I was also in a school room that day. We had one television in the school that boys were allowed to watch – on a supervised basis, of course, no Gunsmoke or Rawhide or :Laramie for us at school ! – the TV was in the library and a small group of us (like you in our uniforms, green and beige) were sat watching a programme about aeroplanes, I think, when suddenly the word NEWSFLASH leapt across the screen, the programme was interrupted by a short news bulletin about the assassination. At the time when the newsflash happened, the teacher had left the room…..so we had no idea what to make of it: when she returned, we told her what we thought had happened, initially she didn’t believe us, but then left to check with the head master…..

    I have a vivid recollection of being in that room in that moment, the gravity of what had taken place – even though it was not in my country and I had only a vague idea of the Kennedys etc…..

    the world did stop…and then change: as it did several times in the 60s

  3. See If this match’s Bill’s memory…

    Sitting in Mr. Reed’s sixth grade class across from Nelk and behind Billy. Mr. Reed, a warm and somewhat wry Englishman, comes back in the room after having been called out. It’s the middle of day- about 1pm (I can see the hands on one of those old railroad clocks with the roman numerals and oak cases). He tells us about Kennedy. I remember feeling his sense of being apart from the experience as a Brit. His careful wording, apologetically offered, like a non-family member telling a family member about a loved one’s death.

    He was teaching us a unit on sex ed at the time.

  4. …at my piano teacher’s, sitting at the piano, pretending I had practiced the prior week……….

  5. ” I had to get up early next morning to travel with the football team and that took up most of my thinking. It was obviously a shocking event for Americans and the after effects took a long time to play out but I don’t remember speaking much about it to my mates at the time and I certainly don’t remember any teachers getting upset. In many ways 1963 was the start of the Sixties and the Kennedy assignation was one of the events but (probably because we were a mining community) the Aberfan disaster had a bigger effect on everyone and I can still remember how shocked people were about that event. “

  6. The only vivid memory it brings back to me is of the news on black and white TV – I can recall the images quite clearly, but I don’t remember the adults in the family discussing it at all. Perhaps the reaction in the US was similar to the reaction in England to the death of Princess Diana.

    In Scotland, the only comparable event must be the execution/assassination/murder of Mary, Queen of Scots. No matter how much you put the event in historical context and no matter what opinion you might have of the positive or negative role she played in that history, nor what opinion you might have of a woman whose character has been dissected endlessly (more than four centuries later, a major multi-media exhibition analysing the woman and the contentious events of her life was hosted at the National Museum in Edinburgh this summer) – there remains a deep sense of hurt in the national psyche.

    So I can understand why it may seem irrelevant to many US citizens to mention historical and political events that are critical of the man and his role in history, but perhaps we should challenge our selective commemoration of events. August 8, 2011, marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the defoliation of Vietnam with Agent Orange. ‘on President Kennedy’s watch’. as they say. Although three million people still suffer the consequences of these chemical weapons today, this anniversary was almost entirely ignored by the UK media and the Westminster parliament, where only a handful of our MPs supported a motion to commemorate the anniversary by calling on the US to finally accept responsibility and compensate the victims.

  7. Richard, I remember were sent home early. I remember riding the city bus home. Did we take the same bus home? How did you get home?

  8. Strangely I can’t recall the exact moment for myself but have very vivid memories of the Oswald shooting …. At that point I thought I was watching Gunsmoke…and started to question my child-time view of ‘the dream’.

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