NOVEMBER 22, 1963

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

By Michael Collins Morton

In common with most other members of my generation, many of the strongest memories that I have retained from my childhood are connected to the widespread grief that resulted from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which happened when I was ten years old. On Friday, November 22, 1963, daily life across the United States and throughout the world was ruptured by a few seconds of gunfire in Dallas, Texas.

I heard the first news of the assassination during lunch at my elementary school. One of the other students had a portable radio, and we all crowded around it, listening intently as an announcer declared, in a distressed voice, that President Kennedy had been killed by a sniper. We all were frightened by the news, and we did know what to think. How could such a dreadful thing happen? Why would anyone want to kill the President? It was strange and confusing and nightmarish, as if life itself had suddenly and violently taken a wrong turn.

After lunch we went back to our classroom. Most of us were quiet as we took our seats, and our teacher, one of the few instructors that I actually liked, was nervous and tearful. She nearly lost her temper when she heard one student, a contrary boy with a vexing personality, loudly express his gladness in regard to President Kennedy being killed. She quickly took him outside and spoke sharply to him for several minutes. When they returned, he had a sullen expression on his face and was mute for the remainder of the day.

When I got home from school that afternoon, my mother was watching a newscast on the television. Although she was not an American, she had liked John F. Kennedy, and had happily followed his progress as President of the United States. Now he was suddenly gone, coldly struck down in his prime. My mother, a native of the United Kingdom, was anguished by the loss of the public figure that she had esteemed above all others. For her, it was an especially painful experience.

To my mother, as to millions of others, John F. Kennedy had represented a principled outlook that was rare in American politics. She had seen him as an advocate of courage, reason, fairness, and tolerance, qualities that strongly appealed to her British sensibilities. In 1963 I was too young to form a mature judgment of either John F. Kennedy himself or his performance as President, but I was aware that he seemed more youthful, more eloquent, and more trustworthy than other leaders.

Two days later, Americans were stunned by another murder. Lee Harvey Oswald, the young man who had been accused of shooting President Kennedy, was killed while under arrest in Dallas. Without a trial, and without the testimony of Oswald, many questions regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy could never be fully answered. The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald furthered the general suspicion of a conspiracy, a suspicion that has never been put to rest.

During the days that followed, a deep and sorrowful quiet settled over America. To me, viewing the aftermath of the assassination with young eyes, it seemed that everything had slowed down. I saw people going through the motions of their lives sadly, without saying much to one another. I was only a child, but I could see that a powerful and irrevocable act had been committed, an act whose lasting effects could not be readily understood by anyone, not even by the grownups who supposedly were in control of things.

Nothing was ever quite the same again. As the 1960s continued, life in America was darkened by uneasiness and conflict. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were killed in separate shootings, and Richard M. Nixon became President of the United States. The war in Vietnam expanded and grew bloodier, and thousands of young people took to the streets to voice their opposition. It is easy to believe that America, and the world, might be different now if John F. Kennedy had not been killed in November of 1963, but we can never know for certain.

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