That Fateful Day - "America lost its innocence"

Vanity Fair recently reported on a new spate of books about John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I understand nearly 40,000 books about JFK have been published. Amazon currently lists over 35,000 available titles including nearly 7,000 that deal with his assassination.

I was 11 years old when JFK was elected & inaugurated and 14 when he was assassinated. I was just awakening politically when I was 11, I had followed the election somewhat closely - thanks to Newsweek and Life magazines to which my parents subscribed. Our school had mock debates and mock election. He campaigned in Cincinnati on October 6, 1960.

Additionally his heroics surrounding PT-109 was before us. There was a popular Jimmy Dean song by that title, a book that I had read, and a film that was released in June of 1963. Additionally I had a Revel 1/72th scale plastic model of PT-109.

  • Jimmy Dean PT-109 lyrics / YouTube
    In '43 they Set to sea 13 men and Kennedy Aboard the PT 109 To fight the Brazen enemy On the isle of ol lusana in the strait beyond nehru A Jap deatroyer in the night Cut the '109 in two.

    CHORUS: Smokin fire upon the sea Everywhere they looked was the enemy the heathen gods of old Japan Yeah, the thought they had the best of a mighty good man

    On the coast, commanderos, lookin thru this periscope Australian niven saw the battle For the crew had little hope two were dead, some were wounded, all were clinging to the bow Fightin fire, fightin water, trying to save their lives somehow.

    CHORUS: Smokin fire upon the sea Everywhere they looked was the enemy the heathen Gods of old Japan Yeah, the thought they had the best of a mighty good man

    Mac Me hun, the irishman, was burned so badly he couldn't swim leave me here, go on he said, cause if you don't we'll all be dead the PT's skipper wouldn't leave him, a man to die alone at sea with his strap, between his teeth, he towed the irishman to the sea.

    CHORUS: Smokin fire upon the sea everywhere they looked was the enemy the heathen gods of old Japan they thought they had the best of a mighty good man

    He led his men thru water's Dark rocky reefs and hungry skarks braved the enemy's bayonets a .38 around his neck 4 more days, 4 more nights, a recue boat pulled into sight the PT 109 was gone, but Kennedy and his crew lived on So who could Guess, and who could possibly know that this same man named Kennedy, would, be the leader of a nation, be the one to take command, the PT 109 was gone but Kennedy lived to fight again, Smokin fire upon the sea, Everywhere they looked was the enemy, but JFK and his crew lived on, which proves it's hard to get get the best of a man named John Big John Big John Big John
  • The book:

Key events from his presidency left an impression upon me:

The Timeline of his Texas trip:
  1. Interestingly the 1963 calendar matches the 2013 calendar. 11/22 was and is a Friday and Thanksgiving was and is to be on Thursday 11/28
  2. Thursday November 21st, 1963:
  3. Friday November 22nd, 1963:
    • Fort Worth: The day started out cold and rainy. In an impromptu outdoor speech he said “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth...”
    • Fort Worth: Chamber of Commerce breakfast speech at Hotel Texas.
    • Short flight in Air Force 1 (Boeing 707) from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to Love Field in Dallas
    • And then the fateful motorcade with his destination the Texas Trade Mart for a luncheon speech
    • Planned: Austin: Fundraising dinner speech at Municipal Auditorium.
    • Planned: Johnson City: Weekend of relaxation at Lyndon Johnson's ranch.
  4. The assassin’s bullet:
    • Shots fired at 12:30 p.m. Central. The President hit
    • Mrs. Kennedy said, "I have his brains in my hand!"
    • Agent Clint Hill jumped onto the back of the Presidential limousine, shielding the President and Mrs Kennedy with his body. En route to the hospital, he flashed a "thumbs-down" signal and shook his head from side to side at the agents in the follow-up car, signaling the graveness of the President's condition.
    • Motorcade arrived at Parkland Hospital at 12:38
    • 12:45 pm CST: Dallas ABC news affiliate announced:  “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You'll excuse the fact that I am out of breath, but about 10 or 15 minutes ago a tragic thing from all indications at this point has happened in the city of Dallas. Let me quote to you this [briefly looks at the bulletin sheet in his left hand], and I'll...you'll excuse me if I am out of breath. A bulletin, this is from the United Press from Dallas: (Reading UPI bulletin) 'President Kennedy and Governor John Connally [in his agitated state, he mispronounced Connally's name as "Colony"] have been cut down by assassins' bullets in downtown Dallas
    • At 12:40 pm CST/1:40 pm EST. The CBS network interrupted its live broadcast of As the World Turnswith a "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide and Walter Cronkite filed an audio-only report over it as no camera was available at the time
    • At 1:00 pm CST, after a priest administered the last rites, President Kennedy was pronounced dead
    • 1:33 pm.: Acting White House press secretary Malcolm Kilduff announced: “President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 CST today, here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain.”
    • 1:38: A CBS News employee seen in the background pulled off a sheet from the AP News ticker. He quickly relayed it (off-camera) to Cronkite, who put on his glasses, took a few seconds to read the sheet, and made the announcement: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: [reading AP flash] 'PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED AT 1 P.M. (CST),' 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”
  5. Probably everyone over 60 has a story about "where they were"
    • Wikipedia notes that "The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early ... The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking "Where were you when you heard about Kennedy's assassination?" would become a common topic of discussion".
    • I was in study hall at Oak Hills High School
    • An announcement was made that the President had been shot
    • Shortly thereafter an announcement was made that the President had been killed
    • School was dismissed early and I returned home on the schoolbus
    • There was a palatable sense of grief – seemingly universal: "In those big-three-network days (ABC, CBS, NBC), television was broadcast mostly in black and white, and the images of the coverage that followed—the riderless horse, John-John’s salute as his father’s casket went by, Jacqueline Kennedy’s mourning veil … - bled into our consciousness like irremovable ink.” Vanity Fair
  6. How did the Kennedy assassination change America?
    • In a recent panel discussion on this topic, Bob Schieffer declared "I think it was the weekend that changed America ... America lost its innocence" *
    • For many, their view of America changed for the negative: "New York Times columnist James Reston, the dean of American journalism, said Kennedy’s assassination was a symptom of a sick society. The distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide in the Kennedy White House, said that Kennedy’s death was evidence that America was an overly violent society. " *
    • There was vast skepticism about the conclusions of the Warren Report and indeed conspiracy theories continue to abound.
    • George Will notes that the Kennedy assassination changed liberalism: "Hitherto a doctrine of American celebration and optimism, liberalism would now become a scowling indictment: Kennedy was killed by America's social climate whose sickness required "punitive liberalism." "
  7. Reflections on the 50th anniversary of his assassination:
    • It continues to resonate for me as a tragedy at a personal level: a young wife witnesses the murder of her husband; her children stand beside her at the funeral 
    • It reminds me of the need to pray for our country and for our leadership. No one wants to see a Presidency end with an assassination! 1 Timothy 2:1-3, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior". In Proverbs we are reminded that God establishes rulers, "By me kings reign" (8:14-16). And in Daniel 2:21, "And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings"


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