Fifty years ago today I did almost exactly what I did this morning. I got up, ate breakfast, gathered up my things for school, and went to campus. On that day however, I was a sophomore at Ball State, and it was the second day of finals. (We were on the quarter system in those days, and we had finals at a different date than most schools now, even BSU.) I had a final that morning, I don’t remember in what, and afterward I met some friends about 11:00 at the cafeteria in the old Student Center. We ate lunch and went our separate ways, planning to see each Monday next.
We lived on Tillotson Ave, in Muncie, in those days and I got home probably around noon or so. My mother watched “As the World Turns” which came on at one o’clock and I was lying on the couch, watching it with her. At about 1:45 or so, just as Nancy Hughes was pouring Grandpa Hughes a cup of coffee (if my memory serves, and it usually does) the screen went to “Special Report”, then immediately to Walter Cronkite, who gave us the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, while on a visit there, and had been rushed to the nearest hospital, which happened to be Parkland, we later came to find out. I don’t remember exactly what my reaction was, or Mother’s, but I know that we were shocked at the news, and even more so when it was announced a few minutes later, that the President was dead. I remember Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses, looking down, speechless for a few seconds, before putting them back on and returning to the story.
It’s hard to understand this now, perhaps, but those who were my age, had placed such high hopes on our country’s future because of this new young president. More than the past two presidents, he represented the future that we were to be a part of, and we eagerly looked forward to embracing it with the ideals he inspired. Although many of us tried to become what he thought we could, I think we failed to see the forest for the trees. As I read once, “The Devil can set his table anywhere, and any time; he doesn’t need a thunderstorm to do it.” And “the Devil” made sure we knew that by 1970. (I’m not being religious here. It’s simply a phrase I like.)
This was the first major event of television news and the wall to wall coverage we have become so used to now. The radio stations were given to playing classical or somber music. For four days, through the following Monday, we watched nothing but coverage of the aftermath and the funeral. I remember John-John’s salute, and Jackie at Caroline going up to the casket and slipping their hands under the flag to touch it as it rested on Lincoln’s bier in the Capital Rotunda (where our class had visited just the year before). And then came the funeral, and the casket borne on the horse drawn caisson with the riderless horse (named Blackjack) with the boots turned backward in the stirrups led behind. And then, to many’s surprise, came Jackie, Robert, and Ted Kennedy, and others whom I’m not sure of, walking along behind these at the head of the funeral procession. Jackie had swathed herself in black, including a long black veil covering her face, for the entirety of the her time in public, in the true tradition of mourning the dead throughout history.
At Arlington Cemetery the body was lowered into the ground at the foot of the hill in front of Arlington House (once home to Robert E. Lee and his family) and the eternal flame was lit. I saw a live picture of it this morning, burning brightly against the overcast skies of Northern Virginia.
I cannot explain my feelings during all of this, except to say that they were of great sadness. Our country had lost a president, a woman was a widow, and two young children were fatherless. At that time, Rose Kennedy has already lost two of her children, and In the coming years of the 1960’s she would lose one more. But that’s a story for another time, say April 4th.
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” Edward (Ted) Moore Kennedy, 1980