50 Years Ago Today

I got home from Francis Lewis High School, in Queens, around 1 PM that day. A Friday, like today. I was 16 and a senior. My younger sisters were still at school and my parents were undoubtedly tooling around, a favorite Friday activity since my dad took off that day and he was the driver of the household. I was glad to have the house to myself.

I grabbed a few cookies and turned on Channel 2. Walter Cronkite was uncharacteristically at his CBS desk. I heard his somber announcement moments after it happened. President Kennedy was shot in Dallas and rushed to the hospital. I sat on the edge of the brown vinyl sofa in our small den and hung onto every word. We had to rely on reports from the TV folks on the ground in Dallas to learn exactly what happened. It was pretty sketchy, but based on the bits and pieces I was hearing, I knew Kennedy was dead.

At around 2 PM, Cronkite announced that the president’s death was “official.” We’ve seen the now-famous news clip over and over throughout the last half century: The usual stalwart Walter Cronkite choking up, barely able to deliver the news.

I had to talk to someone, so I called my aunt at her job in Manhattan. “President Kennedy was killed in Texas,” I cried. Like many of my peers, we were in love with him, even if we didn’t exactly have a solid grasp of politics in those days. We lived through the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy was our hero. We loved Jackie, too. We thought she was so beautiful. We wanted to be her.

My family sat glued to the TV for the next few days and watched history being made. I witnessed Jack Ruby shooting Oswald on “live” TV. To this day, I can remember calling to my mother, who was in the kitchen adjacent to the den, “Oh my god, Oswald was just shot.”

I was a naïve teenager in 1963. Kennedy’s death profoundly affected me. During the weeks following, I couldn’t stand to watch people having fun. When my 13-year-old cousin had his Bat Mitzvah about a month later, I left the party.

To this day, I have a hard time grasping the death of young and relatively young men and women (famous or not) with so much yet to give: Steve Jobs, James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, and so many more. I cannot believe 50 years have passed since that horrific day in Dallas. But I am lucky to still be alive and to be able to appreciate all that I have.

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