50 Years Ago Today: Memories of the JFK Assassination

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed 50 years ago today. Where has the time gone?

I’m sure you’ll be bombarded by all kinds of programs and stories today. I’m not going to talk about conspiracies. I’m just going to recall what a 12 year old boy saw that day.

I was in the 6th grade at Sharp Corner school, in Skokie, Illinois. Our class had just finished lunch. It was a Friday so that meant the dreaded fish sticks. We then went outside for lunchtime recess.

The story broke while we were out on the playground. No one believed it. The boys were running and joking around. We were doing pretend shootings.

When recess ended, we lined up by class to go back into the school. Still no one said anything. That as about to change.

As we entered the building, everything became eerily silent. When we entered our classroom, what we thought was a bad joke became horrifyingly true.

At Sharp Corner, all the classrooms had televisions. Black & White. So while most kids either heard it on a radio or were in a gymnasium, we watched history being made without leaving our seats. You had 30 twelve year olds and a young teacher with their eyes glued to that tv. It was so silent you could hear the proverbial pin drop.

For about an hour, we would hear different reports. Some optimistic, some not. Then it was said that Governor John Connelly was in worse shape than the President. As we soon found out, it wasn’t true. In fact, Kennedy was already dead. We just didn’t know it yet.

Frank McGeeThe person in this picture is Frank McGee. He was an NBC newsman. The clip you mostly see is of CBS’ Walter Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy. Our tv was on NBC and after about an hour, McGee was the voice our class heard telling us the President was dead.

Our teacher that year was Miss DeMeo. If your asking me about my favorite teachers, she’d be pretty far down the list. At that moment, when McGee said Kennedy had died, she immediately broke down into tears and ran out of the classroom. I had never seen a teacher cry before or since then. It humanized a woman I really disliked.

As for the other kids in the classroom, I don’t remember anyone breaking down. I came close. Had a large lump in my throat but held it in. We were all just stunned and trying to figure out what this meant.

The way our classroom was set up was you had four desks touching to make a square. I guess it kept the talking down. You could really only socialize with the other three kids.

From that class, those are the only three kids I remember. One boy died in his early 20’s. Not sure about one of the girls. The fourth is still a friend. We even attended the same college. In the past few years, we’ve occasionally mentioned that day. It’s impossible to forget. If we’re still around twenty years from now, on the 70th anniversary, we would probably remember we were sitting next to each other that day. It’s a connection you never will lose.

As for the teacher, I’ve spent a couple of days trying to find her. I called the school district and they had no record of her. I tried Google…nothing. Knowing her first name might have helped. I’m not even sure DeMeo was the correct spelling of her last name. I even took a shot at Facebook before realizing that she’s between 75-85 years old. Possible but not likely.

As for me, John Kennedy was really my first POTUS. I remember him being elected in 1960 and how happy I was he defeated Nixon. The assassination shook me up. I thought the killing of a President was going to be a regular event in our lives. What did I know…I was 12. Thankfully it hasn’t happened since.

We do know it was the start of a loss of our youthful innocence. In the next five years we saw the killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The war in Viet Nam escalated. The days of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were over.

It all started fifty years ago…November 22, 1963. To quote Walter Cronkite “And that’s the way it is.”

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