There are some events in history that are high water marks and even those who don’t normally pay any attention to current events much less history can recall where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred. The most recent example of that would be 9/11 of course. Most of us can recall where we were that day and what we were doing. Those of an older generation can sure tell you about how, when and where they heard about Pearl Harbor. I recall my dad saying he had never heard specifically of Pearl Harbor. He obviously knew of the Hawaiian Islands and was aware that we had a base there but didn’t know its name. He did know it was Sunday and that he and my mom were together and planning to go roller skating when they overheard someone talk about the attack. (Yeah, I know a much simpler time) They went to a neighbor’s to listen to the news. They got married a month later and 9 months later Dad was off to the war. Recall that the Great Depression was still in full force at that time and most folks were still worried about the next paycheck more than they were about world events in far away places. They listened to Edward R. Morrow on the radio and saw the papers talking about the War that had already been under way for two years but food on the table was a more immediate concern. Don’t believe the current pundits who assert Roosevelt had fixed the Great Depression, ask someone you know who lived through it.
Many also recall where they were the day Kennedy was shot. I do. I was in school at SMU. The wife and I had only been married for a little over a year at the time. She was still working full time for LTV, then a defense contractor on its way to becoming a large conglomerate and she was attending school part time. I was just the opposite, I was attending school full time and working part time. My part time job was both great and a pain. I drove a school bus for Dallas County to transport children with hearing and speech disabilities to a special school supported by the County. It was a small bus, more like a van, and I hauled about 10 kids each day to and from school. I would pick them up at their home or apartment and then return them in the afternoon. I had to leave very early because the each trip was about 60 miles and it took a long time because they were widely spread out over the county. I totaled 120 miles every day and so did those poor kids. Then I would reverse it in the afternoon and take them all right back to their doorstep. Naturally there was lots of traffic because of the morning rush hour and then the start of the afternoon rush hour. I had them to school by about 8:00 each morning and picked them up at 3:30. That allowed me to attend my classes during the day so it was a great job from that standpoint. We needed the money and the kids were mostly fun. They ran the gamut from total loss of hearing and being mute to those with terrible impediments in their speech but they could talk and be understood if you listened carefully and got used to their speech patterns. I learned to sign with them. Not very well and I have forgotten almost every bit of it over the years.
I had made my usual trip that November morning delivering the kids and was on campus for classes. I had a noon class. I recall going to the class and we were just getting settled when someone stuck their head in the door and said that the Governor and Kennedy had been shot. That caused a bit of a stir and assorted comments of disbelief and a little dismay by some. The class was Abnormal Psychology and the professor who taught us, and I am not making this up, was Dr. Strange. Within moments he was giving a lecture about the type of personality that would be an assassin. I mean he was getting into and writing terms on the board and the whole nine yards. But during his lecture other people kept sticking their heads into the classroom and giving updates on the news from radio or TV. He finally got it that no one was really paying that much attention. Everyone was more interested in the news than they were in his lecture. He dismissed us rather reluctantly and we all went down to some other room that had a radio and listened to the newscasts. I will admit that I was not a fan of Kennedy at all. I didn’t like him and didn ‘t trust him. I was angry and upset that the event would make him a martyr which is exactly what happened. Even worse was the idea of Johnson being President. If you care to go back and look at the news accounts of the day you will find that lots of people shared my opinion of him. The election coming up the next year was already projected to be as close as the one he won. He won that one by a whisker and only because of the voter fraud in Cook County Illinois. He was not universally loved. We were mostly concerned if there was some Soviet conspiracy involved. Before the day was out Oswald had been arrested and immediately it was known that he was a Marine defector who had spent time in Russia and married a Russian wife. The Bay of Pigs fiasco was still fresh in everyone’s memory and so naturally thoughts of Cuban involvement were rife.
I still had to get the kids that day and take them safely home. The route we took was right through the heart of downtown where the assassination had taken place. The traffic was already terrible with the curious and onlookers. I and the kids were caught up in that mess. We were much later getting home that day than normal but we made it. They were all asking a million questions and I had a busy time trying to manouever that van and keep them entertained on that long ride home.
A comment on the lack of integrity and accuracy in the media of that day. The schools let out early that day in Dallas due to the shooting. In many of the schools the kids were intentionally not told why they were being dismissed early but only that they were. Of course being kids a lot of them let out a cheer and a whoop. They were getting a free holiday from school. The national media reported it as the kids in Dallas cheering the assassination and death of Kennedy. The correct version was issued by the school district right away after the story broke of the cheering but very few of the media ever made a retraction or correction. They let the story stand and the impression it gave even though they knew it to be false.