50 years ago today, an American president was assassinated

On November 22, 1963, at 12:30 pm CST, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.

I remember that day so clearly, it’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago.

I was in my chemistry class at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, in an old gray stone building on the North Oval, taking a test. Perhaps that’s why the news didn’t make it into that particular classroom. After class I went up to Campus Corner to buy a few things and as I waited at a cash register, I overheard some people talking about the president being shot. I interrupted them and they confirmed what I’d heard: The president of the United States had been shot.

Horrified, I raced back to my rooming house a few blocks away and found everyone already huddled around the television. For four days, until after the funeral, we stood watch with the rest of the world. We ordered in food rather than go to the boarding house for meals. We went to bed reluctantly, if at all. We spoke in hushed, disbelieving voices.

JFK wasn’t a saint or a god. He wasn’t the king of some mythical Camelot. And frankly, I didn’t much care for him and his privileged Ivy League Boston background. But he was the president of the United States. There were no words for the shock I felt.

To this day I believe the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone. I’ve never been one to buy into conspiracy theories, and I never bought into those surrounding the assassination. Oswald was both skilled and lucky, and on November 22, 1963, acting alone, he shot and killed John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States.

A year earlier, in October 1962, Kennedy had faced down the Soviets and kept their nuclear missiles out of Cuba, averting the greatest threat to the nation in my lifetime. Now, on a sunny day in an average American city just 200 miles from my home, he was gone, shot down by a pathetic, disaffected fellow American.

If there was any political innocence left in my generation, it died that day.

9 thoughts on “50 years ago today, an American president was assassinated

    1. Things changed forever, but in a way, not at all. As a nation we still act as though the greatest threat is from somebody “out there” somewhere beyond our borders. We ignore the mental and emotional time bombs ticking away just down the hall or across the street. As long as deranged gunmen shoot up our schools and well-known public figures are nearly stabbed to death by their emotionally disturbed children, we’ve not changed enough.

  1. I think I was as devastated by JFK’s assassination as anyone, but in retrospect I believe that Oswald’s most grievous crime was to embolden a tide of misanthropic losers who, like Oswald still is today, become the focus of media attention well beyond any reasonable span of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that somewhere there’s another one out there becoming intoxicated with the notion that he could become as infamous as Oswald if only he could find the right target. I wish the media would iterate and reiterate that Oswald and his ilk are cowardly losers who couldn’t make in one of the most free societies the world has ever produced. He and they are pond scum – and aren’t worth mentioning again.

    1. Losers like Oswald don’t care what the media say about them, only that they say something. Fame, notoriety, condemnation, whatever. They don’t care if it’s negative as long as they get noticed and talked about. Oswald didn’t live long enough to enjoy the attention, but he certainly set an example, as we’ve seen in the years since. I’m afraid we’ll always have Oswalds among us.

  2. Although it was two weeks short of my 8th birthday, I remember having a really hard time grasping the significance of what had happened. I knew it was something terrible because it seemed as if the whole world was crying. Don’t know if there’s a connection, but Don McLean’s “American Pie” plays in my head on every anniversary…

    1. I checked the release date of that song and it hadn’t come out yet, so you couldn’t have been hearing it at the time. Must be something in the lyrics that struck a cord later. I don’t know. Sometimes those associations form for us and we never quite know why. And it’s no surprise a kid notices and remembers when all the grownups are crying; that would be pretty traumatic, I imagine. Having been one of the grownups, I can tell you it was very traumatic for all of us. For all we knew, it was the first salvo in the Soviets’ return to retaliate for our embarrassing them. The world was a much scarier place back then.

      1. Sorry, I knew “American Pie” wasn’t released until the 70s. It just seems to commemorate a really traumatic event from earlier in McLean’s life, and I guess Kennedy’s assassination was the only event big enough for my subconscious to connect it to. Funny you mentioned the Soviet retaliation theory, because I didn’t become aware of the whole Cuban missile thing until later. However, now that I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit, I’m pretty sure the adults around me at the time were convinced the white supremacists were behind it because of the moves Kennedy was making on civil rights…

        1. Kennedy ticked off a lot of people. Hard to imagine now but just the fact that he was Catholic had a lot of people very upset. No good could come of that! You know those Catholics … elect one of them and the next thing you know the Pope will be running the country!

... and that's my two cents