A day when time stopped
Fifty years have passed. It was a clear, brisk day in November 1963.
The eastern horizon was lit with silvery rays of sunlight on this bright Friday morning. As usual, teachers and students greeted each other at the Main Street School in East Aurora. I was the school principal at the time. Little did any of us know, there would be a heart-rendering tragic event in Dallas that day, the 22nd of November. This event would leave a lasting memory on the lives of millions upon millions of people the world over.
Later that day, around 2 p.m., the head custodian of the school building alerted me that something terrible must have happened. He heard a report on radio and somber music was being played on the airwaves. Almost at the same time, the school switch board notified us that our President, John F. Kennedy had been tragically, senselessly assassinated.
All of us were terribly devastated. Immediately, it occurred to me that the students, faculty and staff would be completely in shock; I knew that they must be told of this tragedy before school dismissal. Immediately, I went to every classroom and spoke with the pupils and their teachers. Many broke into tears, and all were devastated with grief and disbelief. Many of these same school children, now in 2012, are in their 50s and 60s, and they have not forgotten. Events of this magnitude stay permanently embossed in one’s memory … it seems like only yesterday.
The following day, it was a Saturday, the newspaper arrived at our home. The bold black banner headline read “KENNEDY DEAD, SHOT BY SNIPER IN TEXAS.” I think it is fair to say, that nearly all major newspapers around the world carried the story of the earth-shaking event of the day before. Regular radio and television programming was temporarily suspended and replaced with somber music on the radio and TV news coverage from the nation’s capital. For the next several days, time seemed to stand still for most Americans.
Many of us remember Sunday, Nov. 24, early afternoon, when live television cameras were rolling, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been arrested for the assassination, was shot by Jack Ruby. Oswald died two hours later at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The entire nation, if not most of the world, were glued to their television sets.
That same day Sunday, back in Washington, President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket moved from the White House to the Capital rotunda on a caisson drawn by six gray horses, accompanied by a riderless black horse. Crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue and many wept openly as the caisson passed. During the 21 hours that the President’s body lay in state in the Capital Rotunda, nearly 250,000 people filed by to pay their respects.
The funeral took place on Monday, Nov. 25. Perhaps the most indelible images of the day, were the salute to his father by little John F. Kennedy, Jr. (whose third birthday it was) and daughter Caroline kneeling next to her mother at the president’s bier, and the extraordinary grace and dignity shown by Jacqueline Kennedy. Thousands were in tears as the President’s flagged draped coffin was moved down the steps of the Capitol as the familiar strains of the “Naval Hymn” played in the background.
The funeral was attended by heads of state from more than 100 countries, with untold millions watching on television. President Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. At the grave site, Mrs. Kennedy and Robert and Edward Kennedy lit the eternal flame. And that flame burns brightly to this day.
People throughout the nation and the world struggled to make sense of a senseless act. Many, to this day, express their feelings about President Kennedy’s legacy as they recall his words from his inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, not in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
And so, a nation continues in the pursuit of a dream. And we will not forget.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University. He is an award winning author. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com