Today is the day. Fifty-three years after the event. I remember it. Do you?

It’s weird watching the documentaries commemorating events I remember. It’s the Kennedy assassination this month. Just about every station, network and cable, are doing specials on John F. Kennedy. For us, it’s a trip down memory lane. Or nightmare alley.

I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. And I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was very bald.


In 1963 I turned 16 and started college. Kennedy was shot in November and the world changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know what was going on remembers where they were the day they heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a landmark event, a turning point in history, a turning point in our personal histories.

I was in the cafeteria at school. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. A news report. It took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context. Someone had shot the President.

A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of undergraduates, sitting, standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour. Clutching that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”

Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued or silent. I found my boyfriend and we wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me. She should have.

LBJ Sworn In As President

Kennedy was “our” president. He looked good. Young, attractive, different. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.” At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem so young. Those were the days, eh?

For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are a many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.

I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.

Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking.

The 1960s were not about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests and civil rights. When flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe you wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget, replacing history with mythology.

November 22, 1963 was the end of political innocence for everyone, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning part. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.

A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.

It’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper with each passing year.

Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s insinuation, innuendo, and rumor. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. It will pass I suppose. All things do. But when? For more than half a century, we’ve been marching down this ugly road to which I see no end.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!


  1. I was a freshman in highschool when JFK was killed. We were sent home early and my mom had the TV turned on as she sat there in tears watching every minute of the coverage. I watched it too.


  2. Being a historian, people always ask me if I think it was a conspiracy. I don’t think so. However, I have visited the site, and the geography makes me wonder.


  3. I was 17, painting my bedroom ceiling with the windows open since we were having a bout of Indian Summer. The news came on WBZ, in those days for me the go-to radio station. I hollered outside to my dad and he took off for the house at a dead trot. We all watched Walter Cronkite being Walter Cronkite. I still tear up when I think of him, tears in his own eyes, announcing the formal death of the President.

    Conspiracy? Oh, I have always had a dreadful feeling about that, and I think it was Byzantine, complicated, and extremely well done. Oswald was as much a victim of that as Kennedy.

    As to that pass on a private life, I wonder how far John Kennedy would get today under our watchful eyes and our insane delight in exposure rather than good manners.


    1. He probably wouldn’t even be elected today … but I wish he had had a chance to do something before he was killed. And he was so young … and I was so young … and it was the first time I had felt engaged in the political process. Then came Nixon.


  4. I was a junior in Catholic High School acting as a tour guide for the next year’s potential freshman class. I was walking in a hallway, the news came over the loud speaker, we all dropped to our knees and said the Rosary. We spent the next several days glued to the television watching the same news loop. The idea of Camelot was a wonderful thing, the reality was rather ugly, but compared to today’s ability to make cell phone videos of absolutely everything, it was definitely the dark ages of technology.


    1. It was strange for me because it was the very beginning of realizing that the world wasn’t what I thought it was … and probably never had been. Nothing since has convinced me otherwise.


  5. There are certain events in the world when you do remember what you were actually doing on that day. 52 years ago in November I was looking forward to a Baltic Sea cruise the following year from school and we would also be spending a couple of days docking in at Leningrad. So I was 17 years old, my last year in school and at my friends place. When we arrived, her mother told us what had happened. It was unbelievable. I think Kennedy was the first president that I actually really knew in the states. It was interesting to read your side of things. After it happened so much has been written and said, but it happened. Are we today hardened up at such things?


    1. I think we are, at least somewhat. There have been so many assassinations. And each of them changed the body politic and certainly changed me. I suppose that’s part of the cynicism, that the people who try to make change happen, some moron or political tool is going to kill them. I’m surprised Obama survived … I’m sure it’s not for want of trying.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. How many of our present leaders are truly the Inspired Great Men of History?
    Few? None?
    Where are the Lincolns … ??? ….
    It disgusts and disturbs me when I see who can rise to power. Look at the clown we have in Canada right now. How does a guy like this get to be the leader of ANYTHING. Something is very. very sadly wrong.


    1. I’m not even sure Lincoln was Lincoln, at least not in the beginning. I think the great rise rise to the occasion. I think the Presidency is an “on the job” learning experience. No one knows what it’s about until after they are in office.


  7. Same thing happened here in India many years ago. The nation went into deep grief when Gandhiji was assassinated. How many people reach upto that level that the world mourns on their death?


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