Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the day President John F. Kennedy was shot

It was the week the nation gathered around television sets to watch the tragic story of JFK’s assassination unfold — the same medium that helped vault the dynamic young leader to the presidency less than three years ago.

By Mike Lupica
November 22, 2013

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Letting go of his mother's hand, John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's flag-draped casket as it passes on Nov. 25, 1963, the boy's third birthday. Behind JFK's son is Robert Kennedy; Ted Kennedy is on the other side of Jackie, behind young Caroline, who was about to turn six.

In the early afternoon our teacher, a nun named Sister Hortense, walked out of the classroom and came back in a couple of minutes later and told us that President Kennedy had been shot, and that we were being dismissed from school early. But before we left, she told us, we would all put our heads down on our desks and say a silent prayer for the President.

So many remember exactly where they were when they got the news, remember vividly that day and the days to come. I remember my head pressed against the cool surface of that desk.

This was Oneida, N.Y., on Nov. 22, 1963, and what I remember next about the day was the short walk home and not seeing a single person other than my classmates on the streets and not one car, because already the country was gathered around television sets in a way it never had before.

It was television that had helped elect John F. Kennedy as much as anything else, because of the way he looked in that first debate against Richard Nixon in 1960, as though America was being introduced to his youth and good looks and great charm for the first time.

Now it was television that began to tell us the story, in real time, of what had happened in Dallas that afternoon, hour by hour, through the weekend until we were having lunch on Sunday and watched as Jack Ruby walked up and shot Lee Harvey Oswald because we had moved our small black-and-white set into the kitchen, because this was the weekend when we could not look away.

The other day I asked my father, who flew in B-24s over Europe in World War II and loved Jack Kennedy for his own service to his country on his PT boat in the South Pacific, PT-109, what he remembered best about that weekend 50 years ago and he didn’t hesitate.

“I remember that we were afraid to leave the TV set,” he said.

Mario Cuomo, a young Queens lawyer at the time with small children, one of whom would grow up to hold the same job he once held, governor of this state, was talking about all of this on Thursday afternoon.

“The way we were all attracted to the television on 9/11,” Mario Cuomo said, “that was the way it was that day, maybe for the first time.”

This was before we would see all the images on television of the funeral, the image of John F. Kennedy Jr., known as John-John then, saluting his father’s coffin, that picture captured as well by a great old Daily News photographer named Dan Farrell as it was captured anywhere; I have a framed copy of that photograph, signed by Danny, on the wall above me as I write this.

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