The Last Aloha: Recalling President John F. Kennedy

| November 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

 

President John F. Kennedy waves goodbye to Hawaii for the last time,  June 10, 1963, after attending a conference of U.S. mayors. He was fatally shot 50 years ago today in Dallas, Texas. (Archival photo)

President John F. Kennedy waves goodbye to Hawaii for the last time, June 10, 1963, after attending a conference of U.S. mayors. He was fatally shot 50 years ago today in Dallas, Texas. (Archival photo)

Dennis Drake
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii
Public Affairs

Friday, November 22, 1963 – I was 13 years old in the eight grade, yet that
day will forever be etched in my memory as if it had occurred yesterday –
and for those of us in elementary, middle or high school all across the
nation, the experiences of that day were almost all the same.
At 11:30 that morning, the school principal came over the intercom and said
“President Kennedy as been shot – we have no other information.” That took
us by surprise, but to us President Kennedy was “Mr. America” – young, tall,
vibrant – we thought certainly he was just shot in the arm or something – we
didn’t worry about it – he’d be fine.
An hour later the awful truth was announced – at 12:30 the principal came
over the intercom, but this time very somber, “The President is dead.
Please stand and face the flag pole for a moment of silence.” I don’t
remember ever doing that before. I remember hearing crying and sobs from
someone behind us – it was Mr. Papadakis, our gym teacher. I’d never seen a
grown man cry.
An hour later we were released to go home – I’ve discovered over all these
years in talking to others, that this happened all across the country, a phenomenal thing in that all school districts are local jurisdictions –
there was no “government edict” to my knowledge dismissing school nationwide – it just happened spontaneously in every community as the “right thing” to do.

I went home and that night during dinner no one spoke. Then my dad, a man
of few words, stood up to leave and said simply, yet so correctly, “It was a
terrible thing that happened today.”

For the next four days the nation simply stopped. Radio stations stopped
playing rock, just somber music. TV network news truly came of age that
weekend as it dominated coverage. Everyone watched the events unfold on
television – the Saturday mourning at the White House and the Capitol, the
Sunday shooting of assassin suspect Lee Harvey Oswald, the Monday national
funeral.

We went back school Tuesday as a changed nation – not quite knowing why. The
youngest elected President had suddenly died, leaving behind a young family.
He’d committed the nation to put a man on the Moon within the decade. He’d
stood down the Soviet Union to avert a global thermonuclear war which would
have ended all civilization. He’d challenged us to “ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” And then he
was gone.

50 years ago, yet seems like just yesterday.

 

 

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Category: News, Observances

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