I remember exactly where I was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I was ten years old and was a student at Bailey Inglish Elementary School in Bonham, Texas, which is 70 miles from Dallas. I can’t remember exactly how we received the news, though I think it was over the loud-speaker. That seems insensitive now that I’m thinking about it, so perhaps not. I just remember being told that our school day was over and it was time to go home.
I walked the five blocks to my house – my usual routine – and went into a quiet house. After all, no one was expecting me for a couple of hours. I heard the television on upstairs, and when I went up there I found my father sitting on the edge of his bed listening to Walter Cronkite. My dad was crying.
This may have been the first time I had ever seen my father actually cry versus just getting teary-eyed. I remember snuggling up next to him and watching the news coverage. Over the next few hours all of my brothers wandered in as well and lay down on the floor to watch television.
I remember feeling distressed that this horrible event had happened in Dallas. What a black mark on the city and on Texas. I was embarrassed to think President Kennedy had died in our state. How awful that we had not been able to protect him. How humiliating that this had happened so close to home.
I don’t remember any particulars about that day besides being let out of school early and then coming home to Daddy. I don’t remember my mother being there. She may have been or else off at graduate school in Denton. Daddy’s sorrow trumped whatever else was happening. I remember feeling so sad – for President Kennedy – but even more so for Caroline and John-John. I could imagine how awful it would be to lose your father.
Seeing Walter Cronkite get emotional also had an impact on me. I wasn’t used to someone like him showing his emotions on television. But there he was, his voice cracking and his eyes so teary that he had to take his glasses off to wipe them with his handkerchief.
He and my father. And me, not crying, but sad and aware that life had changed. I didn’t quite know how, but I knew that the man who had said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” was gone.
I felt sorrow for Lyndon Johnson having to take over the presidency like that. I knew he wanted to be president, but not like that. He and Ladybird. They looked distressed. Just like all of us.