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And all he had to do was get shot in a hallway.
We had gotten off school early the day before, and I clearly remember the janitor coming in and telling our teacher what had happened in Dallas. “Will there be a war tonight?” I asked my father, who was stationed at Ethan Allen Air Force Base in Vermont (just outside Burlington).
“No!” he assured me, but at nine years old, if the president of the United States could be shot and killed in his car on an American street, anything was possible. After all, despite the jokes people make today about “duck and cover,” we were living in the midst of the Cold War.
And as opposed to the imbecilic “Doomsday Preppers” on TV (who all seem to have extreme world-views) serious folks actually stockpiled food and large glass bottles of water in their basements.
Just in case . . .
You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist at eight years old to understand that we had dodged a nuclear bullet during the Cuban missile crisis.
In my desk is a copy of the Burlington Free Press with the headline:
Professed Marxist Held in Slaying
We were glued to our TV’s and radios. We were numb, in a state of shell-shock.
But even as we watched our televisions as if they were the only thing that mattered in the whole wide world, all we could do was take in the sad images from the capital, or Dallas, or images of mourners around the country.
We were swept up in the tide, the maelstrom of events, helpless passengers on the lifeboat.
We were blessed in not having the Internet in 1963, when those who sleep nightly in quilts of conspiracy would have been spinning their theories within minutes of the shooting.
But it was the next day, November 23, when things changed for me even more dramatically.
Lee Harvey Oswald is being led down the hallway of the jail, and millions of Americans are watching the suspected assassin making his way down the hallway, flaked by lawmen.
Suddenly, in less than the blink of an eye, a man lunges from the crowd, and fires his gun into Lee Harvey Oswald, Even as Oswald doubles over in agony, my father is on his feet, screaming for my mother to come in from the kitchen, where she is making our lunch.
Though the image would be replayed constantly, it never had the same impact for me as in that moment, on live television, I saw an accused assassin shot down.
Where before TV was talking horses, madcap comedies, the annual showings of Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz or westerns, now it had evolved before my eyes.
There was an immediacy to it I had never noticed or appreciated before.
My fascination with the immediacy of television had its roots that afternoon when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot. And the love of that immediacy has stayed with me for so many years, whether it be seeing a young black man win the world boxing championship on English TV in the 1960s, launches to the Moon (was there ever a more beautiful rocket than the Saturn V? I don’t think so), men walking on the Moon, or the Watergate hearings.
For me, TV changed the day I saw Lee Harvey Oswald go down on national television.
I just wish my awakening had come under better circumstances, on a happier weekend.
Quote of the Day
A minority group has “arrived” only when it has the right to produce some fools and scoundrels without the entire group paying for it. - Carl T. Rowan