“Will there be a war tonight?” An Air Force brat remembers the week that Kennedy was assassinated | Street Jazz

Thursday, November 24, 2011

“Will there be a war tonight?” An Air Force brat remembers the week that Kennedy was assassinated

Posted By on Thu, Nov 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM

On the desk before me is a copy of The Burlington Free Press, with the headline:

President Assassinated
Professed Marxist Held in Slaying

And with the simple one-sentence paragraph that opened the story, nothing was ever the same again:

A hidden gunman assassinated President Kennedy with a high-powered rifle Friday.

The newspaper is as old and tattered as my memories of my boyhood, but there are things that will never be forgotten.

My father was stationed at Ethan Allen Air Force Base, just a few miles from Burlington, which was in the years-long process of being shut down. Because there were so few families assigned to the base, we all lived in offers’ housing; they’re just aren’t all that many bases where an NCO (my father) will find himself living next door to the base commander.

There being no school on base, we all attended the Colchester school system. When news of the shooting came, we were trundled off to the buses and sent home, where our childish imaginations created all sorts of horrific scenarios.

That night I asked my father, “Will there be a war tonight?”

“No,” he assured me, though I’m sure that others weren’t quite so certain.

It’s sort of difficult to explain what it was like growing up in the early 1960s, especially you were a military brat. Growing up in the military, you saw the saw the world in a sharper focus. It didn’t automatically make you more conservative (that laughable cliche should be put in the ground with a stake in its heart), but I think you were a little smarter about world events than your civilian counterparts.

Our young lives were dominated by the abomination known as the Cold War, when politicians would calmly discuss nuclear warfare before their second muffin over breakfast, and we were cautioned never to eat yellow snow.

We don’t eat yellow snow now because of the obvious reasons, but in the early 1960s, many believed that fallout from nuclear above-ground testing would cause the snow to turn yellow. Thanks to Kennedy and Nuclear Test Ban Treaty we can just worry about the dog next door.

The election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the only time that my father sat down with me and explained his vote, and me at the tender age of six, no less. Which is sort of ironic, because he voted for Nixon later, but that’s a tale for another day perhaps.

The day following Kennedy’s death, as they were bringing Lee Harvey Oswald through the hallway, Jack Ruby pushed through the crowd and shot him. My father began screaming for my mother, who was in the kitchen preparing dinner, to come in.

I have seen some fascinating things on television over the years, including the first moon walk, but nothing has ever squalled that one murderous moment on live TV.

After Kennedy died the memorabilia began appearing in stores - the records of his speeches, the books, everything else. They were snatched up by a hungry public.

We were all glued to our TV screens, watching everything pertaining to the funeral.

After he died there was a cartoon in the newspaper (was it done by Herblock?) that showed Abraham Lincoln, sitting in his memorial, head in his hands, in sorrow.

He became almost god-like in the public mind, which is a serious mistake at any time. Looking back, he was just flesh and blood.

But . . .

Even as a child, JFK was larger than life. I would watch parts of his press conferences, fascinated not so much by what he was saying - I was, after all, less than ten years old - but by the way he came across, and his sense of humor.

We don’t live with the specter of nuclear war hanging over our heads like we did in those days. Oh, we have terrorists, but for most Americans, the threat is that someone else in another city will be attacked.

Not us.

But in the 1960s we all lived with this all the time, especially if you lived in a military family. Like other families, mine had bottled water (in large glass containers) and canned foods in the basement, should an emergency arise.

And in 1962 it almost all came to a head, with the Cuban missile crisis.

I think of about this (and Lincoln, as well) every time I hear some political yahoo talk about abrogating their responsibilities, and just taking the advice of the “generals on the ground.”

Childhood went on after Kennedy died. I’m not going to prattle on about a “loss of innocence,” or anything of that nature. But a scar was created that day, and I’m not sure it has ever been allowed to heal.


And who grew up in the early 1960s without the hardy Boys?

I was introduced to the Hardy Boys in 1963, when the base commander's son came over to the house and gave me a whole sackful of them, since he was on his way to college, and didn't want them anymore. I went through a lot of the Hardy Boys mystery adventures over the years, as well as the tales of Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, the Power Boys, and even a couple of Cherry Ames books. Today, only Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys seem to have survived over the years.

I recently re-read a Tom Swift book and found it virtually unreadable, so filled as it was with cliches and flat, stereotypical characters. It was with some trepidation that I decided to wade through a couple of Hardy Boy books in order to see how kind the years have been to them.

Both kindly, and unkindly, as I discovered. The original adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy actually hold up pretty well, all things considered.. It is the newer adventures which don't seem to pass muster.

I've glanced over a few of the newer ones over the years (and even watched a couple of the blow-dried TV episodes with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson quite a few years ago).

I wasn't impressed. But I decided to be fair so I decided to compare the very first adventure, The Tower Treasure, with a recent one, The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

The Tower Treasure (admittedly for young readers) is far more complex and character oriented than the inferior Giant Rat of Sumatra. In fact, it was with some dismay that I made my way through the newer novel. Yes, I am little older (physically, at least) since I read the stories as a child, but this new story was truly horrible.

Part of the reason (other than the aging process) for my discomfort may well be due to the changes in the Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, et al) over the years. The Hardy Boys were created by Edward Stratemeyer in 1926, when he asked Leslie McFarlane to write the first books in a proposed new detective stories. Under the name of Franklin W. Dixon, McFarlane wrote 26 books before a stable of writers began writing newer stories, though the original McFarlane books are considered to be the best in the series.

In 1959, the Stratemeyer Syndicate decided that all of their series needed re-writing, since many of the earlier books were dated badly. In addition, many of the early books featured racial and cultural stereotyping, and even some outright bigotry is expressed by some in the books. And so, a massive re-writing project was underway, and some of the books featured new plots altogether.

While these were welcome changes, other changes were debated fiercely over the years. All of the books were shortened, and what drew many young readers in the first place (the characterizations and attention to detail) were jettisoned. Even so, the series continued to do well, spinning off into comic books, cartoon shows, and several other series of books featuring the characters. Each new incarnation seems to be directed towards a less literate reader; one can only wonder what the books may be like in another decade.

The Hardy Boys are cultural icons, along with the likes of Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Nancy Drew, and Travis McGee. It is sad that they are so ill-served by those who now control their fates.


Quote of the Day

No one keeps a secret better than he who ignores it. - Louis N. Nortin


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