Boomers Remember the JFK Assassination

It’s incredible to believe that this past week, the U.S. marked the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It was November 22, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President from a sixth story window of a book repository in Dallas, Texas as he rode in his motorcade.

The youngest boomers — those born in the last four years of the Baby Boom — were either too young or not yet born in 1963, so their recollection of the day is by historical records rather than personal observation. Those boomers born in the first half of the Baby Boom in the mid-40s and 1950s, however, recall vividly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that the President was dead.

Mister Boomer was in elementary school. The first inkling that something big was happening came when he heard what can only be described as wailing and sobbing in the halls of the school. It was the teachers who got the news and were the first to react. Mister Boomer had only heard such an outpouring of sorrow once before, at the death and funeral of his grandfather three years earlier.

Very shortly after Walter Cronkite made his historic announcement on TV that the President had been killed, the school principal got on the PA system to inform the students. Quickly, Mister Boomer’s class was ushered into another classroom in an upper grade, where the students were instructed to sit on the floor while a black-and-white TV on a cart was rolled in. There, the combined classes of kids watched coverage of the assassination on television. A short time later, the students were sent home.

It is sometimes easy to forget that John Kennedy had only taken the oath of office in January of 1961. When he was killed, JFK was looking forward to campaigning for his re-election to a second term. In three short years, his presidency was marked by stunning victories and disappointing failures. Here are some facts about his short time in the White House:

• He was the youngest U.S. President elected; he was 46 at time of his death
• First Roman Catholic President
• Set a goal to surpass the Soviet space program by landing a man on the moon
• Started the Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress to bring American idealism to developing nations
• A student of American history, together with his wife, Jacqueline, highlighted American arts and culture in the White House
• His children (Caroline and John) grew up playing on the White House grounds, and the President was often seen playing with them. The President even had a treehouse built for them on the grounds
• The Bay of Pigs incident in 1960 was a failed covert attempt by Cuban nationalists to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba
• Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a successful embargo around Cuba to prevent the Soviet Union from bringing nuclear weapons into Cuba; led to a test ban treaty in 1963
• Aspired to pass civil rights legislation, which ultimately was championed by his then Vice President and ultimately, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said he was doing so to finish the work of JFK
• Proposed and won from Congress a tax cut in 1963 to bolster recovery from an ongoing recession
• Proposed and won legislation to study the causes and possible prevention of intellectual disabilities and treat mental illness

JFK is such an important figure in American history, made even more so by his tragic death. Boomers were there to chronicle the good and the bad.

How about you, boomers? Were you old enough to remember JFK?

Boomers Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?