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?