November 22, 1963 is one of those dates ingrained in our memory, if we were alive and aware of the world around us at the time. 
On Thursday, the 21st, we had a good idea where we were headed, individually and collectively. By that sunny Friday afternoon, we didn’t. The days to follow brought more death, fear, confusion and questions. By the Thanksgiving dinner on the following Thursday, I remember being simply thankful to be alive. 
Do you remember where you were? Do you recall what you felt that day and throughout the next week? Did the assassination and subsequent events propel you to action or change your mind about your plans for the future? Today, almost 50 years later, what is the legacy of that historic date?

I remember the turmoil more than the details, but I know I was a few minutes into a mind-numbing mega-lecture on world history in a ground-floor room in the library of the University of Maryland-College Park. Our TA ran in and yelled that the president had been shot. Students recoiled in shock. The professor stammered around a few minutes then reluctantly gave us a 10-minute break, which gave everyone a chance to spill out on the mall to search for more information. The J-school was just next door and some journalism students brought out wire copy. Others had news from televisions scattered around campus. Eventually, we filed back into the lecture hall and the prof restarted. She said something like, "Will they never learn the lessons of history?" One by one, everyone in the hall got up and walked out. 
By the time I got back to downtown DC, Kennedy had died and fear had gripped the city. Flags were being lowered. Telephone lines were clogged. The empty streets and sidewalks were you all you needed to see to understand how frightened people were.  
I should mention that, at the time, many Washingtonians saw Texas as a lawless, awful place. Anything and anyone coming out of it was suspect, including Lyndon Johnson. Was he to blame for this? Did he lust after the presidency so much that he hired an assassin to eliminate Kenney? Or was this the first step of an invasion, the prelude to a coup? Would Russian troops be on the National Mall the next morning? Would other leaders be taken out by snipers? 
The world was truly upside down. Obviously, no one was safe. No one could be protected, even a president. Nothing was safe, nothing was sacred and there might be nothing between ordinary people like me and a totalitarian takeover. For a newly married 19-year-old, November 22 presented a watershed moment, perhaps the first truly adult moment in my young life. 
Birds on a Wire Blog looks back at that fateful day and week through a series of posts published four years ago. See what some of your friends remember. Read an eyewitness account written by a young television cameraman assigned to the Dallas parade and courthouse. And read the inaugural speech that became the mantra for an entire generation. 
Please share your memories and thoughts with us. Hit Comments in the upper-right corner of this post to join the conversation. 



Darlene Costner
11/14/2013 15:18

I was taking pictures of my toddler daughter. I can remember what she was wearing and how she twirled to make her skirt stand out. My husband was managing a radio station and got the news first. He called me and at first the news was so shocking I didn't believe it. A nation in grief soon followed.

12/14/2013 10:27

I was a freshman in college at the University of Iowa, and not a very happy one. I slept a lot, and I was sleeping when JFK was shot. I stumbled out into the hall of Burge Hall on the University of Iowa campus and dozens of coeds were crying.
"What happened?" I asked, and I learned the horrible news.
I went to the student lounge in the basement, where the one black-and-white television set was located and stood on a folding chair to try to get a look at what was happening on the national scene.
Later that day, I went to a combined memorial service at a church in downtown Iowa City---not MY church, which was the Catholic Church next door---but a Protestant church having a service. It was simply mind-boggling that this could have happened. I remember thinking, "If they can shoot down my president like a dog in the street, I don't trust anyone anywhere any more---especially politicians." I had the same suspicions that still linger, today, about the military-industrial complext that even Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about, and about the Texas VP who would now become president. It was heartbreaking watching the events of that weekend unfold. The big football game between the University of Iowa and Notre Dame was canceled. People were reminiscing about how JFK, when campaigning for president, had come to the University and signed the gigantic drum used by the Scottish Highlanders, then an institution on campus (now defunct). The Scottish Highlanders were a group of bagpipers and membership in the group was considered an honor, although why bagpipers should be connected with a university in the heart of the Midwest, I have no idea and never did have. (I was a member of Old Gold Singers, and they still exist and are still a troupe that sings and travels on behalf of the Univeristy to various venues to perform and, hopefully, recruit football and basketbal players to the University, but I had a high school classmate who was in Highlanders. She had played saxophone in high school, while I had played oboe. The oboe is actually quite a bit like the bagpipes, but the Highlanders wanted tall girls and I was only 5' 2".
I had been very active in campaigning for Kennedy in a heavily Republican county (Buchanan) in what was traditionally considered a Republican state. Jon Driscoll and I were the only 2 members of the "Young Democrats" club to show up for a JFK rally at the Youth Center above the police station. For me, the world changed when JFK was killed. I became much less trusting and felt as though my hopes and dreams for our country and for life had been crushed. I do not remember feeling threatened with thoughts of this being part of any "plot" from abroad. I just never trusted the "official" Warren Commission report or, for that matter, any politician, after that day. My father---who had served 4 terms as County Treasurer---said to me once, "Stay away from politics, Con. It's a dirty business." He was right. It's no secret that one of my favorite movies is "The Paralax View" and that I have grave doubts about the truth of "Who killed Kennedy?" even today.


Leave a Reply