We all remember certain moments — where were you when …..? For baby boomers of my era (not the earlies boomers — the second wave, born in the 50’s) , the assassination of JFK was the first nationally traumatic moment that we all shared.
I was an elementary school student at William Sutton Elementary school in Houston, Texas, on November 23, 1963. I was a member of the school safety patrol — which meant I was a crossing guard. One aspect of being a crossing guard was that we had to go out once around 1 pm to take care of the early elementary students (K-3rd grade). It was a warm day, sunny, probably pretty much the same as the weather in Dallas a few hundred miles to the north. In addition to wearing white belts, we carried long poles with stop signs on them, and the routine was that when we came back into the school we would leave the poles in a storage area in a corner of the main office. When we walked in, the secretaries and workers were all crying — not a single one wasn’t crying. We were shaken up by this and one of the guidance counselors saw us and pulled aside. She told us, “Someone has shot the President.”
I was shocked, of course — who wouldn’t be? My father was in the Army, a Republican, and no fan of Kennedy’s — but politics were politics, and htius was something different. They kept us in the office and aftera few minutes my teacher, Mrs. Bryant, came out. She knew. It looked like she’d been crying previously, but she was dry-eyed now. She calmly told me that when I re-entered the classroom I shouldn’t say anything — that the principal would be making an announcement at some point but it was important not to ‘jump the gun’ (strange choice of words). I nodded, feeling quite grownup and important to be trusted this way.
The announcement came fifteen or twenty minutes after I got back to the class. The thing I remember most is that a few — at least half a dozen — of the students in the class broke out into applause when they heard that Kennedy was dead. Mrs. Bryant flared with anger and started to punish them, then evidently thought better of it. We were then told that school would be letting out early and I had to rush back to do another round of safety patrol.
Here is the Walter Cronkite report that everyone remembers. I’m not sure I actually saw it live — in fact I’m pretty sure he made this announcement while I was still in school But it has been replayed so many times over the years that I feel like I witnessed it.
DEATH OF OSWALD
While no one saw Kennedy’s assassination live on TV, many of us did see the assassination of Oswald two days later. I was definitely watching TV live with my Dad when it happened. Here is the broadcast.