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47 years since the loss of innocence

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

This coming Monday is a date that I never let go by without a comment.

It’s been 47 years since Nov. 22, 1963, that fateful day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.

It’s hard for young people today to understand what it was like not to have security checks at airports, bubble tops on limousines carrying dignitaries, and TV shows with ratings to make sure people aren’t watching something inappropriate.

To me, that date was the end of the innocence of our country. It was the turning point that led from the “Happy Days” of the 1950s to the revolutionary days of the 1960s.

It’s hard to speculate what our country would have been like had Kennedy lived. I was not a Kennedy fan, because of his liberal ways, but when it came to foreign policy, he had earned the respect of leaders across the world. The Cold War between us and the Soviet Union was in full swing, but in the first major crisis, it was the Soviets who blinked with regard to Cuban missiles.

When it came to the following pair, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, we were the ones blinking or, at best, being indecisive, and it cost many American lives over the next 12 years.

How many of us were glued to our TV sets that weekend? How many watched as the blood-spattered first lady, Jackie Kennedy, stepped off the plane? Who can forget the gasps from the audience that saw her, still in that bright outfit that she had worn in Dallas?

Those who watched the funeral probably, like me, still have that drum beat going around in their heads. It was a somber sound that reflected the mood of the country.

There were a lot of things to remember from that weekend. The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald stands out. I was sitting at the kitchen table at our home in Bergen County, New Jersey, watching a small black-and-white television. I remember the shooting, and calling out to my parents, “Oswald’s just been shot.” This was the first time in history that television played a major part in the reporting of on-the-spot news, something else today’s generation can’t understand hasn’t existed forever.

For me personally, there was a lot to remember. On the day after the assassination, I was to have my first date with a young lady, and we were going to go bowling. The bowling lanes were closed in memory of the president, but for some reason some of the movies stayed open, so we went to see “Lawrence of Arabia.” I wasn’t too fond of the movie, but I guess the date went well, since last April we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.

Every generation pretty much has its own “you never forget where you were when it happened” event. For those who came just before me, it was Pearl Harbor. For the first generation after me, it was the Shuttle Challenger explosion. For the younger generation now, it was, of course, 9/11.

But for my group, it was that day in November, when President Kennedy was on his way from the airport to a speaking engagement. Those shots heard around the world still echo in replays on television and in the minds of those of us who lived through that tragic event.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.