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Remembering Kennedy

This November 22nd marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my hero.  I was seventeen years old at the time, on that day that changed history.  I was sitting alone in my high school's nerdy audio visual work room, which I oversaw in my senior year, watching TV, surrounded by old Bell and Howell projectors, stacks of educational film canisters addressed back to Indiana University, film repair splicers, and folding portable screens.  I was feeling kind of smug, being the only one privileged to sit with his feet on a desk watching TV, behind a locked steel door, when everyone else was in some dull classroom.  Suddenly, there was a bulletin on the black and white screen; the voice of Walter Cronkite came on and he somberly announced that the President had been shot.  WHAT!?

That was the start of three days of television's first non-stop coverage of a catastrophe.  That was the marker of my generation.  For the past fifty years, people my age have always asked each other, "where were you, what were you doing when Kennedy was shot?"  Within minutes, Cronkite was on live, his voice barely under control, telling the world that President Kennedy was dead.

Suddenly, I realized that I was probably the only person in the building who knew what had happened, what with everyone else engaged in the serious routine business of education.  I hesitated a moment, and then ran down to the school's office, daring to burst right into the principal's office, white as a ghost and shaking.  As he looked up in outrage, I stammered, "s-s-sir, I I'm not..., this isn't a joke, The President has been shot, he's dead!"  His bald head started sweating, I remember that clearly.  He looked at me in disbelief and silence, and then he seemed to slowly realize that the incredible little nerd standing there shaking was likely not kidding.  He turned on a radio, listened to the news, then picked up his phone to call the county school superintendent.  I started to leave; he told me to stay exactly where I was.  He'd need me in a few moments, I was the tech nerd, he needed me to fire up the school wide public address system, wait for the amplifier tubes to heat up, adjust the volume, and kill the gungh and squeal.  He made careful notes for his announcement, then nodded at me to flip the switch.  I handed him the microphone.  "Attention students and teachers, this is the principal speaking...."  He closed the school, nodded at me to flip off the sound and shut down the system, and then said to me, "OK, go home."  Not a word of thanks from him for my action and help.  Weeks later I realized that he would have suspended me for watching TV, had he not been distracted by the crisis.  At the time, I thought he was a jackass. 

I went around the school collecting the projectors on their carts, where they'd been abandoned in classrooms by my crew, and put them all away in the audio visual room.  The principal and I were the last to leave the building.

 I drove home, slowly and carefully.  This was suburbia, even poor kids like me had cars parked in the school's Senior Parking Lot.  For the next three days I sat glued to the TV, an old wooden floor model Dumont, made in America, in New Jersey.  I tape recorded everything, including the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby.  I still have the tapes, old reel to reel audio tape, probably totally degraded now over the past fifty years.  Anyway, who has a reel to reel tape recorder anymore?  I still have all the newspaper headline clippings that I'd saved for historical posterity, stuffed in an old suitcase in the back of my closet.  I suppose its time to dig them out and look at them again.  Isn't that why I saved them, so I could look at them fifty years later as an old man?

His famous inaugural words came echoing back into my mind again, across half a century, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  And now, as an old gay vet, I remember, those words were what had inspired me to join the military and serve my country for a decade.  It was a long time ago; I was very young.

Still proud,
Sgt Denny

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