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.
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
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
It was a long time ago; I was very young.