Friday, November 22, 2013
Fifty Years on Down the Road
by Pa Rock
Many significant activities and events have occurred in my lifetime including several wars, the space race and moon landings, AIDS, the Challenger disaster, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations, the advent of personal computers and instant communication through email, the rise of terrorism, the election of a black man as President of the United States, and the Arab Spring. But of all of the history that I have witnessed, only three events stand out with such clarity that I can remember exactly what I was doing when they occurred.
One of those three momentous events was when Neil Armstrong took the first step onto the moon – the first human in all history to set foot on solid ground that was not part of the Earth. That was the summer of 1969, and I was attending ROTC summer camp at Ft. Riley, Kansas, where I was working my butt off from well before daylight to well after dark every day. It was hell, but the moon landing was one event that drove some positive energy through mosquito –and-chigger-infested Camp Forsythe where we were billeted.
Another monumental event happened on September 11, 2001, while I was in Columbia, Missouri, attending a graduate social work class at the University of Missouri. My class was on the seventh floor of Clark Hall, and I was at a window staring out across the Mizzou campus when a classmate walked in with the news of the first tower being hit. Soon the instructors put a television out in the hall and all of the students from all of the classes gathered around and watched in horror as the day unfolded. That afternoon a small group of us (and one professor) went to a lunch that we had planned the week before. It was at an ethnic restaurant on Ninth Street called Osama’s. Obviously, I won’t ever forget the name of the restaurant.
But it was another event, one that pre-dated the other two, that had the most shock value and staying power – and that was the assassination of President Kennedy, which occurred fifty years ago today. I was a sophomore in high school sitting in the study hall with my friends as the lunch period wound down. An older student who had been home for lunch and had seen the news bulletins on television brought us the news. Later that day our superintendent, Bill Spears, had a school assembly when he made the official announcement. There was disbelief, some confusion as to how to react, and finally some hugging and crying. Mr. Spears kept school in session that day, but he did make the rounds talking to school board members. (I know that because my father was on the school board at that time.) The superintendent and board made a decision to cancel school on the following Monday, the day of the President’s funeral.
Years later when I was principal of that same little school, Coradell Alexander, our beloved music teacher who had been on staff about thirty years, told me her recollections of that day. She said that Mr. Spears had sought the advice of the faculty on what should be done. She said that the teachers were all mystified because none had ever been through an event like that before.
The Kennedy assassination was a transformative moment that changed the lives of all who were old enough to comprehend what was going on, and, in a larger sense, it signaled the emergence of modern times. The tragic shooting brought us all into the swirl of events as they unfolded in front of the never-blinking eye of television. We were there watching as Ruby killed Oswald, we saw John-John saluting his father’s flag-draped casket on the horse-drawn catafalque, we watched as Haile Selassie, Prince Phillip, Charles de Gaulle and hundreds of other dignitaries walked in the funeral procession, and we were there, solemnly sitting in front of our televisions, as Jackie lit the eternal flame at JFK’s Arlington grave.
We saw it all. We were part of the experience. We mourned as individuals and as a nation.
My god, where have the years gone?