By Tom Joyce
November 23, 2013
My “what were you doing when John F. Kennedy was killed?” story starts at Stuart Elementary School in Virginia.
As I pen this column Friday afternoon, I am amazed at how similar the weather was on that fateful day, also a Friday, exactly 50 years ago. Not cool for late November, but definitely overcast and gloomy.
Being that I was in a very early elementary grade, I don’t remember all that much about what happened in class that day, but do seem to recall students at dear old Stuart School being dismissed early in the afternoon.
One thing I remember vividly when boarding the school bus was veteran driver Ray Roberson straining to hear words coming from the vehicle’s AM radio, which were hampered by static. The only other times I had seen him with the radio on was when the World Series was under way, which actually was played during the daytime back then.
With no baseball in November, however, Ray told us curious kids what he was listening to, a news report that President Kennedy had been shot. I knew who Kennedy was from having memorized all the presidents in order, with his being the final name I would have to recite.
At that point, everyone was under the impression that JFK had only been wounded, but was not dead.
But by the time my sister and I arrived home and were greeted by our stay-at-home mom, there was confirmation that Kennedy had indeed been killed.
Now, if you were a small kid in Patrick County, Va., in those days when entertainment options were limited — no video games, computers, cell phones, etc. — the first thing you did after school was usually turn on the television set.
However, on this gray November afternoon in 1963, the airwaves of all three channels we could pick up at our house were filled with frantic newscasts — the black and white TV images that then were the standard matching those somber reports.
Just as now when mass shootings or similar tragedies occur, reporters had only scant details of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, which were broadcast over and over from every conceivable angle.
This frustrated me then as much as such events do today, punctuated by me and my sister and 2-year-old brother being deprived of watching the kiddie shows as we customarily did in the afternoons while waiting for our dad to come home. Sad to say, the great feeling of loss accompanying the death of a U.S. president in such a manner did not really sink in with me.
To top off that miserable day, our mother — a fine cook who is the master of many tasteful dishes — prepared for dinner the only one in her culinary arsenal that I thoroughly and absolutely despised: liver and onions.
The next day it was more of the same, with no Saturday morning cartoons on television — which every kid eagerly awaited each week — due to continuing coverage of the assassination.
But then would come Sunday morning and the next-shocking development in an already traumatic story.
As was sometimes the case, my dad did not accompany the rest of the family to Sunday school and worship services at Fairystone Baptist Church. And when we returned home, crossing the bridge and heading up the driveway to the house, there was Daddy waiting for us outside with a strange look on his face.
My dad did not usually get excited about much, but on that particular occasion he seemed to be animated and anxious. He couldn’t wait to tell us that he had just witnessed the shooting of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. We all ran into the house to catch the replays of that horrifying event which were shown over and over.
When Monday rolled around, school was cancelled and my family joined others in watching Kennedy’s funeral on TV.
The next summer during a vacation to Washington, D.C., we would all stand and gaze at the Eternal Flame on the late president’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. I remember being amazed over how the flame could not be put out, even by a hard rain.
As the years rolled by, I became fascinated with the Kennedy assassination and read everything I could get my hands on regarding the subject. And in dredging up the details of that event for today’s column, the question also came to mind about whether the American people will ever know the truth — the full truth — about what happened during that terrible weekend a half-century ago.
JFK’s death spawned the mother of all conspiracy theories, and rightfully so, with recent polling indicating that most Americans — 62 percent — now believe Oswald did not act alone, but as part of a broader plot or conspiracy.
There certainly are arguments on both sides of this question, but when everything is tallied in my mind, I reach the conclusion — call it the eye test — that Americans haven’t received the complete story about what happened to our 35th president.
With the 50th anniversary of that monumentally tragic event being observed this weekend, it is high time for anyone who knows anything — most notably the government — to tell us those details. We can take it — we’ve been through a lot since then, including Watergate and various and sundry other cover-ups.
Americans shouldn’t have to wait another 50 years for some answers.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.