Skip to main content


Between one breath and another he was gone, a dream fading into time. But it wasn't "only" President Kennedy's death that shaped so many of our lives.

That November day in 1963 has been on my mind for days now, though it has never really left since it happened 50 years ago.

I know there are those who say that we boomers make too much of it all. Wonder if they'd say the same about 9/11 or the horror of Sandy Hook?

I was 13 that November, almost 14. We were living outside Syracuse, NY as my step father was in the Air Force and assigned to the Strategic Air Command Base.

The year before, in the fall of 1962, we'd made it through the Cuban Missile Crises, the closest this world has ever come to nuclear destruction. I'd never seen my step father and  mother so worried or frightened before. He was gone for days, only returning home once to grab a clean uniform.

Now I know what we didn't know then - SAC bombers were in the air above the Arctic ready for authorization to attack. It's what the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted. It's what they pushed for, but President Kennedy knew that was a sure path to nonredeemable destruction. So he negotiated, wrote letters to Khrushchev, communicated with the head of the Soviet Union through intermediaries, played a hunch that Khrushchev didn't want a nuclear war either, and he was right.  

We made it through. We all made it through, the earth made it through, thanks to President Kennedy.

Hope was on the rise in 1963. Hope for change. Hope for making things better, even in the face of so much hatred and bigotry. There was an idealism and determination to make things what they should be. No goal was too big - a man on the moon, waging war on poverty, or finally ending the endemic racism of our country. All things seemed possible. After all, we'd stared down the barrel of nuclear war and come out the other side.

And then November 22, 1963 happened. The world shifted and continued to do so over the following years. President Kennedy's death was a harbinger of things to come, though in our grief and horror, none of us knew that. Too soon we would.

Ascribing the attention and emotion of this 50 year anniversary solely to his death, misses the larger context. As traumatic as President Kennedy's death was, it did not occur in a vacuum. There was so much going on. And all of it shattered much of the American Father Knows Best, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, mythos.

It was the deaths of four little girls blown up in their church in Birmingham, Alabama earlier that year. It was the soul grotesque racism being broadcast on our televisions.

It was a burning Freedom Rider bus and Federal Marshalls sent to Alabama. It was federal troops sent to the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the University of Alabama in 1963, to protect black students attempting to enroll. On June 11, 1963, Kennedy gave a speech calling upon Congress to pass a comprehensive Civil Rights bill, stressing that Americans were "confronted primarily with a moral issue, not a legislative or political one." It was the March on Washington and Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech.

Then our young President was murdered. The President who could surely help guide us towards and through the healing that our country so desperately needed was gone. Hate and violence seemed unleashed. The dogs and night sticks of Selma, Alabama happened. Those fighting for the dream were cut down - Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Bobby.

It was Mrs. Kennedy remarrying after Bobby's death and getting her children out of the country out of fear for their lives. It was the students killed at Kent and Jackson State. There were our class mates, friends and brothers not coming home from Nam or coming home broken. It was all of it. Every damn drop of blood and bit of broken dream.

Something was hurt and hurt badly. Our innocence? Perhaps. Our faith? Maybe. Our belief in our ability to make a difference? Broken, but not gone. We're still here, after all, doing what we can, no matter how small. But it's never easy and it's never free of fear.

What happened back then haunts how I look at President Obama. It haunts my hopes and dreams for our nation, and I doubt I'm alone.

Soon, my generation will pass from this earth. We'll be the last who lived through those soul harrowing times.  Perhaps that knowledge of our own mortality is part of why this 50th anniversary is resonating so deeply. It has been a half century since bullets shattered joy in Dallas and I stared at a Latin test, unable to fathom the questions or a world that had irrevocably changed.  

Soon, like Abraham, Martin, Bobby, and John, we boomers will fade into history. The question is, as always, what do we do with the time left to us?


6:11 PM PT: I can't thank all of you enough for sharing your stories about where you were 50 years ago today. You've shared the people you love, friends, teachers, neighborhoods. On a day when so many of us are remembering when our world so horribly changed, you have all created a haven of comfort and sharing. Deepest thanks and blessings to you all.

Originally posted to Onomastic on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:39 AM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Kitchen Table Kibitzing, and Support the Dream Defenders.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

N in Seattle, Grassroots Mom, DowneastDem, TXdem, scribeboy, TrueBlueMajority, Avila, alicia, Shockwave, cotterperson, Jay C, Hope Despite All, OLinda, eeff, Mnemosyne, rubyr, dsb, willyr, expatjourno, rasbobbo, DemInSeattle, sponson, litho, BlackSheep1, kalihikane, Wee Mama, amsterdam, annrose, whenwego, Ian S, KibbutzAmiad, shanikka, LickBush, khloemi, ovals49, hopeful, aitchdee, SneakySnu, Oke, psnyder, NYC Sophia, 2laneIA, Eyesbright, brainwave, texasmom, HeyMikey, dwahzon, Steven Payne, wordwraith, zerelda, ybruti, Man Eegee, Sybil Liberty, bibble, CPT Doom, vcmvo2, lavaughn, marina, 3goldens, blueyedace2, SherwoodB, sap, triciawyse, YucatanMan, Pam from Calif, GreyHawk, lotlizard, Ice Blue, blue jersey mom, markdd, bjedward, Ammo Hauler, bunsk, begone, Mother Mags, kishik, third Party please, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, profundo, Kimball Cross, stonemason, NBBooks, praenomen, StrayCat, Rosaura, JVolvo, TheShovelJockey, tommyfocus2003, llbear, onionjim, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, suspiciousmind, blueoregon, kurious, dochackenbush, PatConnors, Thinking Fella, One Pissed Off Liberal, BeninSC, dotsright, Habitat Vic, ColoTim, offgrid, VClib, EdSF, LillithMc, la urracca, shesaid, bewild, TomP, alba, sand805, JDWolverton, mayrose, JaxDem, HappyinNM, NewDealer, Fe Bongolan, Buckeye Nut Schell, VL Baker, Deep Harm, Lujane, tofumagoo, pamelabrown, Horsefeathers, petulans, Groucho Marxist, Quilldriver, CupofTea, DavidW, shortgirl, woodtick, MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel, MufsMom, rsmpdx, LinSea, Carol in San Antonio, Fineena, dskoe, MKSinSA, bfitzinAR, Denise Oliver Velez, Larsstephens, BlueOak, Its the Supreme Court Stupid, serendipityisabitch, gramofsam1, Susan Grigsby, politik, Proud Mom and Grandma, mookins, JoanMar, pixxer, ramara, Yasuragi, kalika, Loose Fur, Actbriniel, kerflooey, allenjo, mama jo, Im a frayed knot, Bob Duck, slowbutsure, FarWestGirl, NormAl1792, KelleyRN2, princesspat, Ebby, mrsgoo, Ricochet67, thomask, MRA NY, worldlotus, Square Knot, peregrine kate, rscopes, stlsophos, Mentatmark, Nancy on Lake Michigan, Laurel in CA, anodnhajo, IndieGuy, Susan G in MN, midgebaker, 2thanks, CA ridebalanced, belinda ridgewood, BusyinCA, Olkate, MartyM, jennyp, Denver11, Glen The Plumber, Spirit of Life, LABWITCH, Robynhood too, nomandates, jusjtim35, onceasgt, remembrance, CharlesInCharge, Thornrose, bogieshadow, broths, goodpractice, HedwigKos, Dewstino, Yo Bubba, alice kleeman, Aunt Pat, northerntier, Smoh, BadKitties, Hey338Too, Mike Kahlow, Timari, jplanner, LilithGardener, Catkin, Kombema, The Marti, dannyboy1, Penny GC, kathy in ga, CJB2012

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site