November 22nd Is Kennedy Day

Posted: November 21, 2008 in The Roper Files
Tags: , , ,


In 1963 I was a  skinny myopic five year old boy growing up in the heart of Right Stuff America. Fort Worth Texas where I was born was also in the heart of the military-industrial complex. My home was surrounded by General Dynamics, Bell Helicopter and the nearby Carswell Air Force base. One day in November my uncle Sonny drops in and announces we’re going to go see the President.

I admired my uncle Sonny; he looked like a blend of all the leads in The Right Stuff. The crew-cut, the uniform, the standard issue aviator sunglassses etc. I remember being impressed with the way the guard at the air force gate seemed to recognize my uncle and waved us through the gate. Security was lax at best; the crowd was right out there on the runway. There were ladders placed here and there for the kids to climb up on; someone grabbed me and placed me on one. Air Force One rolled up practically right up to where the crowd was standing. I remember JFK waving to the cheering crowd as he came out of the jet followed by Jackie in her now-iconic pink dress. They came down the stairs and were escorted into a waiting limo convertable and wisked away to downtown Fort Worth where he gave a speech at a hotel and spent the night before leaving for Dallas the next morning.

We didn’t go to Dallas the next day but when I heard the President had been shot it did have an effect of me. I had just seen him; now he was in a flag-covered coffin. This was probably my first experience with facing death and no doubt it disturbed me.
Later the facts would slowly dribble out; he was shot by “a lone nut” named Lee Harvey Oswald who as it turned out went to the same high school I would later attend. Before he would get to trial, he would be shot on live tv by some guy named Jack Ruby.

But being a five year old boy I think I was even more pissed-off when they pre-empted the Saturday Morning cartoons for his long, drawn-out funeral service. I remember watching with a short fuse as the cameras followed the funeral hearse block after block to Arlington Cemetary. (“Is this EVER going to be over with?”)
In the years to come I would see this tragic event in a much more realistic and serious light, of course. Whenever my family drove to visit my grandparents in Arkansas, Dad would always detour through Dallas and we would solemnly visit Dealey Plaza. In high school I would go to the library and look up  Lee Harvey Oswald in the old yearbooks; looking back in retrospect I wish I had “borrowed” those yearbooks from the library now. Lee Harveys mother lived right up the street from where I’m typing this. My mother and I were in the local Safeway one day when she was in there; people pointed and stared at her as if she were The Wicked Witch.

Several movies came out of this tragic incident: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, FLASHPOINT, EXECUTIVE ACTION and of course Oliver Stones JFK which has been criticized for taking “artistic liberties” with some of the facts but is an excellent film nonetheless. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE had some uncanny similiarites with the facts in the JFK and the RFK murders and remains largely unseen and unshown to this day, a “buried” film.

So take a minute tomorrow to pay your respects, ask a few questions and explain all of this to someone too young to remember. After all November 22nd is Kennedy Day.


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