The first time I had one of those “I remember where I was when I heard” moments was on a summer morning in 1962, the day after Marilyn Monroe died. I was at swimming lessons at a YMCA in Houston, Texas. I was eight.
The second time was just over a year later, on November 22, 1963.
It was one of those warm autumn days in Texas where you just can’t help but marvel at how blue the sky is. Two things about that day are seared into my memory. One is how my teacher cried when she told us the president was dead. The other is how I found my mother watching television when I got home from school. She was standing at her ironing board, and she was crying, too. My mother occasionally watched television at night, but for her to turn it on during the daytime was unthinkable. That’s when I fully understood that what happened in Dallas earlier in the afternoon was a very big deal.
The events of November 22 have always fascinated me. Undoubtedly it was the crime of the 20th century, the facts of which are still hotly debated. I am one of those who subscribe to the lone gunman scenario. To me it seems the most logical. Conspiracy theories are interesting, but in the end I have always found them too farfetched. Just recently I heard the one about JFK’s limousine driver firing the fatal shots backwards, over his shoulder. Really? I don’t believe that. Nor do I think there were other riflemen hidden behind fences or in the shrubbery. I have been to the former Texas School Book Depository building, and looking down on the street from the infamous sixth floor window, it seems absolutely possible to me that one man could have done what Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of doing. The distance separating him and his target was not very great.
I have also stood in the street on the X that marks the location of the limousine when the fatal shot was fired. I have sat on the grassy knoll, and stood at the spot where Mr. Zapruder made his famous film. I have been to the old police headquarters building where, down in the parking garage, Jack Ruby robbed history of the answer to the million dollar question – Why?
Dallas has never fully come to terms with being “the city that killed the president”, and who can blame them. But they understand that the rest of the country has expectations, and so they have put together a memorial program for the 50th anniversary of the assassination, now just a few days away. The historian David McCullough is to be the featured speaker. What I wouldn’t give, as a lover of history, to be there.