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11/22/63: A Generation’s Innocence Disappears

News President John F. Kennedy was shot came in a middle school study hall.

11/22/63: A Generation’s Innocence Disappears

Editor’s Note—On the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, I want to take the liberty of letting you know where I was, what I was doing and how it affected me when I heard the news.

My life was pretty idyllic as an Edgewood Junior High School eighth grader when I walked into Mr. Gustaufson’s seventh period study hall at 1:07 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. That would change five minutes later.

Our minds were on the opening of basketball season against Northwood in a little over three hours and who we would ask to dance the next night. The time was innocent. The Beatles’ arrival on our shores was six months out. Mario Savio’s free speech movement in Berkeley launching the protest movements of the 60’s was a year away. It was still the 50’s.

At 1:12 p.m. the anticipation of basketball and dances was shattered when the principal’s voce came on the public address system. The vice principal usually made announcements so we knew it was serious.

“I ... I, I have, I don’t know how to say this,” he said. “There was … President (John F.) Kennedy has been shot. They’ve taken him to the hospital in Dallas.”

Needless to say, we never played basketball that afternoon and there was no dancing that weekend. There was a huge crowd that night for Sabbath services at North Shore Congregation Israel. The sound of the Kaddish memorial prayer was never as forceful as it was then.

My teammate and classmate then, Verne Reich, now a Highland Park business owner and basketball coach, was sitting next to me in study hall that day. We were talking basketball whenever Mr. Gustafson was not looking.

“I just remember thinking over and over again…..Why????,” Reich said today. “I was so naive. I thought everyone just had to like this man.” He was fortunate enough to have had a private tour of the oval office on a family trip from the President’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln.

“I reflected back to my very good fortune of having a private tour of the oval office when we went on our Washington trip” Reich said. “Of course, the President was not in the office at the time of my visit and it was not occupied. When I heard about the shooting, I thought about how very empty that office was now.”

As the day went on we learned in fact the President was dead. One classmate suspected the Soviet Union and wanted a nuclear bomb dropped. This was how one person chose to express anger.

When I got home my mother was crying. “This is like the day (President Franklin Delano) Roosevelt died, like Pearl Harbor,” she said referring to the event that cast the United States into World War II and changed the lives of a generation.

My father expressed anger. “I can’t believe Kennedy was killed,” I said.

“He wasn’t killed,” he said. “He was murdered, brutally murdered.”

Something that was totally beyond my comprehension and consciousness was now part of it. I did not feel that way again until Sept. 11, 2001. 

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