I was a freshman in high school, in chemistry class, sitting next to Roger Workman at the third table from the front in the middle aisle.
It was about 12:30 p.m. when the principal of the school, Arnold Anderson, his voice crackling through the intercom, announced that President Kennedy had been shot. He didn't say if he was dead, only that he had been shot. About ten minutes later, Anderson confirmed the President had died.
That weekend was a marathon of black-and-white television--Huntley and Brinkley, Cronkite, and Smith foremost, each with their retinue of reporters. Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin, was killed on live television.
The procession of the President's body through the streets of Washington on the way to the funeral contained several elements now considered iconic--the riderless horse, JFK Jr'.s salute, the cadence of the drums, world leaders such as Charles DeGaulle and Haile Selassie leading the international delegations. Most Americans over the age of 60 will remember this:
It wasn't long before the official story of the assassination, the Warren Report, was called into question by a number of reporters and writers. In a short period of time, most Americans became convinced that the assassination of JFK involved a conspiracy of some sort. In the 1970's, the House Select Committee on Assassinations agreed with them.
In more recent years, revisionists such as Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi have argued that the Warren Commission basically got it right. Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin, and he fired three shots at President Kennedy, including the final and fatal one that struck the front part of his head.
The Zapruder film clearly shows President Kennedy's head being driven back, apparently by a shot from the front. The revisionists want to argue that the Zapruder film shows Kennedy's head move slightly forward at impact before an "exploding nerve" drove his head backward.
In other words, even though, with his head being struck in the front and exploding backward, it looks as though the President was shot from the front, he really wasn't. They might as well be saying, "Who you gonna believe? Us, or your own lyin' eyes."
John F. Kennedy presided over the United States at the heighth of its power and influence. World War II had ended only 15 years before his election, and we were still enjoying the benefits and advantages of victory. We were well on our way to repairing the damage done by the Great Depression. Our military power was such that Kennedy could stare down the Soviets over Cuba.
After his assassination, nothing seemed quite right. Hopeful and optimistic at the beginning of the decade, America sunk into recriminations and hostility, even near chaos, by the decade's end. Many Americans, inspired by JFK, went into politics in the early 60's. By the late 60's, politics was out.
It has been 50 years since that fateful day, but his death still haunts us. Politicians of all stripes, but especially Democrats, tried to mimick the Kennedy style and associate themselves with his energy and "vigor." They all sounded inauthentic and "tinny."
Was John F. Kennedy a great President? Yes. He was smart enough to end-run the military hawks on Cuba, and tough enough to make Khrushchev blink. To his political detriment, he embraced the civil rights movement. In his American University speech of 1963, he was looking forward to a world that was not bogged down by intractible ideological conflict.
Of the many books that have been written about President Kennedy and the Kennedy assassination, these would be at the top of my list: JFK and the Unspeakable, by James W. Douglass; An Unfinished Life, by Robert Dallek; Kennedy, by Ted Sorenson; Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, by David Talbott; President Kennedy: Profile of Power, by Richard Reeves; Johnny, we hardly knew ye, by Kenneth O'Donnell; and The Making of the President, 1960, by Arthur Schlesinger.