Today another story out there about who killed President Kennedy.  Fifty years ago.  Like maybe who or what did it is still alive and ready to confess.  Or that finally confirming this or that version changes anything.  It’s my sense that all these whodunit pieces in print and TV are created by people who weren’t alive when JFK was shot to death in Dallas.  That they have no idea what mattered and what the story was.  

They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Virtually every person conscious that day, November 22, 1963, every one of us remembers where he or she was when they heard.  Exactly.  I was in an English class at college.  The class ended abruptly.  Silent except for the sound of people crying.

There are not many moments where most of the people on this planet share an experience.  Pearl Harbor for my parents’ generation was like that, I gather.  Surely 9-11 and the planes flying into the Towers.   It is the electric minute, all of us with our fingers in the same plug, horrible and thrilling. If you are young now, and you imagine telling your offspring one day about 9-11, do you think you will talk about the conspiracy or the terrorists or some guy reading a children’s book to a kindergarden class?  I’m guessing not, rather that you’ll tell your children where you were and what you felt when you heard.  I’m predicting that what will stick over the next years is that instant of awful connection, of the burst of impossible information, that bite of the god-like fruit of pure knowledge, of suddenly, involuntarily knowing something you do not know how to know.  

Compared, who did it, why, how, when, all that is trivial.  That’s what I’m guessing.

About Dallas November 22, I’m not guessing.  I’ve not done any survey, but I bet that’s what sticks for those of us who were present.  Probably Lee Oswald killed Kennedy.  Maybe he had help.  Maybe with those three quick shots he was just lucky.  Maybe Castro sent him, or the Russians, or the Mafia, or other Democrats.  I don’t care, and was never more than slightly curious.  Kennedy’s dead.  Got no neurological paths for dealing with that. Nor with planes flying into iconic office towers, if you get what I mean.  

In November 1963 shooting famous people we loved didn’t happen. Had not yet become common. They hadn’t murdered Medger Evers yet. Or Martin King, Robert Kennedy.  Nobody had stalked and shot President Reagan, or tried twice to shoot President Ford.  I didn’t awaken in the morning wondering if I would hear shortly that somebody tried to kill President Obama overnight.  That shit just didn’t happen then, as it does now.  No brain circuits for the news to drop in to.


Not too many years ago I went to Dealey Plaza.  I was in Dallas working on a story and went there with an old-enough friend.  We didn’t say much. Just stood there for a while.  But what I remember thinking is: this is where all the craziness started.  Still kind of feels that way.  Who and why and how still seems beside the point.

On the actual day in 1963 I went to the newspaper where I worked. I was lucky to have something to do.  And I went to the paper’s library — the morgue, it’s called —  for the great Bill Mauldin and got several pictures of the Lincoln Memorial.  An hour later I carried his drawing out to the news desk where most of the editors, all grown men, stood, looked at it, and began to cry.

That’s what I will tell my children.  That is what was important.  We all stood there and cried.

Bill Mauldin, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/22/63

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