Kennedy — 50 years later

Churchill County High School history teacher Tommy Thomson, who teaches a unit every year on the Kennedy presidency and assassination, lived near Dallas, Texas, when the president was fatally shot.

Churchill County High School history teacher Tommy Thomson, who teaches a unit every year on the Kennedy presidency and assassination, lived near Dallas, Texas, when the president was fatally shot.

Although this current Fallon teacher wasn’t in Dallas 50 years ago, the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are just as vivid today as they were on Nov. 22, 1963.

Kennedy was fatally shot as he and his wife, Jacqueline, rode in a motorcade to a Dallas luncheon after arriving in the city earlier in the morning from neighboring Fort Worth. His procession never made it past Dealey Plaza when shots rang out from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Churchill County High School history teacher Tommy Thomson was a senior in Sudan, Texas, a three-hour drive northwest of Dallas. Like most Americans, Thomson was stunned when he learned of Kennedy’s death.

“I was coming out of pep rally because we were getting ready to play a football game (that night),” said Thomson, who moved to Fallon in 1996 for a teaching job. “My dad pulled up and said he wanted to tell me something before I heard it from someone else. ‘The president has been shot,” Thomson remembered his father saying.

Then, his father began to cry.

“I was more in shock than anything,” Thomson recollected of that tragic day. “We had all heard of Lincoln’s assassination and also of Presidents Garfield and McKinley.

Thomson said the president’s death could be equated to the three jets ramming into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, respectively, and a fourth one into a Pennsylvania field on 9/11. Thomson said it was hard to believe such an event would take place.

“John F. Kennedy … he was bigger in life to us,” Thomson said.

A dilemma, though, arose for Thomson’s high school football team and its opponent. The teams were scheduled to play each other that night.

“We (players) all got together with the coaches and student body and voted to see if we played that night. We also talked with the other school and the decision was made to play,” Thomson said.

Because Kennedy was an athlete and also a military war hero, Thomson the players and coaches felt that the president would have approved of their actions.

The nation’s 35th president had been elected in 1960 at the age of 43. Thomson said Kennedy appealed to many people, especially the younger generation. At the time in the 1960s, Texas was also a Democrat stronghold.

“He was handsome, and he gave his salary to charity,” Thomson said. “He also had a beautiful wife who didn’t look like the normal First Lady.”

In the same breath, Thomson also said Kennedy and his younger brother, Robert, the nation’s attorney general, did not fit the mold of old, bald politicians.

“They were handsome and had a full head of hair,” he said.

Thomson said the weekend after the president’s death was one of watching television and talking to friends about Kennedy. Thomson’s family attended church on Sunday, and the pastor gave a lesson on the president and what had happened. Thomson said the pastor also discussed God’s plan regarding Kennedy’s death. On Monday, he said the funeral was riveting.

“We were glued to our televisions at school,” Thomson said, adding that the assassination put a negative image on Texas.

Many Texans supported Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president who became the nation’s leader later on Dec. 22. As a young boy, Thomson and his father met Johnson, who was a U.S. Senator from the Longhorn State.

“As a little boy, I was looking up to this brash, cigar-smoking man,” Thomson said.

Once Kennedy and Johnson won the 1960 election, Thomson thought that one day Johnson could eventually become president but not in the manner he did.

Fifty years later and as an educator, Thomson said he believes it’s important to teach students about the assassination and the many conspiracy theories that occurred shortly after the death and during subsequent years. He wants his students to look beyond the actual event and ask themselves if Lee Harvey Oswald acted as the lone assassin. After 50 years though, Thomson said nothing has been proven if a foreign government, organized crime or internal elements had a hand in the president’s death.

Thomson said many people were hoping a conspiracy was behind the death because no one wanted to think Kennedy was killed by a “loser.”

“I read ‘Killing Kennedy’ by Bill O’Reilly, and it really opened my eyes about Kennedy and things I didn’t know,” Thomson said. “In reality, I think he was a great president but not on the pedestal as the (administrations) next Camelot. He exposed a lot of JFK’s personal life.”

As he looked back to the events of Nov. 22, 1963, Thomson still remember the day, yet he still shakes his head thinking of that weekend in Dallas: “During this whole process, I had asked myself if this did happen or is it a nightmare and we’ll all wake up.”


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