Everybody alive that terrible day of Nov. 22, 1963, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated remembers where he or she was when hearing of that tragic news. I’m no exception. This November is the 50th anniversary of that horrible event.
It was a beautifully clear autumn day back east. The phone rang in the bar at the Blue Bell Inn in Blue Bell, Pa. where I was working the lunch hour. We were very busy. When the bartender told me my son Don Jr. was on the phone, I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or worried? “OK” I said, “What’s wrong?” Don answered with words I’ll never forget, “The President’s been shot!”
At first I thought it was a joke. When Don told me to go into the restaurant’s kitchen and have the owner turn on television, I knew by the sound of his voice that he was serious. Rushing into the kitchen, I had somebody turn on the TV. It didn’t take a second to realize the gravity of what was happening, and I ran back into the crowded main dining room.
Customers were busy eating and talking. Several waiters were delivering food. Another had a tray of cocktails in his hands. “The President’s been shot!” I shouted, perhaps too loud. One of the waiters dropped a glass of water on the floor. For a full minute I could hear a pin drop. By the time the lunch hour was over, we’d lost President Kennedy. Nothing in this country would ever be the same again.
My second oldest son, Doug, was a senior in high school. He reminded me how when the announcement was made at school, everyone wept openly. School buses were called in early and students sent home. My youngest three sons, in the elementary school next to our house, also came home early. As our family gathered in shock, we searched for answers as to why, and feared what might happen next.
Kennedy was our first Roman Catholic president. I remember the concern some had that the separation of church and state would be breached if Kennedy were elected. History proved this untrue. The election over Nixon was one of the closest ever. Coincidently, it was Obama’s own presidential launching grounds of Cook County, Ill., where disputed election results secured Kennedy’s election.
Just one year earlier in 1962 President Kennedy had shown real leadership and intestinal fortitude when resolving the Cuban Missile crisis. America and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war over placement of Russian intercontinental missiles in Cuba. We wondered if Kennedy’s assassination was just a first step in the overthrow of America? Panic set in. Our fate was now in the hands of Lyndon Johnson, someone not known for his diplomatic skills.
My mind flashed back to 1945 and the death of President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II when Vice president Harry Truman, a former haberdasher, had become President. I thought if Truman, a man who had sold men’s clothing could be successful, perhaps my fear of Lyndon Johnson was unfounded? It was also ironic that Truman’s decision to use the nuclear bomb on Japan ended WWII. America, once again;,felt the dark cloud of nuclear war.
Kennedy told us to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He established an impossible goal to go to the moon; but we did. More importantly he stated, “So let us not be blinded to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”
This old gal has seen many elections. My rule for voting has always been to consider the candidate’s views and background, not the political party. I vote for someone who can lead, make difficult decisions, accept responsibility when things go wrong, and bring people together in a shared vision for America. Obama, as have all presidents, inherited some real problems. I’ll leave it to your judgment about his effectiveness in office and the results.
As the 50th anniversary of that “One dark November day” approaches, we need to begin healing. We must set aside petty differences and look for the common good. Quit bickering, and act like adults. President Obama and Congressional members would also do well to remember what President Harry Truman, who made the difficult decision to use the atomic bomb to end WWII said, “The buck stops here!”
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.