November 22, 2003

November 22, 1963

I was 5 months old when JFK was shot so, obviously, I have no "where were you when it happened" story to tell.

My first knowledge of John Kennedy was through family dinner conversations at my grandparents' house. Being Irish Catholic New Englanders they spoke not of "President Kennedy", or "John" or "Robert"; it was always "Jack" and "Bobby" and "Jackie" and "Teddy." I'd assumed these were all relatives of ours.

It was probably when I was about 7 or 8 or 9 that I began to realize that we and the Kennedys were not related. We had plenty o' Rileys and Sullivans, Keirnans and McDevitts, but no Kennedys ever showed up at our family picnics.

I remember the first time I saw the Zapruder film on television. In the mid-'70s they would only play it in black & white. It wasn't until 1983 -- at the 20th anniversary of the assassination -- that I found out that the film was actually shot in color, and it wasn't until I saw it in color that I realized the damage that the last bullet had done (and why they were reluctant to show it in color). In black & white, I never noticed the blood and gore of it all.

It was about that time -- say, 1976 (when I was in 7th or 8th grade) -- that I became interested in Kennedy's presidency, his speeches, and his assassination. I learned about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missle Crisis (my mother let me stay up late to watch the TV movie "The Missiles of October" starring William Devane), the Civil Rights initiatives and his confrontation with George Wallace. And especially awesome, for me, was his speech calling for a landing on the Moon by the end of the decade. So many interesting moments in such a short presidency.

I listened to record albums of his speeches. My grandparents lent me the "In Memoriam" album (the famous one that sold millions of copies), and several other lesser known albums that came out at about the same time.
My interest in politics began with my interest in John Kennedy.
(At the time of the 1976 primary season -- when I was 12 --I made a facsimile voting lever ballot out of cardboard and thumbtacks with the penciled names of the Democrat candidates (I especially remember Bob Crane for some reason) and turned the bathroom shower stall into a make-shift voting booth.)

When I was a freshman in High School the assassination was investigated by Congress, and they'd concluded that there was something like a 90% probabilily that a fourth shot came from the "grassy knoll." I went to the library and checked out the Warren Report. While the Warren Report seemed convincing that Oswald acted alone, the U.S. Congress had just concluded that there probably was a conspiracy. Hmmm. My interest piqued.

Throughout the early-mid '80s I'd read several conspiracy books (Rush To Judgement, Six Seconds In Dallas, etc), and was in somewhat of an Oliver Stone frame of mind: "It was a giant conspiracy and everyone was involved!"

Then, in 1988, I saw an episode of NOVA, hosted by Walter Cronkite, that showed, among many other interesting things, how the "magic bullet" had injured Kennedy and Connally without making any weird turns in mid-flight. I re-read the Warren Report and, ever since, have been 100% convinced that Oswald acted alone.

I started to reread the conspiracy books; taking notes. My plan was to write a complete and flawless rebuttal of every conspiracy theory, and show how any conspiracy would neccessarily have had to involve thousands of conspirators.
Then, in 1993, Gerald Posner's book Case Closed was published. Damn! It was the book I wanted to write. Posner addressed every claim of the conspiracy theories and tore them to shreds. Every i dotted, every t crossed. Oswald acted alone; case closed. What a great book! I hate Gerald Posner.

My own interest in JFK probably stems from my childhood mis-assumption that we were related. But, I also think that Kennedy's true legacy is that he's a symbol of unfinished business. We don't remember Franklin Roosevelt as someone who died in office; he died of a brain hemorage just as his work was essentially concluded. The way Kennedy died -- young, violently, in public -- strikes even those of us too young to have lived through it at the time as, strangely, a personal tragedy.
It may be that, by keeping John Kennedy's memory alive, we are trying to remind ourselves that nothing is final; that work is never done; that closure is inherently unattainable in Life.

Well, I'm not sure I said that very well, so I'll just quote an old song lyric:

"They'll never, they'll never ever reach the Moon.
At least; not the one that we're after.
It's still floating out there on the open sea,
look out there, my friends,
and it carries no survivors.
We'll just have to leave these two lovers wondering why
they cannot have each other.
--Leonard Cohen, 1971

Posted by Tuning Spork at November 22, 2003 06:19 PM

Well written. Who did you vote for in your handmade voting booth?

Posted by: The Bartender at November 22, 2003 06:56 PM

I took turns voting for all of them. I mean, I took the time to write their names and thumbtack a lever next to it; why let it go to waste?! :)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at November 22, 2003 07:25 PM

My wife's side of the family has a creepy tendency to resemble presidents. Her dad is the spitting image of John F., and I mean close enough to be a double, and bro-in-law looks like Bill Clinton. Again scary close.

Posted by: Ted at November 23, 2003 08:19 AM

Wow... Oddnes. the other day i watched a show called Myth Busters where they talked about the "Magic Bullet". in the show they tried many bullets (they made them) on a gelliton dumby. they tried ice, meat, gelly, and then they made an Umbrella gun. it was great. Okay i'm done now.

Posted by: Rachael at November 25, 2003 07:32 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Site Meter