My friend Mitch and I stood at the sixth-floor window of a nondescript building in Dallas. Below, the freeway ramp seemed within reach. I freely admit the lump in my throat was masking real tears.
Beside us, a Plexiglas wall guarded the corner window, boxes arranged before it in what could only be described as a sniper's nest. From that vantage point one man killed another in broad daylight, in front of the world.
The former school book depository, Dealey Plaza.
No one old enough to recall the events of forty-eight years ago is unmoved each November 22nd. Perhaps each generation grapples with the awful truth revealed that day - I don't know. I lack the wisdom to look before my years and feel. Even at nine I felt something hideous had occurred, something that transcended the vile nature of even a particularly cowardly murder. The man taken from us that day left children, a wife who witnessed the act, family. Something else was stolen.
Impressionist Vaughn Meader had released an album mimicking John Kennedy and it was pure and funny and uplifting. Even little Republican kids like me (go with it) were going around doing "Cuber" this and "PT boats" that in imperfect imitation. The parody caught ingeniously the pitch of society - John Kennedy, vigorous, bold...the original (and unequalled) "Yes, we can!" Civil rights, Berlin, the Space program all evidence of the spirit of make it happen long before the phrase grew popular.
To be sure, there were questions. JFK the man didn't always stand up to the legend built around him.
Nobody's perfect. The gift of John Kennedy was to be told...no, to believe...we were better than we imagined - smarter, tougher, more compassionate. A brighter future was not just possible, it was inevitable and within the grasp of Sixties America. We needed to ask a simple question.
What can I do to help?
Perhaps history may reveal the reasons Lee Oswald murdered him. (Yeah, I know. Another day, another blog. Probably beyond my limited skills.) He also murdered thirty-nine year old J.D. Tippit, a Dallas cop who contacted Oswald because he matched the description of Kennedy's assailant. Confronted later in a movie theater, he attempted to fire again but brave police officers rushed him.
Several days later, our family gathered around the TV, watching the accused being moved from one jail to another. Years later I would understand the jurisdictional reasons, but in fourth grade it was just what grownups did. As they brought the grim man into the bright TV lights my father said "Some son of a bitch is gonna kill him." Moments later, one did.
Oh, how we struggle to regain that era's optimism, that feeling we can work together toward a brighter future. Men and women of good will seem temporarily in our midst, to be swept aside by avarice, selfishness, an all-consuming entitlement mentality that transcends all classes and stations until it becomes...us.
It didn't take an exceptional marksman to make those shots as the open car drove slowly by, that much was obvious from my vantage point. Just a cold hand and an empty heart.