Each in their own way...
"So, where were you?"
It's the question du jour among anyone over the age of 50 today, November 22, 2013. The nation looks back a half century at John Kennedy's assassination with network coverage, cable documentaries and tons of print/digital content. Some of us can't get enough. Others are tired of the same story being re-told. A few have no interest, including some young folks who weren't around. I get the lack of connection but I don't care for the lack of intellectual/historic curiosity. I wasn't around for Pearl Harbor, but I was still intrigued about how it happened, how it was covered and how the nation processed the news.
I was six, in first grade at Sheridan Elementary School in Sheboygan. I was home for lunch while mom watched "As The World Turns". The day--and history--forever turned when Walter Cronkite's voice and a "CBS BULLETIN" slate took over the black and white set. I trudged back to school knowing Kennedy had been shot but unsure of his fate. Our teacher took us downstairs to goof around in what we called "the clay room" in the basement. Was it a diversion? Did teachers want to keep us occupied as they stayed glued to TV's and radios? Or, were they worried that the shooting was part of something more dastardly "the clay room" was in the basement which was also the school's bomb shelter.
For all the interest I have in the assassination today, I showed little that weekend. My six year old mind couldn't believe that it would take until Monday for the President's funeral--would I miss all of my cartoons because of the non-stop coverage? I watched precious little of it, prompting my dad to take me aside to tell me how much history I was missing. His message didn't take.
What this first-grader DID absorb was the fact that, for the first time in my young life, my parents seemed truly rattled and emotional, unable to answer my most basic question: why would someone shoot a President? And, if it could happen to HIM, how safe am I?
My interest would grow into an obsession as the years went by and I grew to become quite the conspiracy buff by the time I was in college. The Zapruder film hadn't yet been shown in its entiriety but there was a bootleg copy on the UW Stevens Point campus where a JFK conspiracy group formed, led in part by professor David Wrone. After one viewing, there was no doubt in our minds that the Warren Commission got it wrong.
Oliver Stone's "JFK" was a mash-up of conspiracy rumors and precious few facts. Its box-office success sired a rebirth in the assassination and the penning of several books including Gerald Posner's "Case Closed" which debunked many of the theories while articulating the simple fact that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. As distasteful and unsettling as it is, a single man was able to exact great damage on a powerful nation with three simple shots from a $13 rifle. Life is random. All of us are vulnerable. Even President Kennedy.
Kennedy's family had always hoped that the late President's birthday would be the moment when the nation would pause to remember his life, rather than the date of his death. That's not going to happen in the lifetimes of those over 50 because the tragedy of a young president's murder became one of our first shared, nationally televised traumas.
Some of us will DVR every special, watch every documentary, read ever word we can find via Google searches. We'll share our "where-were-you" stories with anyone who will listen. Tomorrow, we'll move on. It's not Baby Boomers being self-indulgent sympathy-seekers. Its a demographic giving due to a trauma it experienced en masse.
Life will go on. JFK will retreat from the front page and the prime time grid. It did 50 years ago. It will again. Friday is a day to take in what you want at your own pace. There is no right or wrong amount. As I won't judge those who care not, please then don't judge those of us guilty of wanting too much.