Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — For those of a certain age, Nov. 22, 1963 was their own “Day of Infamy,” the day the world as they knew it changed.
Like Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and pushed the nation into World War II, the day President John F. Kennedy was killed changed the way a lot of people thought about what would come next, about our nation’s politics, about the power of a single act of violence.
The decade that followed his death reflected a new uncertainty and restlessness in the country and exacerbated growing political divisions among young and old, liberal and conservative, rich and poor. The Civil Rights Movement was peaking (the Civil Rights Act passed the next year) our involvement in Vietnam — and the anti-war movement it spawned — was growing and we were racing to the moon.
Kennedy’s death didn’t spawn any of those things. But the trauma of him being shot down in the street jarred a lot of people out of the relative complacency of the 1950s and into a new, and often uncomfortable, future.
For the first time, the nation was able to watch history being made live, largely unfiltered, on television — all of us, all at the same time. We saw the motorcade and the chaotic moments after the shooting and photos of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President with a stricken Jackie Kennedy standing next to him. We saw Lee Harvey Oswald — the man who police said shot Kennedy - gunned down by Jack Ruby before the nation got any idea of motive. We saw the casket in the Capitol Rotunda, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s heartbreaking final salute to his father, the somber procession through Washington, D.C., to the Arlington National Cemetery and the lighting of the eternal flame at Kennedy’s grave. One tribe (very) briefly united.
It was a tumultuous few days followed by a tumultuous time in our history. Just five years later, both Martin Luther King and Kennedy’s brother Robert Kennedy were also assassinated. We landed on the moon in 1969. In early 1973, direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam had ended. That same year, the Watergate investigation was in full voice and nearing an end (President Nixon was impeached in 1974). We were in flux.
But it is what happened that day and the shock of seeing a charismatic young president — both loved and reviled — murdered that makes so many people remember, with uncanny detail, where they were, what they were doing and who they were with the moment they heard the news.
Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, days of infamy we all share, days we hope to never experience again.