Thursday, November 21, 2013

5 words that changed us: 'The president has been shot.'

“This murder in broad daylight ... Everything changed,” says Oliver Stone, the Hill School graduate/boomer director who served in Vietnam and made a movie about it before turning his distinctively critical lens on the Kennedy assassination.
Because he knows what becomes clearer with each passing year: For better and for worse, it was the event that defined the generation that has defined the way we look at the world today.

That excerpt is from an essay by Associated Press national writer Ted Anthony that will be the centerpiece of a memoriam edition being planned for Friday, Nov. 22 editions of The Mercury.
Like so many others, I recall this defining moment from a school classroom. I was in fourth grade at Pine Forge Elementary School, I believe my teacher was Mrs. Levengood.
It was recess, and I was in the classroom alone with the teacher because I was recovering from an illness and on doctor's orders not to be outdoors.
Someone knocked on the door carrying a note. I remember that the note was not folded and I saw the message: "The president has been shot."
Another knock and another message a few minutes later: "President Kennedy is dead."
I felt, as a 9-year-old would, important and puzzled. This message seemed so large, so shattering that it seemed out of place, written in pencil on a small piece of paper.
The bearer hadn't even given it the dignity of folding to maintain secrecy.
After that, I vaguely recall Mrs. Levengood breaking the news to the class and bringing a television into the classroom so we could watch events in Dallas and Washington.
I remember days later being in front of the TV in the corner of our living room at home watching Lee Harvey Oswald being led by police officers down a hall, and the startling shot by Jack Ruby that killed him. I remember our shock as a family witnessing a man shot in real time on TV, just as the newscast announcers expressed their own incredulity.
The assassination first of the president and then of his accused killer was all we talked about for days. This was the biggest thing to happen in our lives up till then.
The Life magazine with the Zapruder photos was preserved in a crawl space of my parents' home, found decades later in 2005 when we were cleaning out the house for sale.
But nothing is as clear in my memory as the sight of those few words pencilled on paper held by another student in the doorway of my fourth grade class.
"The president has been shot." Five words that changed our history.
Fifty years later, my generation recalls that moment, wondering how our lives in this nation might have been different if John Kennedy lived.
Where were you when you learned the president had been shot? If you are part of the generation defined by that moment, you remember.
The questions of conspiracy also still linger. Will we ever know what really happened 50 years ago in Dallas? And, will we ever really know how those events changed us?


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