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James R. Stout

Days of Infamy

            Here it is 10:30 p.m. on November 22, 2019 and I feel compelled to say something. Our nation has apparently gotten to a point where the anniversary of the assassination of JFK isn’t news anymore. I haven’t seen one post on social media (Facebook) talking about it. It’s just not news. It’s been 56 years since that day in Dallas. I guess I understand to some degree why it’s not something important to many people today. They weren’t even born yet. We have 40-year-old people who were born 16 years after the event. It just doesn’t mean to them what it does to those of us who were alive and remember the day clearly. The closest thing they have to compare it to would be 9-11. To those who were not around when JFK was killed let me say this. Remember how things were that day in September of 2001? Americans were scared. Americans put aside their differences and gathered together for comfort. Families huddled together for support in uncertain times. That was how it was on that day in November of 1963.

            I was only 8-years-old, but I remember the whole thing vividly. It was a Thursday that year and I was in the 2nd grade. Our principal, Mr. McGowan, came on the loudspeaker and told us that the president had been shot. He led us in prayer. Forty-five minutes later he came on again and told us that the president was dead and again he led us in prayer. Prayer for our country, prayer for the president’s family, and prayer for guidance in such an uncertain time. We were encouraged by our teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, to talk about it. She allowed us to talk about how it made us feel. Schoolwork was set aside for the rest of the day.

            When I got home from school my mother was there and her typical hug was longer than usual. Dad had come home early, and our family gathered around the black and white TV to watch the news. It was decided then that we would not go to school the next day and would instead go to my grandparent’s farm to be with them. I asked my mother why and she simply said that, “In times like these, families need to be together.” I would later learn that she and Dad had concerns about the assassination being an over-throw of the government. That it might somehow lead to war. They wanted us in the safest place that they knew of and surrounded by family.

            We left for the farm after breakfast the next morning and got there in time for lunch. Something to keep in mind. My parents did not vote for JFK. They were die-hard conservative republicans. But when JFK was elected, they respected the results of the election and supported his presidency simply because he was our president! Our country wasn’t divided like it is now. But this was all before The Great Society, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and his despicable behavior in the Oval Office, 50 years of Ted Kennedy, JFK’s brother who undid just about everything that JFK stood for, and 8-years of a president who doesn’t even like America and tried his best to dismantle the nation.

            That Friday we watched live on TV the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Did he really kill JFK by himself? Was it a conspiracy? It was a scary time for our nation. It was also turning point. As a historian, I believe that there are significant events that change the course of a nation and it’s history. Sure, there are important things that happen every day, but many of them are just the ebb and flow in the life of a nation. Was WW1 important? Certainly, but I don’t rank it as one of THE turning points. Was prohibition and its eventual repeal important? Certainly. Was the Progressive movement of Woodrow Wilson and like-minded people influential? Certainly. But in my mind, there were only two events in the 20th century that were so influential and important that they belong on the kind of list that I am talking about. I might add that sometimes we don’t know how important something is for years or even decades. But these kinds of events are literally Earth shattering at the time. We’ve had just one this century so far. Frankly, it may not hold up with time. In just 18 years it doesn’t seem to mean what it did. It may fade into obscurity. But the two events that changed everything in the 20th century were Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination. Our nation was literally never the same after these events. They so-changed us that there was no going back. I find it interesting and perhaps merely a coincidence that these two events happened when the same generation was young and affected the most by Pearl Harbor and then later were “in power” as middle-aged adults in the other event.

            Well, this isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll conclude this blog entry. November 22, 1963 was a life-altering event for every American alive no matter how young or old. It changed a coming-of-age generation who in turn changed America. Oddly enough, that day in 2001 came when that generation was itself middle-aged and in power. Nobody can predict the future with pinpoint accuracy. I certainly can’t and wouldn’t even try. I’ll simply say that it is highly likely that one of those events will come along in less than 20 years. Will America be up to the task of dealing with it? Will the young generation on that eventual day be up to handling such an event? Who knows? I do know that it will take a strong “in power” generation on that day to lead the way. This has me worried. How about you?

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