Remembering shock of JFK’s assassination
It is one of the dates you’ll never forget. Anyone who was alive and old enough to remember knows where they were on Nov. 22, 1963, when they heard the shocking and tragic news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It is one of those tragic dates that should never be forgotten.
In my case, I was in my cubicle at BPU when someone rushed in with the news. At first, I thought that it was the start of a bad joke, but it wasn’t. The entire country was plunged into mourning. The Chieftain reported special church services. A month of mourning was proclaimed and flags were flown at half mast.
Most had a hard time coming to grips with the tragic event. I really thought the country had advanced beyond the point of political assassinations. Yes, I was aware that three previous presidents had been murdered. The most famous was the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in April, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. The nationally acclaimed actor hatched a plot to murder the vice president, Andrew Johnson, and the secretary of state, William Stanton, on the same night. The latter two attempts failed and the conspirators, along with Booth, paid with their lives.
Within the next 45 years, two other presidents were murdered. President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, in a railroad station while waiting for a train and died from the wounds later in the year. Guiteau was a disgruntled, rejected, office seeker.
President William McKinley was shot as he was greeting persons in Buffalo, N.Y., by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, on Sept. 14, 1901.
In those days justice was swift and both were executed within months of the murders. That, of course, led to better security for presidents, but Abraham Lincoln once said if a person wanted to trade his life for that of the president’s, it couldn’t be prevented. Sadly, he was right.
There were other assassination attempts before President Kennedy was killed. Former President Theodore Roosevelt was shot while making a speech. There was an attempt on the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt before he was inaugurated while on vacation in Florida. He was talking with Mayor Anton Cermac of Chicago when Guiseppe Zangara opened fire. The shots missed the president but hit and killed Cermac. Within weeks, Zangara was tried, convicted and executed.
There was a major shootout and fatalities in an attempt to kill President Harry Truman when he was living at the Blair House during renovations to the White House. The unsuccessful attempt was carried out by Puerto Rican separatists.
When President Kennedy was killed, I really hoped and naively believed that it would be the final assassination in our history, but I was certainly wrong. Just five years later – in 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered. In the ensuing years President Ronald Reagan was wounded in an attack. In addition there were two unsuccessful attempts on the life of President Gerald Ford.
What has always struck me is the senselessness of it all. None of the killings changed anything. The greatness of the United States is that it continues on no matter what the tragedy. If the president is killed, within minutes we have another. Our great system of government is ongoing and is stable. We allow for change, but it is done at the ballot box, not with bullets.
Yes, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing on Nov. 23, 1963. It was an extremely tragic day for our nation, and I hope and pray that it will never happen again.