(Editor's note: SDGLN Contributor Barb Hamp Weicksel shares her personal memories on a day in infamy when JFK was assassinated in Dallas.)
I was 11 years old when President Kennedy was killed. Time seemed to stop in our home – and across the nation. A nation in mourning wondering how – and why – and who.
Fifty years and a whole lot of reading and research later, I’m still wondering how – and why – and who?
I’m not a “magic bullet” sort of gal. I don’t believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I don’t believe that evidence was not tampered with – made to disappear - or simply manipulated to suit whoever or whatever wanted it taken care of. I don’t accept it as the absolute truth. I’ve tried – I just can not.
The one thing I have come to accept as an absolute truth is the fact that the death of President John F. Kennedy changed who we were as a country and as a people. The age of innocence – the age of Camelot – was most certainly over.
I don’t believe for a moment that Jack Kennedy would last politically in this world of the 24-hour news cycle. His personal trysts would ruin him and show the world who he really was. He was a womanizer, and used the White House residence as his own little bordello.
The thing is – he isn’t remembered for any of those things – he is immortalized as the President who was killed on a sunny November day in 1963.
He’s remembered as a WWII naval hero, a young, good-looking man who was always pushing that lock of hair off of his forehead, and had a cigar either hidden in his hand or in the pocket of his jacket. He’s remembered as the father of the adorable little boy who crawled under the “Resolute” Desk, and the husband of a beautiful wife who not only changed the face of the White House but made being chic a good thing for all women.
Time can do many things – change many perceptions, but as my friend Betty Peters used to say: “The truth is the truth is the truth.”
I can remember standing in front of his grave by that little white picket fence on Saturday, Nov. 30, 1963. All the flowers from the funeral four days earlier were still on the grave along with the hats from all the armed services – and the eternal flame was burning. I remember that the line to get to the grave was long and people were dressed in what I called their funeral clothes. Men in suits and women in dresses and fur coats and hats.
And I remember that it was quiet – eerily quiet. The only sounds you could really hear were the footsteps on the wooden planks that served as a path to and around the grave. Other than that, it was quiet with the occasional soft sound of people blowing their nose and I could see men and women wiping their eyes.
I was young – I didn’t really understand – but I got that nothing would ever be the same. Two years later when I was 13 and my brother was 18, he opted to join the Navy instead of being drafted – and went to Vietnam. I started to understand how different things really were.
After my brother left, he never really came home. Vietnam changed him and changed our family. We never lived together under one roof again and we were never really a family again.
Would Kennedy have kept us out of Vietnam? It’s something that is just not knowable. What I do know is this: After Kennedy was killed, the tone of the world, the tone of our country, the tone in my home – changed.
November 22, 1963 is a day that changed all of our lives.
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Contributor Barb Hamp Weicksel was born in 1952 in Pennsylvania and moved to California in the early 1980s, where she met her partner Susan. They've been together some 30 years and share the love of Susan's four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her blog, Barb's Gift of Gab, can be found HERE.