It was a Friday. I was a senior in high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and only had two morning classes that semester, so in the afternoon I was painting signs in a friend’s filling station when a customer came in and said the president had been shot in Dallas. We turned on the radio and all work stopped. After listening for an hour, or so, I finished my signs and went home.
I had to work the night shift at MacDonald’s, but my mother and I watched television coverage until I had to leave. I had to work the next day, a Saturday, but when I was finished, I went back home and watched TV with my family and my girlfriend. The world had come to a stop. There were only three commercial networks at the time and all were tuned in to the story. They had made it clear that Lyndon Johnson was the president, so I was not in a panic as some people were. Besides, I was a senior. I thought I knew everything.
They talk today about how John F. Kennedy's assassination was the end of America's innocence, but my innocence had ended the year before with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States and the Soviet Union was facing a full-scale nuclear war over Russian ballistic missiles in Cuba and I was terrified. I had plans, a future, a dream to be a commercial artist and these two men, the president and Premier Nikita Kruschev, were about to blow up the world. I made an oil painting of a burning landscape with skeletons running from the flames. From that time forward, I vowed never to let political events creep up on me again. That's when I started reading the whole newspaper rather than just the comics pages. By the time of the president's assassination, I didn't trust him anymore than I trusted anyone else who could destroy my life.
My parents, little brother, girlfriend and I watched coverage of Kennedy’s funeral all weekend. We were watching at noon Sunday as cops in Dallas were bringing Lee Harvey Oswald from the police department jail to a more secure facility when he was shot. We couldn’t believe our eyes. We were on a wild ride that seemed to be out of control, but the system was working and the Constitution held the country together. I felt robbed with Oswald’s death, that we would never see him on trial and get the answers to so many questions. I also felt like I’d been catapulted into adult life.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun