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A Little Boy's Plan To Save The President

If they get me to Dallas, I can save the president.

Those were my thoughts as I stared at the black and white Zenith TV sitting in the corner of my parent's living room. On the screen was the picture of President John F. Kennedy along with the dates: May 29, 1917 – Nov. 22, 1963.

They were saying it was already too late.

But it wasn't too late. I could save him. Bring him back. It was easy. Why couldn't anybody else see how easy it was? Just get me to Dallas.

Although I knew nothing about gunshot wounds, surgery or any medical stuff beyond washing a wound with soap and water and putting a Band-Aid on it, any kid who watched Westerns knew that a bucket of water was all that was needed.

That was just plain common sense. How many times had a cowboy gotten knocked cold looking like he was dead and a bucket of water woke him right up? A hundred times at least.

Shoot. Just get me to Dallas and hand me a bucket of water when I get there and point me to the room where he's lying and I'll splash that water over the president's head and he'll spring right up and the world would be happy and I'd be a hero.

Me. Frankie Harris of 1623 Armory Place, Waukegan, Ill.. A hero for saving the president's life.

And all my friends in the neighborhood would be mad at me because they didn't get to Dallas before me.

And at Whittier Elementary, they'd have a special program for me in the gymnasium where they usually hold PTA meetings.

If they only get me to Dallas.

I did not mention any of this to my parents, my older brother or anybody. Looking back, I wish I could say that deep down inside, despite being just a 7-year-old in Mrs. Lavette's second-grade class, I knew that this was more serious than a bucket of water.

But I'd be lying.

So, the truth was I believed I could have saved the president with a bucket of water — if they'd gotten me to Dallas.

Today, I think back to that November afternoon. At Whittier Elementary, which was kindergarten through sixth grade, we would walk home for lunch around 11:30 and be back at school an hour later. That day, by the time we were at our desks, the teachers were talking about something. We didn't know what it was. I don't recall going home early. I just recall being in front of the television at home thinking how I could save the president.

"Assassinate" was a word I'd never heard until Kennedy was shot. Sometime after, the kids in my neighborhood would incorporate the word into a childhood cheer following a kickball game or other sport when one team triumphed over the other.

"2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate? — US! 2-4-6-8, who do we assassinate? — THEM! (meaning the other team)."

Mom heard us do that cheer and put a quick end to it. Assassinate was a bad word.

It's been said that President Kennedy's assassination was the day the nation lost its innocence. But just two months earlier, there were those four girls blown up in that Birmingham church on a Sunday morning. There were civil rights workers and others. But they weren't the president.

There would be more assassinations in the years that followed. Martin Luther King in April 1968 and Robert Kennedy two months after. They also weren't the president, but it was still big.

The closest equivalent to Nov. 22, 1963, was the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. As I picked up my 8-year-old daughter from West Woods Elementary School in Hamden and heard the hushed voices of the teachers telling all the parents that they had told the children nothing — I thought back to that November day in '63.

Fifty years. So much has changed. So much forever.

If they'd only gotten me to Dallas.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is frankharristhree@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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