A half-century later, the memory of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination still resonates for those who remember where they were when the unthinkable happened. But for those born decades later, it may be difficult to see the president’s death on Nov. 22, 1963 as more than just another fact in a history book.
Today’s generation may mourn the loss of one of the most preeminent leaders in American history, but many feel disconnected from the day that shook the nation.
Younger generations have heard about the assassination countless times since they were a child. Along with Martin Luther King’s assassination, it was one of those things that every kid learned about, but never actually knew about it.
They weren’t there to watch CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite slowly remove his glasses and announce: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time – some 38 minutes ago.”
They weren’t alive to hear the 35th president’s inspiring speeches or use the term “Camelot” to refer to his time in office. Many parents of today’s youth barely even remember seeing Kennedy’s dream of landing a man on the moon in 1969 become reality.
It was all so long ago, or so it seems.
When today’s youth think of tragedy, it is often the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that come to mind.
I remember that morning with crystal clarity.
My fourth grade teacher casually walked to answer a phone mounted on a wall near the door as we settled into our seats. The main office had called her on the class phone numerous times before, so we thought nothing of the interruption and continued to chit-chat and play around until the phone conversation finished.
She rushed to the front of the class and a silence fell over the room. The expression on her face went blank as she struggled to get the words out: a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.
I imagine the anger and disbelief that hit me as the events of that day continued to unfold was similar to the fear and shock felt by Americans in 1963. I was only in elementary school, but I was old enough to grasp the concept that sometimes tragedy strikes for no logical reason. Perhaps it was the gravity of the situation that enabled me to mature beyond my years.
Since then, my generation has faced a number of other tragedies that rocked us to the core, including the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook more recently.
But we’ve also come together as a nation to comfort each other, as our parents and grandparents did following Kennedy’s assassination.
Fifty years since Kennedy’s death may seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s not as far off as those in my generation may think.
We may not have been alive to watch Cronkite fight back tears, but we have faced similar tragedies that ultimately bridge the gap of understanding between those alive in 1963 and those born 30 years later.
And just like our mothers and fathers, and perhaps their mothers and fathers, we have demonstrated an unshakeable resilience to overcome tragedies once thought unimaginable.
History really does repeats itself.
Though much has changed since 1963, maybe my generation isn’t as disconnected from Kennedy’s assassination as we think.
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