Those Men

The ‘60s were a turbulent time in America.  We were threatened with annihilation, there was an intolerable war, crime was rising, rioting was significant and commonplace  and our heroes were being murdered.  I lived at 222 throughout this decade with both my parents alive.  These events changed us all.

I own a book produced by Life Magazine entitled “The Day Kennedy Died.”  I skimmed the Warren Commission report and I wonder what is in the documents that have been held back from us for more than fifty years.

The Kennedy brothers, Dr. King and Malcolm X all suffered sudden violent deaths brought to us by radio, television and print media.  We were tortured by the tragic losses, the violence, the conspiracy theories and the future which had become so bleak.

When President Kennedy was assassinated I was in high school, literally.  I learned of his death on the subway.  He was a hero in our house and the loss was felt for a long time.  The weekend of his funeral, my dad, worked programming the music for the ABC network.  We all watched in great sadness as John Jr. saluted his father’s casket and the riderless horse with boots backward in the stirrups passed.

I remember the bloody dress of “Jackie.”  So many loved her youthful approach to the formalities of being the First Lady as well as her beauty.  We, like her and John Jr. and Caroline would never be the same.  

Watching LBJ being sworn in did not make us feel safer.

In my house, where there was a connection to the Strategic Air Command (a friend of Dad’s) we learned that all our bombers were in the air that night lest the Soviet Union tried to take advantage of a country in mourning.

Over the following days we saw the pictures of his head’s sudden jerking, of his wife holding in, of a secret service agent climbing the bumper too late.

We watched the murder of his alleged killer.

We were not numbed enough to take in stride the murders of Bobby, Martin and Malcolm.  The use of their first names was, and remains common. It is not disrespectful.  It demonstrates an everlasting personal connection.

When I recently picked up the book from Life, just holding it brought tears to my eyes, all these years later.

When we took our kids to Arlington National Cemetery and visited President Kennedy’s  grave it was not the end of the trip.  As we walked up to his brother Bobby’s burial place, marked by a simple white cross on an otherwise empty green hillside, I told my children that if they wanted to understand their father they should look to the words and deeds and hopes of these two men; and the hopes of a nation and its young people.