They say that there are a few events in history so unforgettable that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing at the time. September 11, 2001 was one of them. But for my generation, the first was President Kennedy’s assassination.
There are many voices out there right now to tell you where they were and what they were doing at the time. But by the 75th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, most of those voices will be gone, and mine could be one of them. So this is the time to record my recollections for posterity, or at least for my own descendants.
On November 22, 1963, I was an 8th grader at DeTour Township School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (That’s DeTour in the picture.) It was a small town, and the one-story brick building included all the grades. The elementary school classrooms were at one end, the high school classrooms were at the other, and junior high was sort of in the middle, although it shared some rooms with the high school.
I was in one of those shared rooms. Technically it was the home economics classroom, but it was also used for sex education (segregated by gender), and study hall. It was also the only room in the school with a television set.
I don’t remember the specific reason I was there that day, although I have a vague impression that it was a study hall. But I do remember the school secretary rushing in, crying. She said something like, “Turn on the TV. The President’s been shot.” We sat there watching the coverage until the principal announced that school was cancelled for the rest of the day.
School was also cancelled on Monday for the funeral. My first reaction was happiness. Not for the cause, of course, but because we had just recently gotten our first TV, and I was looking forward to watching the daytime shows.
But this was before cable, and all three channels showed the funeral procession and the funeral with flashbacks to and commentary on the assassination. I was totally bored. Now, that sounds callous. But at the time, I saw the world through twelve-year-old eyes.
It was, however, the first time I paid attention to national or world news. Even though I had lived in Jordon and Scotland by then, President Kennedy’s assassination changed “current events” from a school subject into a living one.
November 22, 1963. A day I will never forget.