As we approach our uniquely American celebration of Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of family, fun and feast, it’s difficult for those of us who’ve been on the planet long enough not to remember a not-so-happy Thanksgiving season from long ago.
The date: Nov 22, 1963. It was 55 years ago this Thanksgiving that a man named Lee Harvey Oswald took the life of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas and simultaneously changed the course of American history,and perhaps that of the world.
I was all of 20 years old at the time, living in New York — working as an intern at ABC News by day and college student by night. My goal at the time was law school, to become the next Perry Mason. That fantasy went away on that fateful day in 1963 at exactly 1:31 p.m. East Coast time.
Like so many others who were adults back then, I remember exactly where I was when the first bulletin announced the shooting — in an elevator, returning from lunch, along with other ABC personnel, including a young Ted Koppel.
From the speaker in the elevator came the distinctive voice of ABC newsman Don Gardner: “Here is a special bulletin from Dallas, Texas. Three shots were at fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today in downtown Dallas, Texas.” It all seemed surreal for a moment, until the second bulletin quickly confirmed that the president had been shot, and ultimately killed.
In the next four days I watched from the sidelines as a group of professional broadcast journalists joined their counterparts across the country to detail the tragic news, right up to and including the president’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, attended by representatives from more than 90 countries.
I can still remember the image of little John Jr. watching in quiet confusion as his father lay in state. A little-known, sad coincidence of the moment was that his father was being laid to rest on his third birthday.
I’d been thinking of all this again recently and remembering that in the midst of all the sadness and mourning there was, ironically, a positive element to the tragedy. In his short time in office, JFK had given America a new sense of purpose and pride. And for awhile at least, after the headlines diminished, that unity prevailed.
Sadly, it was short-lived, replaced by the angst of the ongoing disaster in Vietnam and the almost unimaginable repeat of the loss of another Kennedy brother, a mere five years later.
Thinking back to all that today and seeing what has seemingly become an America divided against itself, it saddens me even more that John Kennedy’s vision for America had been cut so short. Yes, I know it’s easy to play “what if?” But, what if that 1963 assassination had been thwarted? What if JFK’s unique brand of positivity had been given a chance to develop and evolve? What might that have engendered not only here in our country, but perhaps across the world?
Pollyannaish? Sure, no question. But looking at the current state of the nation, with Red and Blue seemingly dividing “One nation, under God” and the wars that are still exploding around the world, it would have been interesting to see.
So, as we come to this Thanksgiving Day, with reality our only option, let’s remember the sacrifices made by all those good Americans who came before us,and try as best we can to embrace the closing line of our Pledge of Allegiance: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Frank V. Furino is a former TV writer/producer, current board member of SafeHouse of the Desert, and faculty member of the local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.