Friday, November 22, 2013

Yes, I Know Where I was 50 Years Ago Today

I share this with virtually all people my age and older; I distinctly remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated. It must have been like that for those who heard the first Pearl Harbor announcement.

50 years ago I was 10 years old and descending a staircase in a Bethesda elementary school when someone ran up to the stair rail and yelled down "the Presidents been shot." Interestingly the event itself didn't anchor this in my psyche, it was what came after. Yes there was shock at the announcement, but I don't remember having the kind of emotion my mother did; she cried off and on for three days. It was the reaction that she and everyone else had that cemented this memory for me.

Everything stopped for those three days. It was all anyone talked about. There were four channels on TV in the greater Capitol Region back then (I remember, they were 4, 5, 7 and 9!), no cable it was all broadcast, and each of them "signed off" between 11PM and midnight. For those three days all programs were cancelled and it was wall to wall news broadcast.

I remember seeing Walter Cronkite (CBS), Huntley and Brinkley on NBC, and some white-haired guy on ABC (was it Peter Jennings?) doing most of the face time reporting on rapid fire happenings. A jumble of the Presidents health, LBJ's swearing in, Jackie's reaction, the hunt for the killer, his arrest, and so on.

Many years later someone commented on the fact that, with the advent of TV and other mass media, it was possible for a huge number of Earth's inhabitants to share a common, life-changing reaction to an event in real time, almost at the same instant. It was one of those "hey, I never thought of that" moments, and the poster child was the Kennedy assassination. Everyone shared the kind of info I disclosed about "where they were," and it kept a lot of conversations going for a while.

The only other events where I distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing were the Challenger disaster and 9/11. 

So what's the takeaway here. I remember probably hundreds of bad news stories based on their shock and sadness, but only a very, very tiny handful burn the where and when into my life's recollections. On this anniversary of such a heinous event, here's hoping there aren't anymore like it, or if there are they will be very few, and very far between.

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