This day, November 22, 1963, is seared in my memory and feels as though it was yesterday. I was one month shy of 10 years old. I was in the 5th grade at Wheeless Road Elementary Public School. It was a Friday. Another teacher burst into our room declaring the President had been shot. Eventually CBS radio was played over the intercom because the faculty knew this was history in the making.
Once we heard the President was dead, we were let out of school early. I saw my Catholic teacher crying with Rosary in hand, Betty Casey still living in Augusta. It was a warm day but a very eerie atmosphere as I walked home. That day I learned two new vocabulary words and definitions, assassination and assassin.
I loved President Kennedy and his family. He had children close to my age. They appeared to be a good Catholic family and their Catholicism was a source of pride for us Catholics, particular us Catholics in the south who were a small minority amongst Protestants. It was the Bible Belt!
As with the Church, the mortal sins of Catholics and others, especially their sexual peccadilloes were not investigated or a major news story. It was a private matter between them, their God and family. This was before gossip and obsession with people’s sex lives was considered news.
I think it was two days later, a Sunday, when I saw on live TV the President’s assassin, assasinated himself. At the time I can remember everyone in my family overjoyed at what happened to him not realizing that the primary “person of interest” was also the one who could tell the world of any conspiracies that he was a part of. To be honest with you, I thought as a 9 year old that Vice President Johnson was responsible for it! I still wonder about that to this day. Was it a coup?
On Monday, a National Day of Mourning, we watched President Kennedy’s Low Requiem Mass on live TV from Saint Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC and then the state funeral that followed with the Catholic Rite of Committal at the gravesite. It was all very impressive and terribly sad.