I was four years old when JFK was shot. Though I have a pretty good memory, I can’t remember where I was when it happened.
I have some vague memories of watching Kennedy’s funeral procession from our black-and-white TV, including the iconic image of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket. The coverage was nonstop.
One vague memory was watching the coverage while we ate dinner in a restaurant called “Woody and Eddy’s” on Huntington Drive in Arcadia, looking up at the TV.
But over the years, we’ve been exposed to so much about this event, I couldn’t say for sure whether it was “live” or a replay.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about JFK. My first memory was a short biography of JFK written for children; Dwight Eisenhower also was in the book. It was a shiny image, with the most memorable one being JFK’s PT boat heroics.
Much later I learned it was “the most screwed up PT boat action of World War II.”
So like many people my age, my memories of JFK were polished by the media, including the endless conspiracy theories and romances. His presidential actions — short of the “Cuban Missle Crisis” — almost seemed like a sideshow.
I remember my parents had this record in their collection called “The First Family.” It was a good-natured parody of JFK and sold as many as 1 million copies per week.
My parents were “Eisenhower Republicans.”
I have childhood memories of all the happy images of JFK and his family at their home on Cape Cod.
In graduate school at Northwestern, I spent a semester as a Washington D.C. correspondent – for the Rapid City, S.D., Journal — and I visited the JFK grave at Arlington with my friend. We were pretty moved by the “eternal flame.”
In my early 20s, I visited the the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. I was interviewing for a job at the Dallas Morning News. The exhibits were informative and graphic.
My friend, who worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (we called it the “Startlegram”) drove me back and forth past the grassy knoll. I tried to remember that fateful day.
For years, our family visited the Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, and I learned about the infamous JFK-Marily Monroe interlude. I’ve never gone on the “tunnel tour.”
So my memories of Kennedy are snippets — framed around mystery, sensationalism and intrigue, with a few personal visits to meaningful places included.
WHEN NEWSPAPERS MATTERED
I would try to imagine JFK’s actual life — not the “Camelot” one — at his gravesite or the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. In those more pensive moments, I found it hard to believe in a “conspiracy theory.”
Most of the time, I was being “spun” — in an era where newspapers mattered and TV was ramping up.
My son and I have only talked briefly about JFK, for elementary school projects. JFK’s life has nowhere near the impact on either of us that it did for earlier generations. I just wan’t old enough.
My most profound memories of the past 50 years is the changing ways we are informed about events like the JFK assassination: from newspapers (this Carl Mydans’ image from Life magazine above is a classic), to black-and-white TV, to color TV, to the internet and social media. Now, we’re hooked on handheld digital devices or laptops.
Over time, the quality of reporting seems to have declined. I was reminded of that when I went to Time.com this morning to look for some meaningful essay about JFK. (For my generation, a newsmagazine is the place you’d go for something like that; I worked for Time in college). But there wasn’t one, really.
A changing information age has marked my generation. My son is the “iGeneration,” even more impatient when it comes to being informed or entertained.
I suspect his memories of the first president whom he can remember, President Obama, will be marked by media “spin” too. I’ll be curious to see how many personal memories he has.
(photo: Carl Mydans, Life magazine)
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