Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

Junior High Band
Jay Johnson
I lived only a few blocks from Belt Line Junior High. At 12:00 on Friday, November 22, 1963, I walked home for lunch.

I was the "new kid". I had been at Belt Line Junior High only two months and I was lost in a massive student body.  My life  had been dramatically turned upside.
My father changed jobs and the family moved from Abernathy, Texas to North Dallas, Richardson, Texas in August of 1963. Living all my life in the small town of Abernathy, Texas, I was suddenly up rooted and transplanted to begin growing up in Big D.  To make the transition more difficult my voice was changing and a very wispy mustache appeared on my upper lip.
Dad would work in  Dallas but chose to live in Richardson because of the reputation of the public schools. But this wonderful new school, I had to attend, was an alien planet to me.  In Abernathy I attended school with the same 20 kids since first grade. Belt Line Junior High as part of Richardson High School had more students than the entire city population of Abernathy. As the smallest freshest fish in this gigantic adolescent ocean I was sure I would be eaten first. I thought I would never survive Richardson/Dallas, Texas. This is why I avoided the incredibly intimidating lunchroom and walked home for a snack.
In spite of all this drama in my life, today Dallas, my new home town, will host the President of the United States. The idea that the actual President of the United States was physically 45 minutes from this new school was impressive to anyone even if they did NOT grow up in Abernathy.
My Mom had the television on and we watched local WFAA coverage of Air Force One landing at Love Field. The first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in a pink outfit and pill box hat, was first to exit the plane.  Then President Kennedy exited looking regal, waving and smiling to the cheering crowd.  At the bottom of the runway stairs he walked away from his security detail and greeted those who were straining at the fence to see him.  A reporter said he was brave to do that given the fear surrounding his visit.  Once the motorcade started there was no more television coverage, I wolfed down a tuna sandwich and headed back to school about 12:20.  My next class was Study Hall. 
As we began to settle into study hall  there was a rumble that the President had been shot. Kids were whispering it but no one seemed to know where the story came from.  It was as if the information was just in the air.  This girl I liked was very upset and almost in tears.  "It is a stupid rumor", I said, "I went home for lunch and just now saw him on television. He got off the plane and into his car. He hasn't been shot." The fact that the new kid had just seen the President on television made everyone feel better. Especially the girl I liked. It was a momentary victory for the new guy.
Moments later the  school PA system interrupted the quiet of the study hall.  Our principal said that the President had been shot. I remember to this day the look I got  from that girl I liked. Fifteen minutes later they gave the official announcement: President Kennedy was dead. There was a gasp followed by sniffling and crying. 
My next class was History. Only years later did I see the irony of living history that day rather than studying it.  The teacher became the moderator for the questions everyone had. Local reporters were grabbing anyone who witnessed the assassination and sticking them on television and radio. Some how this information was making its way into our class. Students were asking questions. Was it four shots or three? What is this grassy knoll and where is Dealey Plaza?  At one point it was rumored that Our Governor John Connally was dead.  I remember the History teacher getting everyone's attention and saying, "The  latest is the presidents assassin shot a policeman in Oak Cliff and the Dallas police have arrested him.  His name is Lee Harvey Oswald."  I thought it was very strange that although no one was certain how many shots were fired or where the fatal shots had come from or who fired them - the Dallas Police had arrested the assassin an hour and a half after it happened. Case closed crime solved.  It was too quick for even a junior high student to believe possible.
School was out at 3:00 and by the time I got home nothing was on the television but the "tragedy in Dallas".  I was sure that there would be different information by now, shedding more light on the quick arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald,  To my surprise the story I heard in History class didn't change. They had the guy, there were no other "person's of interest".  Oswald was already being referred to as the "lone gunman".  Once again it was hard to believe.
Over the next few hours Oswald is paraded around the police station for the television reporters.   Sunday morning Oswald is shot and killed at the Police station by a nightclub owner.  A lone gunman kills the lone gunman. The truth would  forever spin just out of reach.
Lyndon Johnson appoints a "commission" to investigate and find the truth.  The Warren Commission eventually concludes that the story I heard an hour after the assassination was the truth. That didn't make logical sense.  Johnson sealed the evidence records for 75 years.  That didn't make logical sense either. If the Warren Commission had done such a perfect job... why was it necessary to lock up the evidence for so long. That is when term "cover up" came into my vocabulary.
The assassination became a teen-age after thought as I discovered that a small fish in a gigantic adolescent ocean has a lot of room to swim. Belt Line Junior High changed the obit of my life and the Kennedy assassination will always be a part of my changed life.  
I doubt I will write much about the assassination 25 years from now. That's when we get to open the little black CLUE envelope to see who really did it.  I hope I'm still writing  twenty five years from now, but no more about the assassination. That story has now been told. Game over.
I think it was Col. Mustard in the Library with the lead pipe. 
As you were,


Kenny Croes said...

I was in 9th grade study hall at South High School in Bakersfield, California when the announcement was made that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. From the moment the announcement was made, it seemed like I fell into a terrible dream. My first emotions were sorrow, then fear. What would become of our nation? November 22, 1963. I have always recalled the precise date of those tragic events because it happened on my little brother's 10th birthday.

P. Grecian said...

I was standing in C-Building at my high school. Sophomore. Someone came running up. "The president's been shot!" Unbelievable. That only happens in movies and history books. And then we were history. And in books.

Bill Matthews said...

I was in kindergarden. I had no comprehension what was happening. I just remember them closing school early and people crying, and parents coming to pick children up early. I DO remember asking my mother what "assinated" was and her bursting into laughter through her tears.

Myreta Davis said...

Great story -- My memory of the day was much the same as yours. However, I was home sick and stayed glued to the TV all day. Living in Richardson during this event allowed us to get the news first hand as history was being made; coverage was delayed for everyone else. TV then is certainly not like it is today. If memory serves, you lived in another house before the one near the school. Also, don't forget the interesting bit about Marina remarrying Ken Porter and moving to Richardson with her new husband. I think they lived near the elementary school on Belt Line Road. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Yes, incredibly intimidating, I avoided the lunchroom as well...