Nov. 21, 1963: I couldn’t wait for tomorrow. Couldn’t fall asleep. Tomorrow CBS News was going to show a British documentary called “Beatlemania.” I had thought of nothing else all week.
I was 12. For all the hype, I had no idea how hard I was about to fall in love with George and Paul and Ringo, and, especially, John Lennon, with the kind of passion only a pre-adolescent girl can bring to it. I was finally lulled into sleep by the song “Deep Purple” on WMEX, the singers crooning softly about gentle romance within the safety of sleepy garden walls. It was the No. 1 song that week of November 1963 …
Tomorrow came, but “Beatlemania” didn’t. CBS News had other things to report that day. I had to wait to fall in love with the Beatles until we had mourned the passing of another kind of innocence, this one a national rite – but also a personal one. Camelot, that kingdom with its pretty garden walls that had enchanted me as a 12-year-old, was gone, and the pain of that loss, for me, is forever mixed up with my own rite of passage from childhood to adolescence.
Five years later. I had fallen for another Kennedy – Robert – and my Beatles worship had transformed into political passion: anti-war, pro civil rights. Robert Kennedy embodied all that, and he was poised to become the Democratic candidate just as I was about to be released from high school into a heady summer of peace activism and political campaigning.
I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
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In the year 1960, my friend Mary and I were walking up Park Street in Portland to Congress Street. We were on our way to the Portland Public Library to study and do our homework. We were juniors at Portland High School.
Looking over at the front door of the Lafayette Hotel we saw a good-looking guy dismounting the stairs. Clean cut, well shaven, impeccably dressed and (ahem), handsome as they come and with a beautiful smile on his face. I turned to Mary and said, “that is Sen. John F. Kennedy” who was scheduled to speak in downtown Portland that night.
The senator strolled down Congress Street with two extremely well-dressed men walking on each side of him. Just the three of them. So I said to Mary, “Let’s go talk to him.” And we strolled right up to him, and he put out his hand to give us each a heart-melting shake and he said, ”nice city, Portland, you have here” and we shakily said, “Yes”!
I then said, “Good luck, senator,” and he said, “Thank you very much girls.” And off he strolled with that unforgettable grin.
Anyone who had been on Congress Street that night could have walked right up to him and greeted him. He was not in a bullet-proof car, or tightly encircled by Secret Service agents, or worried about terrorism, etc. Mary and I have our memories, but we also now have a loss of what could be one of our best freedoms – a simple walk down any street in America!
On Friday morning, Nov. 22, 1963, I was a special ed teacher at School #28 in Rochester, N.Y. The class was in a happy mood because of the upcoming weekend and Thanksgiving holiday.
The acting principal came into our classroom and in a solemn, sad voice, he told us that the president, Mr. Kennedy, had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and had been rushed to the hospital. The children would be sent home in an hour.
After Mr. Hamlin left the room, it became a scene of sorrow and weeping as the young students sat at their desks with bowed heads. We all prayed silently for President Kennedy, his family and the nation.
A little girl stood up, sobbing, and said, “Who will help us now?” as the tears slid down her little cheeks.
Abraham Lincoln gave his life for the oppressed, and President Kennedy also gave his life for the oppressed.
Leroy E. Peasley
We had no TV or radio in our small one-bedroom apartment where my husband, a Yale Divinity School student, and I lived with our 3- year-old daughter in November 1963.
I did not want her to see the initial violence or the continual replays, so I could only go to the common room where students gathered and the sole TV played constantly for brief moments while she was safely asleep a level above.
In addition to the horror and bewilderment I felt at the events unfolding, I was struck by the international students from Africa, many of the sitting with their heads bowed into their hands. America, to them, was the Promised Land. Now, not only did they know the violence in their homelands, they also had to incorporate into their thinking and visions for a better future, extreme violence in the land they had chosen as a role model.
I heard one of these students mumble through his tears, “We will never know what he could have accomplished in his second term,” knowing the pending civil rights agenda.
I was a second-year midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy the day President Kennedy decided to drop in for a visit in July 1963.
He took us all in as we stood at rigid attention, stepped to the microphone and said, remembering his days as a naval officer, “Stand at ease”. Not one body moved – we were all frozen with a mixture of fear and concentration.
The President stepped back, clearly bemused by our inability to relax, even a little. But having that wonderful sense of humor that was so endearing, he said to the superintendent: “Well, Admiral, I guess they haven’t learned that command yet.” This released the tension. We relaxed, though still keeping pretty braced-up, and the President went on to dazzle us with leadership lessons from a fellow naval officer whose PT boat had been shot out from under him in the Pacific in World War II.
No one who was there that day will have forgotten that golden moment when a young President and his wonderfully attractive wife won the hearts of us midshipmen.
A short four months later, I was one of 70 midshipmen who marched in the funeral procession for President Kennedy. It was another memorable day with a very different feel– the slow rattling of the drums the only sound as we marched from the Capitol, past the White House, to Arlington National Cemetery.
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