I was nine years old when JFK was shot. I remember how the news came over the PA system at school. It was a quiet moment at school. The class was doing some kind of written work. Everybody at their desks. I can’t remember what it was we were working on, but I do remember how calm and quiet it was. And then the principal announced that Kennedy had been shot. I’ll never forget the chill that went through me then. I don’t think the news of anyone’s death has affected me, either before or since, in quite that way. It’s always said how this was the end of Camelot. I think it was the end of some sort of innocence for me too. I went home at the end of the day and watched the film over and over and over. There was nothing else on TV. Nothing else happened in the whole world that day. Now that I think of it, I wonder if this was not the first assassination of a major figure ever broadcast on TV.
JFK was a hero to us kids. At least to me he was. I was intrigued by his Massachusetts accent. I read the book about his wartime experience in Guadalcanal, PT109. Saw the movie. Watched him on TV. I read his book, Profiles in Courage. I was really impressed with his wife. What a babe, eh? Even at ten I knew that. I already had the beginnings of political consciousness. I knew there was something going on with that president. Something important. I didn’t know quite what it was, but I felt something. Every school kid knew his famous inaugural line…ask not what your country can do for you…a line which he borrowed, but it didn’t matter.
And let it not be forgotten that all of Canada felt a kinship with his presidency, and with the US in those days. Our entire school took the day off to watch his funeral on TV. Not at home. At school. A Canadian school spending a day of mourning for a foreign president. I can’t imagine what comparable event there might be today. Yet, to me, it demonstrates how Canadians have always mourned with Americans during their times of tragedy. This has not changed…through 9/11, the disintegration of space shuttles, and lately the devastation of hurricanes. It proves to me as well the enduring friendship of Canada with the people of the United States…even when we don’t like what they’re doing in the world.
Kennedy’s presidency is really a question mark. It might well have ended in disaster anyway, once he decided to engage in Vietnam. But it’s sad that the US seems to have a predilection for destroying its bright stars just when they’re on the point of illuminating some universal truth.