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50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination
November 19, 2013 - Michael Palmer
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, and both broadcast and cable networks are featuring special programming tied to the national tragedy. I am old enough to recall the live broadcast of the tragedy.
Most people old enough to remember the third week of November in 1963 can recall the exact moment they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. And for millions, the word came from CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite.
On that Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, it was possibly the last thing daytime television viewers expected to see in the middle of their favorite afternoon soap opera.
I was just a few weeks shy of my fifth birthday and playing on the floor as my mother ironed the laundry while watching "As The World Turns".
The show was interrupted by a CBS special bulletin. The anchor, Walter Cronkite, said: "Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
Due to the technology of the time, the tubes in the television cameras had to warm up, just like our televisions, and there was no image with the news just a black screen with the words CBS NEWS BULLETIN.
I was not immediately interested, but when my mother began to cry it got my attention. The Kennedy administration had been the first televised presidency, and as a young catholic family man with two young children, we felt like they were part of our family.
After all, I knew more about the Kennedy family than my own cousins.
It was not long that the telephone rang, it was my aunt who had called to see if we heard the news. It was not long after that there was a small group of family gathered around the television as Cronkite announced: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.” He took off his glasses and looked up at a clock. “2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago.” His voice started to crack. He continued, saying that Lyndon Johnson had left Parkland Hospital in Dallas and would eventually be sworn in.
Back in 1963, most Americans got their news from newspapers or the radio. In most cities, people only had a few black-and-white TV channels to choose from.
For four days, CBS, NBC and ABC provided non-stop coverage. For four days, Americans gathered around their television sets. I recall returning from church on Sunday to watch the events unfolding in Washington, D.C.
While the Kennedy assassination changed the country forever, it propelled TV and network news outlets into the lead as the source for news. More importantly, it was the end of an age of innocence. The first ever live murder on television occurred when Lee H. Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby
That event prompted a brief “No Children Allowed” policy, which was soon lifted. Three days later, watching President Kennedy's funeral, grief stabbed deeper when John-John, on his third birthday, saluted his father's casket. My mother imagining me, a young boy standing before the nation during a family tragedy.
We became more connected to the outside world, a world beyond our small neighborhood. The evening news would soon take us into the jungles of Vietnam for live footage of a war.
Aside from the day our family was betrayed by a beloved relative, this is probably the clearest memory of my young life, I find it almost an impossibility that half a century has passed. The feelings are still fresh and when I watch the specials this week I know I will be holding back tears as I watch the Zapruder film.
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