President John F. Kennedy in Miami a week before he was assassinated in Dallas
It was a sunny day. I remember that. It was letting-out time at Aldert Root Elementary School in Raleigh, and there was a kind of buzz going among the kids and the parents who were standing around outside, having gotten out of their cars instead of staying put as they usually did. That gave some pause to those of us, 10 and 11 years old, who’d taken the routine for granted, that being what makes them routines.
My mother was waiting as usual in the Rambler station wagon. No one was riding with us. Again, a little outside the routine.
So much time has passed now, I don’t remember how she told meabout the president. But by the time we got home we cut on the old black-and-white, and it pretty much stayed on for the rest of the weekend. When we got home from church that Sunday, we saw the film of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. Or, it may have been the shooting as it occurred. Again, nearly 55 years have passed since John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Now, with additional papers on the Kennedy assassination set to be released today, that day, that horror, that served as a touchstone of tragedy for those generations old enough to remember it is again in the fore, and will be – for a few weeks, at least.
We’ll recall where we were, how old we were. How Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed strange indeed, how even those of us too young to understand it all still could sympathize with Jackie Kennedy and her children, particularly the little boy who saluted. It’s a cliche, of course, to call them more innocent times. But they were.
No matter what the papers reveal, and they’re not likely to reveal much we don’t know, the years following didn’t diminish the magnitude of the tragedy, but the “Camelot” myth isn’t what it used to be, though the fascination with Kennedy himself remains. Now, however, it rises again mainly with anniversaries, or with significant markers in Kennedy history such as the death of the last brother of the generation, Ted Kennedy, who fought for the steadfast liberal causes such as Medicare until the end.
This said, there will be those who grasp at what straws of conspiracy they can find in the new papers. The most slender of threads – Oswald’s travels (admittedly curious to some degree), his connections in Mexico City, rumored second thoughts on the part of some associated with the Warren Commission, Castro connections, the New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, who relished his flirtation with fame in pursuing his own theories of the assassination – we’ll look in the new papers for some connection that might prove the eccentric D.A. wasn’t just a strange guy after all.
We’ll seek in the papers a reason, a more logical culprit, sound proof of guilt, pictures hidden all these years that might at last offer an “Ah, Ha!” moment. The polls can be a little wacky on such subjects, but they do seem to show that most Americans believe Kennedy was a victim of some kind of conspiracy beyond the conclusion of the Warren Commission, the members of which would live and die with doubts and questions lingering over their findings, though their conclusions were reinforced by other investigations.
They’re forever a part of the story. Others, many others especially including writers, have come and gone in the story over the last 50 years, their alternative theories debunked in one way or another.
In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s murder, book after book told the story in detail, most of them painting a picture of a group of conspirators and their gunman, a man of some fame of his own, seeking revenge, in their minds, for the South after a war in which hundreds of thousands died.
With regard to Kennedy, some still want a story, even now, that makes more sense than one strange little man being able to aim through a window opened in a book depository and kill the leader of the free world with two shots from a cheap rifle. But more than 50 Novembers later, the story has not changed from that sunny Friday. And no matter how many unseen papers are now seen, or how many new theories unfold because of them, it never will.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org