Eyewitness News

Remembering JFK

Friday, November 22, 2013
Bill Ritters daily take on the news.

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

For many of us, Nov. 22 is a lot like Sept. 11.

Or Dec. 7 for older generations.

Dates that indeed live in infamy. Dates that changes lives, and the country.

The Census Bureau says about 39 percent of Americans today were older than 5 back on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Which means old enough to remember. I'm looking around our newsroom of 175 people, and I suspect the number who were 5 or older back then is about 10 percent.

Which is a long but (I hope) not uninteresting way of saying I remember that day, that moment, clearly. How could I not? A young President - the youngest ever elected  his young beautiful-people family - symbolizing a generational change from the rut of the 1950s, suddenly killed and launching a decade of unrest, turmoil, questioning basic assumptions, violence at home and abroad, and, in so many ways, a completely altered view of the U.S. and its government, by citizens here and by the world.

I am old enough to know exactly where I was when I heard that President Kennedy had been shot.

And I remember my reaction, because I grunted. I remember it may have sounded like a laugh - I was worried about that, worried about how people would react to everything I did back then as a 13-year-old. When you're that age, you sometimes believe that somehow everyone is watching at all times - how you walk, how you dress, how you react.

It doesn't take long to realize that NO ONE is in fact watching you, and that people could care less how you react to anything. But when you're 13, you think the world is all about you.

Or at least I thought that, back on Nov. 22, 1963. I was in class at Portola Jr. High School in Tarzana, California, and the grunt-that-sounded-like-a-laugh was, in truth, my attempt to stifle a sob.

I was shocked - shocked to the point of tears. And it didn't get better, as word later came in that this young president had died from his wounds. It happened somewhere in Dallas was all I knew at the time. Later, of course, we'd know all too well about that motorcade, and the Dallas Book Depository, and the rifle that had been used, and how Mrs. Kennedy - in her pink dress that the President had asked her to wear because she looked so great in it - had tried to leap out of the Lincoln Continental, about how the Texas Governor in the car had also been shot.

And I remember my red-eyed English teacher, Mr. Olson, speechless, on that day. He had a picture of President Kennedy hanging on his wall. I knew he was a political sort of guy; his grandfather had been Governor of California years before.

I had never seen Mr. Olson as grim or as sad as he was that fall day. And the image of that day - and my reaction - are burnished in every part of me. Forever.

We were sent home, and for the next four days, we, like the country, were stunned. Stunned by what happened, stunned by the images on television, stunned by the murder of the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a few days later, stunned by the funeral, and John Jr. saluting the caisson as his father's body traveled by. We were a household in mourning, a country in mourning. I remember seeing my dad crying only a few times - that weekend in 1963 was one of them. And everywhere on the streets, you could tell that folks had been crying.

I remember finding it puzzling even as a 13-year-old, how the murder suspect could himself be murdered  INSIDE A POLICE STATION!!! The years of conspiracy theories followed, and some folks were in a tizzy over finding out some other truth other than the truth that, then and now, seems self-evident  one shooter, one killer, one President's life over, and a country changed forever.

They were political royalty back then, the Kennedys, and they still are. Their family members still make news - from Caroline's appointment as the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan, to "Kennedy cousin" Michael Skakel getting out of prison this week after getting a new trial for murdering his neighbor decades ago.

The Kennedy assassination - the backdrop for us as we prep tonight's 11 p.m. newscast.

We'll have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's weekend and bitterly cold AccuWeather, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11 after 20/20.

BILL RITTER

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