A generation will never forget Nov. 22, 1963

Published 3:48 pm Friday, November 26, 2021

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was on my way to chemistry class at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas.

I got there a little early before 12:30 pm and was going over my notes when I could hear a TV or radio program coming from the storeroom. I recognized the voice of Walter Cronkite. A few minutes later my chemistry teacher, Mr. Bert Tucker, emerged from the storeroom with tears running down his face. All my classmates were wondering what happened. Mr. Tucker wiped his eyes and said, “They’ve killed our President.” 

We were all in shock. Dallas was only three hundred miles east of us as we tried to process what was going on. Speculation went amok: was the Soviet Union responsible or Cuba? Was a coup d’état taking place? We were all scared and many began to cry. School was not suspended and none of my teachers tried to teach. 

When I got home, all three channels that we had, NBC, CBS, and ABC began 24/7 coverage in black and white; color wasn’t available then. The TV networks covered the transport of President Kennedy from Parkland Hospital to Love Field in Dallas. When Vice President  Johnson arrived on Air Force One, a call was made and a federal Judge, Sarah Hughes, administered the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson on board the aircraft. Johnson insisted that Jackie Kennedy be there to witness the oath and a picture was taken of all involved to show the world that the American government was still in place. 

There was a slight delay when the authorities insisted that an autopsy of the slain president be performed at Parkland. Johnson would not allow Air Force One to take-off without President Kennedy. The Secret Service prevailed, and they escorted President Kennedy’s casket to Air Force One. 

Mrs. Kennedy stayed beside the coffin of her husband during the entire flight. There was network coverage of Air Force One arriving at Andrews Air Force Base. The first person to board the aircraft was Attorney General Robert Kennedy, JFK’s brother, and he immediately went to Mrs. Kennedy. 

The next few days covered all the events including the funeral dirge and the solemn sounds as the coffin of President Kennedy was marched from the Capital Rotunda to the East Room of the White House where he was lying in state and then to St. Matthew’s. Tradition has always been that the honor guard composed of one member of each branch of the military faced out from  the corners of the catafalque. The catafalque was the same that was used for President Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Kennedy requested and was granted that the honor guard face in towards President Kennedy. 

All the numerous heads of state paid their respects first, followed by an endless stream of people saying goodbye to the president. With all the events in process, on Sunday, November 24, I was watching the television at 11:24 am, when Lee Harvey Oswald, the president’s assassin, was killed by Jack Ruby, a local night club owner, during a transport of Oswald to a more secure county jail. 

Prior to the day of the funeral at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on November 25, Mrs. Kennedy made the decision to walk behind her husband’s caisson from St. Matthew’s Cathedral to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Since Mrs. Kennedy was making the walk, all the heads of state from all over the world, decided to walk behind Mrs. Kennedy and family members much to the chagrin of the Secret Service. Just as this generation will always remember the events of 9/11/2001, my generation will never forget 11/22/1963.

Gene Hays is an author and historian with books available at Amazon.com and can be reached by email: rghays47@gmail.com.