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Where I Was
Written November 22, 2011
Details about classes added May 17, 2015


It was about 1:59 on a Friday afternoon, and Mrs. Goddard's English 11 class was drawing to a close in Room 4 on the northwest corner of the second floor of Richwood High School.  I would never forget the next four minutes.

The loudspeaker above the blackboard crackled to life as it sometimes did for a general announcement.

Superintendent Richard Fetter’s voice came through the intercom, saying something like this: “We have a news report, nothing more.  President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas, Texas.  His condition is unknown at this time.”  And then the buzzer sounded to end the 7th period.

The gunfire in Dealey Plaza had taken place half an hour before, and the President was at that moment being declared dead at Parkland Hospital.  But inside the walls of our school, all we knew was contained in Mr. Fetter’s statement.  There were no portable radios, no cell phones, no iPads.  And only three minutes had been allotted to get to our 8th-period class.

As we made our way through the halls and up the stairs, trying to make sense of the stunning bulletin, someone asked, “What’s he doing in Texas?”  “Visiting Vice-President Johnson, I think,” someone else replied.

To me, “visiting” meant being a guest in someone’s home and sitting around talking.  I briefly imagined that the leaders had been conversing in the living room at the LBJ Ranch when a shot rang out.  But that didn’t seem likely.

Some else remarked, “His condition is ‘unknown’?  That doesn’t sound good.  If he were only wounded, they would have said so.”

I mentally reviewed the facts I had learned in history class.  There had been three Presidential assassinations, but none lately.  The most recent?  William McKinley, 1901.  “We haven’t had one of these in 62 years,” I remarked to no one in particular. 

So if the shooting proved to be fatal, LBJ would become our new President.  The Vice President was not highly regarded and had been the subject of jokes.  “Lyndon Johnson?” I mused incredulously.

My 8th-period Algebra II class convened as usual in Bruce Cahill’s science lab on the southwest corner of the third floor.  Mr. Cahill said not a word about the shocking news.  He began teaching us as planned.

Afterwards, some of the students complained that we could have at least have taken a few minutes to discuss what had just happened.  But no one really knew what had happened.

At 2:38 pm, Walter Cronkite announced on CBS-TV that the President had died.  Just before 2:45, we received the word via another intercom report from Mr. Fetter.

When I got home after school, my mother was lying down in the bedroom.  She had probably been watching As the World Turns when Cronkite broke in with the first bulletin.  “Did you hear about the President?” she called out to me through the doorway.  It sounded as though she had been crying.  I replied yes, I had heard about the President.

That night, the high school basketball game was played as scheduled.  It was the first game of the season, Ridgemont at Richwood, and there was an overflow crowd.  Fans had to be turned away.  As a team manager, I recall wearing a black sweater as I ran the big mop over the gym floor.

What else do I recall from that weekend?  Sunday after church, our family was out in the car listening to the radio when we learned that the alleged assassin Oswald had himself been shot.

Monday, there was no school so we could all watch the funeral on television.  I was surprised at the complexity of the ceremonies, arranged in only a couple of days.  Someone had to decide, “For the procession, let’s have muffled drums and a riderless horse with a backwards saddle.  And we’ll get a firing squad to perform a 21-gun salute.  We need a catafalque for the lying in state?  Well, the Lincoln catafalque is down in the basement.  Let’s bring it out again.  What else?”  I suppose these rites had been performed in some combination many times over the years.  We had never seen them on TV, though, so it seemed like somebody must have invented them all over the weekend. 

At the gravesite, the flag from the coffin was folded and handed to the widow, who then lit the Eternal Flame.  We didn’t know she would be doing this, and the cameras were a respectful distance away, so it was hard to tell at first what was happening.  On Tuesday, Mrs. Mary Cahill asked us in history class, “Didn’t you all think that Mrs. Kennedy was burning the flag?”

A few months later, the Tigrtrax arrived with a special dedication, “Our 1964 yearbook is published in memory of the 35th President of the United States,” and an illustration by Connie Anderson of the Eternal Flame.



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