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Kramer/My Turn: A scar that remains today

In November, 1963, we were 10 years old and fifth-graders at Greenfield’s Four Corners Elementary School. Our sole concern each day was deciding which game to play at recess. The biggest conflict we faced was whether to switch our allegiance from the New York football Giants of the NFL to the fledgling Boston Patriots of the AFL. Life was pretty simple.

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, we were all looking forward to the Thanksgiving vacation the following week and were a little more rambunctious than usual. Just after noon, our teacher, Mrs. Gilchrist, summoned me to her desk at the back of the room. I assumed that some form of punishment was forthcoming.

As I approached her desk, I noticed that she was upset, but apparently not at me. As I got closer, I noticed that she had tears in her eyes and she said softly, “I want you to do something for me. President Kennedy has been shot and there is a radio in the auditorium. Please go listen to see if he is all right.”

Although somewhat scared by the image of my teacher in tears, I immediately went to the auditorium where a tall, old fashioned radio stood on the stage and CBS was providing updates. After about 20 minutes of wire reports, it was confirmed that President Kennedy was dead. I rushed back to my classroom and informed Mrs. Gilchrist of the sad news. Within a half hour, we were dismissed from school and although some classmates rejoiced at the early dismissal, I knew this was not the time to celebrate.

My entire family was home when I arrived and we stayed in our TV room for the next three days. My father was the most solemn as he had helped coordinate JFK’s Massachusetts Senate Campaign in 1956. Although before that weekend I rarely had interest in television programs other than sports, “The Flintstones,” “Bonanza” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” I sat glued to the TV until Monday as the aftermath of the assassination unfolded. Jack Ruby’s killing of Lee Harvey Oswald on live television was a graphic event to witness. The long funeral procession from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery with a riderless horse pulling President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket, saluted by his son, John John, is an image that will never subside.

It seems impossible that the tragedy of Nov. 22, 1963 occurred a half century ago. The events surrounding that day left a scar on the American landscape that has never healed. JFK’s brief presidency is often referred to as the “Days of Camelot” and whether accurate or not, there still is a perception that something ended in November, 1963 that has never been duplicated.

In 1963, the Beatles released “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In August, 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, the enormity of which remains today. Much of the spirit and innocence which dominated those times was lost late that same year in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

We are still trying to recapture those qualities 50 years later.

A Deerfield Academy graduate, Steve Kramer grew up in Greenfield. He now resides in Medfield and is an attorney in private practice.

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