The Day JFK Died

Friday, November 22, 1963, was exactly a month before my 12th birthday. I was in my third year of what would be nine years of military school, and that Friday, there was a home football game scheduled at the stadium on campus. As we always did, we had a formation on the bus parking lot and marched to the area around Memorial Court, where a monument to those alumni who had died in World Wars I and II and the Korean War stood in front of the Field House and the non-working surplus cannons sitting near each side of the main entrance.

It was tradition to stop there for the chaplain to say a prayer before we continued our march down to the football field, then into the open stands on the one side of the field. Visitors sat in those on the other side. On that particular day, as we stood at attention, waiting for the brief, routine ceremony to begin, word spread down the ranks that the president had been shot. My response when the guy next to me passed the word was, “Yeah, sure,” or something to that effect.

Then, a few moments later, the commandant stepped up to the edge of Memorial Court, in front of our places on the road around it, and announced that the news was indeed true. The president was dead. Anyone who has seen the footage of people’s reactions to the news around the country that day, or who lived through it themselves, knows how it felt. There were no tears, of course, but there was certainly shock as we, at our young ages, tried to comprehend the reality of that afternoon’s events in Dallas.

As we did so, the chaplain spoke words that had nothing to do with football, and then, amazingly, we continued down to the field, filed into the stands, and there was a football game, as scheduled. Looking back all these years later, I cannot fathom why the decision was made to go on as if it was just another Friday. My guess is that, maybe the school adminstrators had no idea what else to do. Certainly, in any case, no one there–not the players, not the faculty or staff, not any of the visitors–was thinking about a game. But the game was played, and afterwards, we all went home, just like it was any Friday after a home game.

But it sure wasn’t that. Not at all.

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