I was sitting in the second seat of the second row in Mrs. Bolton’s ninth grade English class, counting down the minutes until the weekend. Then our assistant principal, Mr. Cameron, came on the loudspeaker.
His voice broke. That got my undivided attention. Some of us knew he had been a 19-year-old Marine when he fought in the bloody battle for the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. Mr. Cameron was a tough guy. And he sounded like he was going to cry.
We quickly found out why. He announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The whole class sat there in a stunned silence and Mrs. Bolton, usually a woman of many words, didn’t know what to say to her 14-year-old students.
It was the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963 — with the 60th anniversary of that tragic event coming Wednesday.
Sixty years ago. And yet I can remember it like it was yesterday.
If you are old enough, I bet you remember that day, too, and can pinpoint exactly where you were when you heard the news.
Before he was shot dead on live TV, Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s assumed assassin, said he was a patsy, that he was innocent. I don’t think any of us believed him at the time. He was the evil entity who had swept our country into a nightmare we could never shake ourselves out of.
Although the conspiracy theories soon began to surface not long after Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, we were told that Oswald acted alone from his sniper’s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza. A lone gunman, a nut job.
Opinions have changed over time. I would guess that a lot of us now believe that there was indeed a conspiracy with more than one shooter involved and enough cover-up afterward to whitewash the entire country.
I’m certainly not an expert but I had the pleasure to take Jack Gordon’s course on Kennedy’s assassination this fall through the Forever Learning Institute, Gordon who holds a doctorate in Higher Education from Indiana University has been a lecturer, panel member and researcher on this darkest of days in our country’s history for 35 years. He even taught a college course on American political assassinations.
Although I have read books and articles on the assassination over the years, Gordon brought everything about that day into sharp focus.
I’m not going into all we learned, but Gordon believes those complicit in the murder included the CIA, the mob and an anti-Castro contingent. And like most of the experts, he is positive that there were at least two gunmen and as many as eight shots fired — two from the Grassy Knoll that hit Kennedy first in the throat and then the horrific head shot.
And he doesn’t think that Oswald even fired a rifle that day. At least one witness spotted him coming down the stairs of the Book Depository with a soda in his hand about the time of the shooting.
The coverup was extensive and there were a handful of mysterious deaths not long after Kennedy’s assassination of people who may have known too much.
Gordon’s class was chock-full of amazing — and unsettling — stuff. It’s almost impossible to fathom who all may have been involved in the assassination.
I used to think that JFK conspiracy theorists were a little off. Well, some of them probably are. But Gordon isn’t.
We will probably never know who all the guilty parties were that late autumn afternoon in Dallas. We will always know, though, where we were when we heard that Kennedy was shot.
Grown men shed tears that day — including Mr. Cameron.
Sixty years ago.
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