Just about everybody who was alive in America in the last 40 years can remember a pivotal life event that occurred on Nov 22, a half century ago.
Where were you when President John Kennedy was killed?
My story is somewhat unique and so are many others.
Clay James of Jackson was in the Marines. His officers armed him and the rest of the soldiers with wooden rifles and sent them to the coastline. They thought the Russians might be invading us. This was in the height of the Cold War. Such an event seems impossible to folks who never experienced those perilous times.
Casper native Dean McKee was in study hall at Natrona High School with a buddy who soon moved to Oklahoma. Odd, he said, he had no more contact with that man until he ran into him on a hike in the St. Lawrence Basin of the Wind River Mountains several decades later.
Former House Speaker Fred Parady of Alaska and Lander’s Andy Gramlich had similar experiences.
Parady was an Army brat living on a base in Seattle and had been taken by his parents to see President Kennedy when he visited their base, shortly before the assassination.
Gramlich was a high school senior and attended a parade the day before the Nov. 22 assassination in Tampa, Florida, where JFK and Jackie rode in an open limo to a huge crowd. “Made the next day seem even more eerie, “ Andy, recalls.
Leslie Blythe of Casper was just 4 and living in Billings. She and her mother went to a drive-in restaurant. She recalls the waitress crying, telling them about the president being shot.
My story has both coincidence and irony.
An old friend stopped by back in 1989 – some 24 years ago. He was one of my high school high school classmates from back in the town of Elgin in Northeast Iowa.
I had run into him during a 25th high school reunion some years earlier. It was good to see him even though he reminded of an event that gave us both goose bumps as we recalled it.
He reminded me of one of the most chilling events as he recalled a day in American History class on Nov. 22, 1963.
As an assignment, I had written a paper comparing President Kennedy with President Abraham Lincoln. There were an incredible series of similarities that I rattled on about to the rest of the class on that fateful day.
When I was finished, our classmate, Bonnie, said: “And so, now it is time for Kennedy to die.”
As we left class, the announcement came over the public address system that, indeed, our president had been shot that morning. Perhaps he had been killed as we were talking about it. What an eerie coincidence. Indeed, I remember where I was when hearing about President Kennedy getting shot.
And I've never met any American who was alive at that time in 1963 who can't pinpoint where they were and what they were doing at that exact time when they found out about it.
My 50-year journalism career was just starting back in those days. I often wonder if that shock that Kennedy’s death brought to the country was not a small part of the stimulus that caused me to embark on writing and reporting career.
As a 17-year old high school senior, I had taken that American History assignment and wrote a column in the local newspaper based on it. My column dealt with the following an amazing coincidences regarding Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln:
Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946. Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Kennedy was elected president in 1960.
The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters. Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy. Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln.
Both presidents were shot on a Friday. Both were shot in the head. Both were assassinated by southerners and succeeded by southerners. Both successors were named Johnson. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1838. Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939. Both assassins were known by their three names. Both names comprise fifteen letters. Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse. Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
Booth and Oswald were both assassinated before their trials.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.