The Duncan Banner

December 1, 2013

Decades later, shock remains

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — The memory is still vivid. Nov. 22, 1963. Shortly after 1 p.m. A Friday. Sophomore year in high school. Walking down the second floor hallway to an English class.

Over the public address system came a familiar voice, that of the principal. The announcement was shocking. President John Kennedy had been shot, possibly killed.

Laughter stopped. Jokes subsided. Conversations ended. Girls cried. Disbelief reigned.

Last week, visiting Dallas, I relived the horror and the feeling was much like that I recall 18 years ago. I was limp.

The words and places seemed all too familiar. Mockingbird Lane. The Trade Mart. Dealey Plaza. Texas School Book Depository. Oswald. Ruby. The triple overpass. J.D. Tippit. Parkland Hospital.

The effect is still chilling.

I drove the Mockingbird Lane route taken by the president’s entourage that fateful day, moving from Love Field through the downtown streets. I walked the peaceful sidewalks of Main Street, looked at the modernistic tribute by Phillip Johnson at JFK Memorial Plaza, shuttled through a serene Dealey Plaza, listened to two Frenchmen reading the inscription on a monument.

I looked down toward the overpass, past the infamous grassy knoll. My imagination recreated the scenes I had seen years before.

Then I stared at the sixth floor window in what was then the Texas School Book Depository. It was eerie. Spooky. Unreal.

It became more so inside the JFK Museum a few feet away from the one time depository.

Oversized reproductions of newspapers around the country hang on the museum lobby walls. The words they used to describe the event were different, but each offered the same meaning. Kennedy murdered, read one. John Kennedy now belongs to the ages, read another. President slain by Dallas sniper, read still another.

Seeing the words and pictures was akin to stepping back into a nightmare, a thought intensified by a film and model of the city that helped detail the entire occasion, tracing the president’s winding path through a series of blinking lights.

The crowd inside the theater was interesting. Two or three dozen people. Midday businessmen, for the most part, in three-piece suits. Sitting on carpeted tiers. At near attention. Silent. Almost reverent.

A narrative told the story. Kennedy in Dallas to generate support for a probable re-election attempt. Greeted by huge, adoring crowds at Love Field. Flanked by thousands en route to the Trade Mart, site of his speech. Charismatic smile. Continuous wave. Stopped the motorcade to shake hands with children at an intersection. Accompanied by his wife, the beautiful Jackie in what was to become a never-to-be-forgotten pink dress.

It all seemed so sudden as the blinking lights neared the tragic scene. I felt my pulse quicken. My anticipation and anxiety were keen. I wanted to halt the lights in hopes of eliminating what we all knew would happen next.

Shots rang out. Bursts of light filled the theater. It was like being part of a haunting history. Real, yet unreal. Exciting, but traumatic.

Chaos followed. Shrill sirens broke the air. Confusion set in. People dove to the ground or scattered. Shrieks of fear accompanied all. Cars sped away. Commentators groped for words. It was awful…then worse.

There was the funeral that followed, like solemn pageantry. A rider less horse. Tearful people, men and women. Somber faces. Flowers and more flowers. John-John’s farewell salute. A woman’s courage that touched a nation. The vision of Jack Ruby’s gun thrust near the stomach of Oswald as millions watched on television. Thoughts of the irony that accompanied the deaths of Kennedy and Lincoln. Memories of Kennedy’s meaningful quotes.

Watching, 18 years later, we sat in stunned silence, staring for moments at a blank screen when the film had run its course. Even now, it seems so senseless. Such a waste.

That it affected us all then was obvious. That a sense of pain lingers is equally so, just as it is that the city of Dallas wishes the bad dream would somehow go away.

I have occasional difficulty remembering the date of my wedding anniversary, the birthdays of close friends and key moments of my professional career.

But Nov. 22, 1963 and its tragedy is etched in my mind. Forever.

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