In October of 1960, then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy paid a momentous visit to my hometown (see Photo). The Chicago Tribune carried the headline: “Just two weeks before the election, on Oct. 25, 1960, … Kennedy made a brief but exciting campaign visit to Aurora. This was part of a larger two-day power swing through Illinois, a critical state.” chicagotribune.com.
The street and sidewalks around the old City Hall building on Stolp Avenue were awash with onlookers hoping to get a glimpse of the young candidate and to hear his message. This was my first exposure to JFK and I was duly impressed. Kennedy represented Massachusetts in both houses of the U.S. Congress prior to his presidency. JFK went on to win the election and became the 35th President of the United States by a very close margin, taking the oath of office in January of 1961.
On October 22 of 1962, the nation, immersed in the maelstrom of the Cold War, was collectively shocked when, in his Address to the Nation, Kennedy stated, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” jfklibrary.org. The specter of thermonuclear war was on the minds of the American people. Many were fearful that we had reached the flashpoint. That was the week that the students of my high school were first introduced to the school’s sub-basement; the designated shelter in case of a nuclear attack. We were all fearful and silent as we huddled in the semi darkness.
On November 22, 1963, I was eating lunch in our school cafeteria when the principal announced over the PA system that the President had been shot. We were stunned. Most of us who reflect on that moment, even now, can still recall exactly what we were doing and where we were at the moment of the announcement. We did not have access to television in our high school, but there was a radio in the music room. As we crowded into the room, my friend Tom turned on the radio just in time to hear Walter Cronkite's broken voice saying, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: (reading AP flash) "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." (glancing up at clock) 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago. CBS Archives.
“John F Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 PM in Dallas Texas, while riding in a presidential motorcade through Dealy Plaza. Kennedy was riding with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connolly and Connolly’s wife Nelly when he was fatally shot from a nearby building by Lee Harvey Oswald, a former US Marine… Governor Connolly was seriously wounded in the attack. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the shooting. Connally recovered…” And the rest, as they say, is history… conspiracy theories and all. It was also the end of my unquestioning political innocence.
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