As mentioned in an earlier blog, my family's television set was broken on that unforgettable weekend of November 22, 1963. All we could do was tune in to the radio to stay on top of the continuing coverage of the assassination. I remember listening with my father to XTRA, the Los Angeles all-news station, just as Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base with the casket of the slain President. The Texas drawl of Lyndon Johnson was a striking change from the Boston brogue we had become accustomed to in the Kennedy years. The new President's words were reassuring but I could definitely hear the gravitas, even through my 10-year-old ears.
My family subscribed to the Herald-Examiner, LA's evening newspaper, and we opened it with eager expectation. On the front page was the now famous photo of a smiling President Kennedy and his beautiful wife Jackie, waving to the crowds from their limousine just moments before the cruel shots rang out. I read every word in the front-page story and read them again as a sickening feeling came over me. Since I admired Kennedy so much, perhaps it was just as well that our TV was broken. The continuing coverage would have only depressed me.
And it did, 50 years later. CBS News is showing the entire four-day coverage on their website, from assassination to funeral. Here was my chance to finally see what I missed as a child.
I meant to do some writing and other work as I watched but those plans quickly went out the window. It was just too absorbing. TV news was raw and the technology still primitive in 1963, but it was there. The killing of Kennedy was the first national tragedy fully covered by television. The scrambling of the reporters for the latest updates, the grainy black-and-white images, the garbled sound and, most poignantly, Walter Cronkite's choked emotion as he announced the official news of the President's death — it was all quite riveting. I finally understood how the country came together as one on that fateful weekend. And I was beside myself in grief all over again, fifty years later.
Perhaps this was not such a good idea. After all, I live alone, with no one to share this experience with me. I found myself in tears as I watched Jackie's quiet composure, or as senators, congressmen and people on the street poured out their grief. I tried to connect with friends via email, texting and Facebook. But in the end, I was alone with my sorrow and heartbreak. A good man died fifty years ago, and I just relived that horrible day all over again.