I was on an elementary school playground at lunch recess, the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “JFK” was shot. When we returned to class there was a school-wide announcement over the PA. The President of the United States was dead and school was closed for the rest of the day. Kids walked home or parents were called. At home Walter Cronkite was on TV. The mood was somber.
I grew up in the Permian Basin, so named for the geological era when a great sea existed in West Texas; a sea whose decaying animal and vegetable matter would, over millions of years, create one of the largest oil-fields in the world. During the latter half of the 20th century, America ran on West Texas sweet crude from the Permian Basin. George H.W. Bush moved there in 1951 to start his oil company and later his political career. George Jr. went to elementary school in Midland, though he was in an East coast preparatory school when JFK was shot.
The political climate in West Texas was, and still is, strongly right wing. There was no aura of Camelot surrounding the Kennedys there. And the climate was also fraught with cold war tension. In California school-kids practice earthquake drills. When I was a kid in West Texas, we practiced Atomic Bomb drills – how quickly can you crawl under the desk and bury your head in your lap. There were houses in town that had bomb shelters. White Sands Missile Range was about 200 miles to the West. The first atomic bomb in the world exploded there. Sonic booms from the Air Force jets stationed there were not uncommon. In 1958, the Hydrogen Bomb was tested underground in Nevada. One winter for reasons I didn’t understand, we were warned not to eat or play in the “radioactive snow”. Snow was a such rare event for West Texas that schools closed and became a magical holiday for snow-men, igloos, and snow-ice-creme.
A year earlier Kennedy had made Khrushchev blink in the Cuban Missile Crisis. No one really knew what was going on, but we spent a lot of time crawling under our desks in October of 1962. When you take the cold war into account, the sudden loss of the Commander in Chief was a National tragedy that extended to the Permian basin as well. What would happen to America? Were we going to be nuked by the Soviet’s? No one under the age of 70 even remembered the last Presidential assassination.
Another Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson “LBJ”, took the Presidential oath in an airplane that Friday afternoon in November. Over time worries about World War III were replaced with realities of Vietnam. A best friend’s older brother came home in a bag. There were 100’s more dead on TV every night.
On Monday November 25 1963, the nation watched the funeral procession for the 35th President of the United States. The image of John John saluting his father’s coffin is unforgettable.