Friday, December 6, 2013

The Day Kennedy Died

It had just snowed hard and Trinidad was freezing cold as we walked up the steps of the Junior College and first heard from a student that the president had been shot. We were in town for a statewide speech contest and had just arrived in the Pueblo Catholic High School bus.

We went into the cafeteria, which had large black and white TVs up high enough to see from a distance. Walter Cronkite was on. I noticed his white button down shirt and skinny tie, but no coat. It seemed unusual in those days when we had no continuous news and anchors always wore coats.

It was near noon and just as we started to listen, he said: “Dan Rather has confirmed President Kennedy is dead.” He removed his glasses and appeared to tear up, but then put them back on and kept reading the wire stories handed to him.

We were stunned. Much later, we realized how much the entire country felt and learned that day. I wasn’t the most focused high school student, but speech was my favorite activity, and from that moment on the authority of Cronkite and the power of television were riveted into my consciousness.

Pueblo Catholic High School has been closed for many years, but it was a fortress of Catholicism and ethnic pride in our community. We were the “Shamrocks,” and the election of John Kennedy was like the elevation of a pope. We rooted for him, prayed for him and followed his travels.

Given that students had come from around the state in bad weather, they held the meet. Pueblo Catholic did well, winning various individual awards, and my partner and I won the senior debate contest, arguing before a large audience the negative side of “Resolved: Medical care should be provided to the aged.” The topic seemed remote. Few of the authorities we cited in our case believed its enactment was imminent, but Kennedy’s death made it one of President Johnson’s post-assassination achievements.

November 22, 1963, was a devastating day I will never forget.

See Pueblo Chieftain: Expert on politics remembers clearly where he was on fateful day

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