Fridays were a special day for me. For some strange reason, I was an Air Force ROTC 2nd-year cadet and Fridays we had to wear our uniforms because we marched and did drills for 50 minutes at noon. We got one credit for that. We used the Girls Athletic Field at Brooklyn College -- right in front of Roosevelt Hall on Bedford Avenue. At times we were heckled and leafleted by anti-war protesters as we walked off the field at around 12:50.
And it was precisely at that time as we were walking off on November 22, 1963 that a buzz went up about a shooting in Dallas. We had our own ROTC lounge in the basement of Ingersoll Hall with a TV, probably one of the few on the campus. We headed down there and the lounge was already full of people, watching Walter Kronkite. I had to stand at the door with others. Non-ROTC civilians kept showing up, so we were crushed together.
When Kronkite said he was wounded, I had a vision of Kennedy standing at a press conference, his arm in a sling, laughing about it. Within 10 or 15 minutes or maybe 30, there was Kronkite taking off his glasses and announcing JFK's death. That image of Kronkite's glasses coming off is seared in my brain.
Then hours of wondering the campus in a state of shock. A young student trips in front of me on the steps and I get her some water to wash off her knee. I'm holding my hat in my hand when an officer walks by and glares at me -- I point to the young lady and he gives me a "good job" wave.
I'm also pledging a fraternity. So I have to carry around the paddle all over the campus. That night the 6 pledges were supposed to be kidnapped -- taken out somewhere late at night and left with no money. Word gets to us that the kidnapping is cancelled but why don't we come down to the frat house (actually, apartment) on Foster Av. and Flatbush.
My memory is hazy over the next few hours - until I arrive at a somber frat house around 8PM. Some drinks come out and people liven up a bit. Then something astounding -- louder and louder and wilder and wilder -- someone is sitting on the window sill with his legs hanging out the window. Music is blasting. A couple are walking by, arm in arm, looking up at us in disgust.
The only way to explain this behavior is a letting go of sorts. No one seems ashamed. I don't either. It is the only release before a week where for the first - and one of the only times - I went into a total state of depression.
Saturday is awful. Sunday morning too. I have to leave the house so I go across the street to my friend Barry's house. I ring the bell and his brother Larry answers the door. He screams, "Oswald was just shot," and I race after him down the hall to continue watching the mayhem that never seems to have gone away.
More this weekend on political thoughts and the impact of Kennedy on me and my generation. We were home on snow day I believe for his inauguration and I remember Robert Frost squinting in the sun. And on how I thought John Kennedy was one of the funniest people -OK- we just had 8 years of (yawn) Eisenhower -- We watched Kennedy press conferences for his jokes.
A few quick examples:
"I just received the following wire from my generous Daddy: "Dear Jack, Don't buy a single vote more than is necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide."' --President John KennedyAnd for those upset at the political divide today:
"Just think what my margin might have been if I had never left home at all." --President John Kennedy, commenting on the fact that he had campaigned hard in Alaska and lost but won Hawaii handily without visiting it.
"The pay is good and I can walk to work." –President John Kennedy
Question: "The Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution saying you were pretty much of a failure. How do you feel about that?" Kennedy: "I assume it passed unanimously."
"Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House." –President John Kennedy