Butler County Times Gazette
  • Belinda Larsen: The moment that changed America

  • It wasn't something anyone was prepared to handle
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  • That fateful day in Dallas 50 years ago changed America forever. It ushered in a different reality - senseless violence had permeated our world.
    Those who were living at the time certainly remember where they were when first hearing the news that our President had been killed. Each of us have flashbacks to that precise moment. Even the smallest of details can be recalled.
    As a grade school student I was amazed at how it affected the adults. The first hours were spent in shock. Simply absorbing the news was almost too difficult for most.
    In 1963 there had been three other presidential assassinations in our country, the last being in 1901 - many years before. It wasn't something anyone was prepared to handle. Parents and teachers were having a hard time dealing with the news and there was a high degree of pressure in trying to explain it to the nation's children.
    It was a Friday and I was at home with my mother having lunch when I first heard about the shooting at 12:30 p.m. and learning later from my tearful teacher that the President had indeed died. I don't remember much about that afternoon, but I do know we were glued to the television all evening.
    Television was relatively new for many U.S. homes, and it was hard for anyone to tear themselves away from watching that entire weekend. There were only three network channels in those days and each broadcast news from morning until midnight for four days.
    Captured on live television that Sunday morning millions of viewers watched Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of President Kennedy, being transported from the Dallas Police headquarters to the county jail when he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.
    It was if you could almost hear the gasp and the entire nation exhaling at the same moment. We were witnesses to history as that scene was frozen in time. It has proved to be one of the most enduring images.
    John Kennedy's coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, Nov. 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, the late President was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
    On the same day in a quiet setting, Oswald was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Ft. Worth, Texas. Attending were his wife and mother, with reporters acting as pall bearers.
    Assassination, funeral, and burial all in 48 hours. Four dark days for our country. The tragedy set a new standard for how breaking news could be delivered.
    Page 2 of 2 - Despite the fact that we were in the midst of The Cold War and drills on what to do when the Russians dropped The Bomb routinely took place in our schools, the assassination was frightening. It marked the death of not only a president, but of America's sense of hope.
    That event altered so much. And Kennedy became more of a myth than a man. It was inevitable. Generations have wondered how life would have been had he lived.
    "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death."
    ― John F. Kennedy
    Belinda Larsen is the Augusta City Editor of the Butler County Times-Gazette and can be reached at: blarsen@butlercountytimesgazette.com.
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