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When Everything Changed

The Caisson Bearing Kennedy’s Body Enroute to the Cemetery

The Caisson Bearing Kennedy’s Body Enroute to the Cemetery

It was another blast furnace day in Southern California. To avoid the smell of charred walls and furniture in our apartment, Martine and I decided to spend the afternoon in the air-conditioned video library of the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. While Martine watched Gale Storm in episodes of “My Little Margie” (1952-55), I watched the funeral cortège of the assassinated John F. Kennedy (November 24, 1963).

What would have happened if Kennedy were never shot dead in the streets of Dallas? (Way back in the depths of my mind, I have never forgiven Texas for being the scene of that sad event.) America was stunned. The news seemed to go on all hours: Poor Walter Cronkite talked about Lee Harvey OsBURN being shot by Jack Ruby. I remember watching the coverage at the auditorium of the newly opened Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, where the TV coverage was aired in the auditorium.

Blackjack, the Riderless Horse in JFK’s Funeral Cortege

Blackjack, the Riderless Horse in JFK’s Funeral Cortège

The President was buried with full military honors. Six grey horses pulled the artillery caisson on which his flag-draped coffin lay. Behind the caisson was a riderless black horse named Blackjack with stirrups and riding boots reverse, whose friskiness was in marked contrast to the grim pace of the procession. The muffled drums, the horns breaking out into the marche funèbre, the tolling bells of St. Christopher’s church, the grim faces of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the two surviving Kennedy brothers—all added up to one of history’s grinning death’s heads.

What would have happened if President Kennedy were not assassinated? Would the conservative insurgency that followed years later ever have happened? There are so many terms in the equation that follows that it is difficult to conclude anything with any degree of certainty. There was Viet Nam, Cuba, Communism, the Economy, even the Mafia to consider. I guess, in the end, whatever happened was fated to happen.

Certain images from that funeral have stuck in my mind. Among the heads of state, there was the gigantic Charles de Gaulle in the front line. There were endless women crying—women that looked different in that period over half a century ago. As the procession proceeded, it was followed on either side by hundreds, perhaps thousands of everyday people who wanted to miss nothing.

3 thoughts on “When Everything Changed

  1. Like everyone else, I remember where I was on that day and also, the day before he was assassinated on Nov. 22..

    I was in the Air Force at that time, and on Nov. 21, he had come to Brooks AFB, where I was stationed, to dedicate a new building and to award a unit citation to our group, SAM Squadron, ( the School of Aerospace Medicine), for our research in the medical and psychological aspects of space travel.

    I still find it strange: I listened to him speak on one day and then the next day hear the news on the radio. He ended his speech with the statement that we had thrown our caps over the wall of space travel and now were going to climb the wall and get it back, or something like that.

    I was never much of an admirer of JFK, but after that speech, I warmed up a bit.

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