NORMAN — Editor’s note: This column was first published in The Transcript in 1999.
The first grade class at St. Joseph’s Catholic School knew immediately something was very wrong that November day in 1963. Sr. Doris didn’t interrupt spelling drills for just any announcement. School would be dismissed early, she said in a terse voice. Your parents have been notified.
Mom was crying when she met us at the front door. “President Kennedy is dead,” she told her brood, trying to stay strong. “Someone shot him at a parade in Dallas.”
Every time school let out early after that, I was sure someone important had died.
Most remember where they were and who they were with when they learned of mournful events — the death of a loved one, a spectacular news story or a celebrity’s passing.
The past week’s search for John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law brought back such memories for many of us. A clerk in a store last Saturday asked a customer behind me the latest on the Kennedy plane. It was the first I heard of the tragedy. “It doesn’t look good,” she said, proceeding to explain what had happened to all within earshot.
The memory bank is clogged with thoughts on the death of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, John Wayne and Foreman Scotty. The crashes of the Space Shuttle, and Penn Square Bank, the painfully slow end to the Vietnam War and the instantaneous end to the Alfred P. Murrah federal building.
My family — with three sons nearing draft age rejoiced in 1973 when Walter Cronkite told us the long war in Vietnam was over. Dad lit his pipe and threw the match in an entire box of fireworks he had stored in the garage for just such an occasion.