A Kid’s First Memory: JFK’s Funeral

If you’re in the United States (or elsewhere in the English-speaking world), you’ve probably heard by now: 50 years ago today, they buried John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC.

Now many people a bit older than me can tell you where they were when they first learned of the president being shot, or dying from his wounds. I can’t really do that; I was five years old, in the first weeks of (I think) afternoon kindergarten at 35th Street School on the north side of Milwaukee. Since so many recall being let out of school early that day, I’m inclined to think I was too, but that’s not what this post is about.

One of the first things that I have a conscious memory of happened today. It’s a little funny, but may also tell you a lot about me, and how I became a news junkie pretty early on. Here’s how I remember it:

The initial CBS news bulletin of the shooting ...
The first CBS news bulletin of the shooting interrupting a live network program, As the World Turns, at 1:40 p.m. (EST) on November 22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mom and I were living with her parents at that time. I always watched a lot of television as a kid, and that weekend, there was literally nothing else on but coverage of the assassination and its aftermath. It was the birth of live TV news, for better or worse. As part of the anniversary coverage, CBS News streamed its round-the-clock coverage (and ABC News ran its coverage on Friday) in real-time this weekend; the CBS stream is still running as I type this, but may be broken by the time you read this.

English: Publicity photo of Rosemary Prinz as ...
English: Publicity photo of Rosemary Prinz as Penny Hughes from As the World Turns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Monday, my grandfather was a little tired of it all. A retired letter carrier, strong union man and Democrat, he still was a little cranky at times. Definitely a creature of habit. And so it was that my grampa turned on the TV Monday afternoon as he always did. Instead of seeing his favorite daytime soap opera, As the World Turns, he saw the late president’s state funeral and started sputtering. Don’t remember his words, but he was not happy. My rather emotional response, however, I remember clear as a bell. “But Grampa, the president is dead!” I may not have been entirely clear on what that meant, but I sure got why people cared. We kept the TV on that day.

We can always debate what news is, but sometimes there’s no question about what ought to be on the air. I guess this incident suggests I always had a pretty good news sense.

English: The eternal Flame at President John F...
English: The eternal Flame at President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)