Nov. 22, 1963: Remembering JFK, That Day in Dallas and Baby Boomer Nostalgia

Nov. 22, 1963, JFK Assassinated

Nov. 22, 1963: The Times publishes an extra.

Note: In case you are wondering, this is a repost from 2013.

I recently attended graduation exercises for a local college and the commencement speaker spent quite a while talking about how the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a watershed moment in her life.

As she was speaking, I studied the faces in the audience — the family and friends of people in their early 20s who were graduating from college —  and wondered: “What on Earth do these kids make of this? Does it resonate at all?” Actually, no. Not in the least. And why should it?

I knew that today, on the 50th anniversary, everyone would be writing about the Kennedy assassination, so out of curiosity, I visited the U.S. Census Bureau website to get the latest population figures. These data are for 2012.

Total U.S. population: 313,914,040

U.S. population 65 and older: 43,145,356

U.S. population 60 to 64:  17,813,685

U.S. population 55 to 59: 20,772,517

Or total U.S. population 55 and older: 81,731,558

Which means that only 26% of the U.S. population is old enough to remember Kennedy’s assassination, and that’s including some precocious 5-year-olds.

(Please check my math. I would love it to be a higher percentage).

I don’t suppose this is news and, of course, this is how life works. I remember my mother once taking me to a stairway in Union Station in Chicago, which was the spot where she learned that President Roosevelt had died. I was old enough to understand the facts — and I had come across some moldering newspapers in a window seat of my great-aunt’s house with front-page coverage of FDR’s death. I could understand the facts and appreciate that it was a cultural touchstone for my parents’ generation. But not much more.

I don’t suppose anyone, anywhere dares to say this, but the younger generations of Americans, especially the millennials, will most likely dismiss the 50th anniversary memorials of Kennedy’s assassination as one more binge of Baby Boomer nostalgia. Right up there with the coonskin caps, cars with big tailfins and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  (And am I the only one who remembers the “generation gap?”)

You can hardly blame our children, the millennials, for being cynical and jaded, and weary of “the day the nation lost its innocence” trope. In contrast to us and the “American Graffiti”  soundtrack of our lives,  they have Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and just when you thought the nation had no innocence left to lose, 9/11.

But I wish the millennials could experience — even for a day — the idealism of that era. When some of us, at least, believed not so much in “Camelot,” but in a “New Frontier,” much more than LBJ’s ensuing “Great Society.” Before the seedy revelations about JFK emerged and knocked him off that pedestal where some of us had placed him.

So to the vast majority of the country (74% by my calculations) who don’t remember, I would like to say that there was once a man named John F. Kennedy who was president and many of us (but not all — for he had his staunch opponents) believed in him. And he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

And for those of us who were alive and remember that moment, life was never exactly the same.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1963, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Nov. 22, 1963: Remembering JFK, That Day in Dallas and Baby Boomer Nostalgia

  1. jerrycronin says:

    “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Those words by JFK motivated me to join the Peace Corps and spend 2 years of my youth in a remote village in Colombia. That idealism is now extinct and today’s youth is narcissistic and addicted to their cell phones.


    • Santos L Halper says:

      Should we get off your lawn while we’re at it? I personally can’t stand reductive generalizations like the above. There have always been narcissistic, pre-occupied youth. I think if you looked more closely at kids these days, you’d find them more socially conscious, empathetic and open-minded than ever before. And thousands of them are using the technology you seem to abhor to do great things in and for the world. But it’s easier to see people using smartphones and exclaim that the sky is falling, I guess.


  2. Gary Martin says:

    I remember both the day Roosevelt died …I thought that they meant God…and the day Kennedy died and after each of them life was never the same. Nothing that has happened since then has had that profoundly disturbing effect.


  3. beachgal says:

    Oops – you’re off by 1 year — today is not the 50th anniv it’s the 51st anniversary. I was in grad school at USC in a History class when we heard from a student who came in late. That was it for classes for the day – they were all cancelled. The next 4 days we were paralyzed and glued to the TV. It all seemed so unreal.


  4. Sam Flowers says:

    I was in the Navy at the time aboard the USS Saint Paul, we were at General Quarters for a drill. I was assigned to Turret Two lower handling room as a powder passer. The news of JFK assassination was announced by the X.O., we all thought it was part of the drill. This action caused us to cancel a trip to Australia as the brass thought it could be part of a take over of the government. Wild speculation abound aboard ship as to the perpetrators of the assassination, still does.


  5. stanhope1929 says:

    I was 10 years old, and our school had a half day on Fridays. We were in a small “Mom ‘n’ Pop” grocery , and watching the Motorcade on TV…..AS IT HAPPENED! It was an Irish owned store, and we were the last patrons there until after the Funeral.. I still remember the high pitched “KEENING”, and feeling that my 10 year old world was gone….


  6. Eve says:

    That’s a terrible headline. It looks like a suggestion, not an announcement.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Yes, that headline is most unfortunate, which is why I posted it. (It was changed for later editions). There was a style of headline writing that flourished in the 1950s (in tough counts) and lasted into the 1960s in which the subject was dropped: “Steals car!” “Slashes model!” “Hits home run!” Even “Assassinates Kennedy” would have been an improvement.


  7. Love that no-subject head! Readers are being ordered to assassinate Kennedy. I wonder if that was the last one, as I know the Times eventually stopped using them even for street-edition banner-heads.

    I was in 5th grade. The school’s most popular and well-known teacher was a “Mrs. Kennedy”. I was in band practice when a girl flute-player named Dana came in late, sat down, and whispered “Mr. Kennedy has been shot!” We just gaped and looked at each other — and then whispered back, “Poor Mrs. Kennedy!” (The next day — the confusion well cleared-up by then — I happened to see Oswald shot on live TV.)

    That kind of local-name substitution had an echo for me on 9-11. I was working the night-shift high up on Bunker Hill — across from our own World Trade Center. We dismissed the first report without a thought.


    • lmharnisch says:

      That style of headline was a bit old-fashioned even by 1963 standards. I assume they were in a hurry to get something out and wrote it on the fly, figuring they could change it later (which they did).


  8. Eve says:

    In the town where I live, there were political bumper stickers all over the place that originally read something like “Sheriff Herb [whatever] says, ‘Elect a Man with Skill!'”

    Time and weather took their toll, and now one is left that reads “Sheriff Herb Says Kill!”


  9. Cory Franklin says:

    There is a very good answer to why it should resonate with college students – because history matters.
    The fact someone wasn’t born when something crucial to our understanding of history occurred is not a reason to fail to learn about it. If you were five years old when Roosevelt was shot and didn’t understand its importance, that’s different than saying someone who wasn’t born should not appreciate its significance.
    Should we disregard the Civil War and its importance? The American Revolution? The Holocaust?
    College kids weren’t around when those things happened.
    Don’t kid yourself, our society pays a very high price for this type of ignorance in many ways,
    Yes, the Baby Boomers were a narcissistic generation, but for young people to ignore one of the critical events of the 20th Century is narcissism on a far greater order.
    And if you want an excellent practical example – look at what’s happening in Ferguson Missouri right now, and in other parts of the country. Then go back and listen to Robert Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was killed. It is one of the great speeches of the 20th Century (extemporaneous) and it goes right to the heart of what the country is experiencing right now.
    But why should it resonate with college students.


  10. Jeff Prescott says:

    I always ask this question….was there an edition of The Times before this one that stated…”Kennedy Shot”..
    I know the Herald had one….I have it…but did the Times? Does any one know?


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