Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Last Person In The Car

Nellie Connally died last Friday, at age 87. She was the widow of Texas Governor John Connally. She was the last person alive of the occupants in the car in which President John F. Kennedy was riding, on the day that he was assassinated, in Dallas, Texas.

People of my generation can always answer the question, "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was assassinated?" I was working in Fayetteville and my husband and a friend of his were in Little Rock with one of their law professors, doing some research.

I always walked to and from work, and my route took me across the square. That day, I decided to walk home for lunch, and didn't know anything bad had happened until I got back to work, at the Fayetteville Court House. On my walk back to work, however, I noticed that several of the stores on the square had television sets facing the street in their windows. I didn't even give that too much thought, except to wonder why everyone seemed to be advertising television sets.

I went upstairs in the Court House, and the first person I saw told me that President Kennedy had been shot. They did not yet know if he was alive. That was the beginning of the longest weekend I have ever lived through.

In Little Rock, the lawyers closed their books and left immediately for home. My boss, at the Abstract Company, told us all to go home. This time, when I crossed the square, I realized that the televisions were in the windows so people could see what was going on in Dallas.

My husband and I stayed glued to the television all weekend. D's friend David, spent a lot of the time watching with us, with others coming in and out. In fact, he was there when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvy Oswald. When the shot was fired, the two men lunged for the television, as if to grab Ruby. It was that compelling.

We were all shattered, watching Lyndon B. Johnson take the oath of office, with Jackie standing next to him, in her blood-stained pink suit, and Lady Bird on his other side.

The funeral was on Monday, and the office stayed closed that day, too, although I had decided I wasn't going to work, anyway. It's hard to believe that the funeral was planned so quickly, considering the number of heads of state and others who had to get to Washington. When you consider how long it takes to bury someone of Kennedy's importance these days, it was mind boggling. I believe the reason for haste was that, in those days, no one knew if the United States would soon be under attack. I know that was the thought that ran through D's mind, and why they came right home as soon as they heard the news.

John F. Kennedy was my hero. He was the first Presidential candidate that I campaigned for. It really wasn't so much what he accomplished, in his short time in office. It was what he symbolized to a whole generation of young people who had never seen or heard of a vigorous young president, who seemed to have a belief in service to his country, and thought we should share his vision. And, we did.


Ginnie said...

Betty, I remember it very clearly and have it on my list to blog about at some point. I felt just like you did and was devastated when he was killed...and then again when Bobby was killed. I think the song "American Pie" says it best for me..."the day the music died...."

Joy Des Jardins said...

I was a sophomore in high school when JFK was killed. I remember being in study hall sitting next to Mr. Roller, my history teacher, helping him grade papers when I found out. I was the first student in the school to find out from a very shocked and devastated Mr. Roller. I was crushed, and cried the rest of the day. I can remember watching his funeral on television...I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Later when I worked for the Chicago Sun-Times/Daily News as the Receptionist for the Advertising Dept. I met Bobby Kennedy when he came into the building for an interview upstairs. I have a picture of him with a lot of us in our lobby. It was not long after that he was shot and killed. Again, I felt great pain with his death. And right before him...MLK Jr. This country certainly has lost it's share of men with great vision.

saz said...

You hit a raw nerve with this post. When I saw the news that Nellie Connolly died I was instantly back in that moment also. I was in High School and in a Social Studies class discussing Communism. The loud speaker came on and announced the President had been shot and they were lining up all the school buses to take us home. There wasn't a sound in that school but quiet crying as we lined up for the buses. It's a moment more than any other that still makes me emotional. I too was glued to the TV and saw the exact moment Ruby killed Oswald. Felt like a fantasy moment - not quite real. I still cry when I see the clip of Walter Cronkite announcing the president was dead. It seemed like a horrible conspiracy when MLK and RFK were murdered also.

Cazzie!!! said...

You said, "It was what he symbolized to a whole generation of young people who had never seen or heard of a vigorous young president, who seemed to have a belief in service to his country, and thought we should share his vision. And, we did.". If I could have taped this in my own house and played it to you I do not think you would believe what you were hearing. My mum said those very exact same words of John. F. Kennedy.
I know, we are here in Australia and all, but, his strong words and the way he touched people was not just in the USA alone.
When Lady Diana Spencer died back in 1997, my mum likened her death to that of John F. Kennedy's..or even to try and place yourself at the time of when the man landed on the moom. THese significant events touched the hearts and minds of so many people.
We have experienced it here this last Monday with the death of our Steve Irwin. I was shattered, and I had to break it to our kids. Our 9yr old Tomas wept himself to sleep the past two nights. He will never forget.
Thankyou for sharing your memories, it is through these memories that such great people live on.

Andrew said...

That was indeed a sad time.

To Love, Honor and Dismay

Alan G said...

Since everyone is sharing that moment…..

I was in the Air Force stationed at Clinton-Sherman AFB in Oklahoma. I was a radar technician and everyone in the building was called into a large room and the section commander informed us of what had happened. It was obviously quite shocking. We were then told that we were on alert, all leaves cancelled, and were expected to be available twenty-four hours a day. So for us it was mostly eat, sleep, and work for about the next couple of weeks or so.

F&W said...

This was so well-written! Thank you for sharing it and your experiences.

Strangely enough, we were discussing today where each of us were when we found out that Princess Diana had died...

Anonymous said...

I was just a one year old baby - sorry no memory there.


Newt said...

Thank You for the post it was a wonderful read. My dad also campaigned for him. He used to tell me about the time he was running some pole numbers to someone and ran into Eleanor Roosevelt. He was also the only democrat my dad ever supported.

Maya's Granny said...

I was in the hospital, alone in the ward, waiting for the doctor to tell me that once again it had been false labor. When he came in he asked how I was and that's when he realized that I hadn't yet heard. Kennedy was already dead. Because we didn't have a television, I didn't see any of it until years later, but my husband and I were glued to the radio and the shock of it was incredible.

I hadn't been old enough to vote when Kennedy was elected and I hadn't thought I cared about him one way or the other, but the shock. That someone could be killed not for who he was but for the office he held! It was so obscene. And the more I learned about him, the more tragic it became.

Betty said...

Maya, I wasn't old enough to vote, either, but I campaigned for him.