Thursday, January 3, 2013

High School Part IX - Senior Year and the Kennedy Assassination

I had just sat down for my 4th period health class, just after lunch, when an announcement came over the intercom that president Kennedy was shot while on a visit to Dallas Texas. Over the next several minutes announcements came in over the intercom that he was doing well and that he was in surgery. The bell rang at the end of Health class and we moved to our next class, for me English. The halls were silent gone was the usual chatter of teenagers. All talk was in hushed whispers some were crying most were in shock. Shortly after I got to English class we learned that the President was dead.  The date November 23, 1964 the day John F Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald a day I’ll never forget and a day that changed my life forever.

The change didn't take place immediately but over the course of the next several years. But that day I started looking at the world with a set of different eyes.  Over the next several days we watched as the nation mourned. I saw the president shot over and over again each time with a commentator explaining what I was seeing. I saw Jack Ruby on live television kill Oswald. Then we were shown both the assignation and Oswald’s killing again and again in slow motion as the news men explained what we saw as if we were too stupid to see and understand for ourselves what had happened. We watch the funeral and mourned with the First Family and little John I remember my mother crying softly as we watched.  

They called it Camelot, we know now it wasn't but then it was, and we believed it. The Kennedy’s were America’s family. We rejoiced over them and cried with them when Patrick was still born. We laughed with them, I still have my First Family Album by Vaughn Meter. Finally we mourned with them. In many ways I believe my generation still mourns Kennedy’s assassination. 

Little did I know how much Kennedy’s assignation was to effect my life and the lives of millions of others around the world. Our whole family watched on live television as Linden Johnson was sworn in as President. My mother the wonderful naive positive woman that she was said that Johnson would be able to get all of Kennedy’s programs passed because he had great influence in the congress. She was right Johnson did pass a whole lot of legislation. Up to the Vietnam War Johnson was considered a great president by my family and most democrats. But after the Gulf of Ton-kin Resolution his popularity would slide. Yet, between November 1963 and November 1965 my life went on as though nothing had happened. 

As my high school years started to draw to a close I started to realize that I had very few options upon graduation. My grades barred me from college, not that college ever entered my mind. I was the son of a blue collar working man and other than graduating from high school continuing my education never entered my mind. I believed then my future was the factory and maybe a trade school but college… no way! My dad often talked of “college boys” and how stupid they were when it came to the factory floor. It was a class arrogance that still permeates our society today. Working men knew how to get things done while college boys only had theory. It wasn't that education was frowned upon it just wasn't pushed as a means to a good future for me.  Dad kept pushing me to learn a trade something, some skill that would make me valuable to my employer. He told me many times that being a trade’s man allowed him to earn a living throughout hard times.

My grandfather had worked for Electromotive and had pension after he retired. Most of my uncles were blue collar and union men. Often the discussions around the kitchen table revolved around being in the trades and learning a trade. Dad went into an apprenticeship program at the age of 40 to learn how to be a machinist at Union Carbide.  He attended night school over the course of his four year apprenticeship program to learn higher mathematics and took other necessary courses so he could become a journeyman at his trade. He was so proud when he finished the apprenticeship program.  

As I became more aware of who and what I was, as most kids do during high school, I realized that my future was not going to be in Dolton with my family and extended family. I instinctively knew that for me to become anything but a general factory worker I had to leave and get out on my own. I also knew that my options were severely limited. My grades in high school were about average; I failed some classes, I had to attend summer school twice for math, and did well in others. But nothing that qualified me for college. I had no interest in cars or the trades so my going to trade school wasn't going to happen.  

As with most young men in the early 60's if you didn't go to college or into a trade school or apprenticeship program you got drafted. I knew the military was in my future. The one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to chart my own course after graduation. So late in the summer of 1964 while my parents and sister were on vacation I had my number for the draft moved up.  I didn't want my mother to know I would be going away especially into the military so moving up my number was a way to do it without her knowing it was my choice.  I wanted to go after my birthday so I selected November as the date I would go. My plan was to enlist after getting my draft notice.  I had no way of knowing it then but going into the military was going to change my life forever in ways I could never imagine.

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