The campus is that open, stucco, red tile roof mission style that made it a joy to be in school. Every door of the main building opened to the spacious quad.
As I made my way to the cafeteria a passing student said to another, "The president has been shot." ____________________________________________________
About a year and a half before, an entertainer named Vaughn Meader had parlayed his uncanny mimicry of the president into an instant career in the days when you you joke about a president with respect. Meader's 1962 album "The First Family" was the fastest selling album of its time. It sold 7.5 million copies, and coped a Grammy for comedy album of the year. President Kennedy even purchased 100 copies of the recording, and gave them away as Christmas presents.
My sophomore year, I blatantly stole Meader's entire act, doing a passable impersonation of JFK at talents shows and school functions.
Three years earlier, I had hoped against hope that John F. Kennedy would win the election. It was as if I knew him, so strong was his impact even through the black and white TV set. Somehow he seemed younger to me than my parents though he was 10 years older.
His "pay any price, bear any burden" inaugural speech gave me my first global concept at the tender age of 12. I laughed at his quick wit and was enjoyed seeing him toss the football around with his large family and numerous friends.
He made poor Dick Nixon seem like an intrusion from another era.
When the entire high school gathered in the auditorium to hear him address the nation on TV in 1962, he simply stated that if the Soviet ships did not turn back from Cuban we would destroy them. It not only filled me with fear, but with a deep and abiding pride in being an American. Had I any chance of pulling it off, I would have enlisted then and there.
Six years later I did, his call to arms still strong in my memory. _________________________________________________________________________________
Thinking such a comment could only be a poor-taste joke directed at me, I said over my shoulder, "Well ah, let me say this about that. I, uh, consider that to uh, be a great exaggeration, yes."
I turned back into the flow of students, many looked stricken, some of the girls were crying. As the unimaginable began to seep into my mind, I began a slow jog. The more students' faces I saw, the faster I ran. I ran the three or four blocks to my home, through the back door of the empty house and to the TV set. I turned it on and waited impatiently as it warmed up and the picture cleared.
Cronkite looked right then down, and then back at the camera. "From Dallas, Texas, the flash --- apparently official --- President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time an hour ago ..."
Along with the rest of the nation, I remained in front of the TV for most of the next three days.
"The Sixties" was not a decade. The Sixties began on Nov. 22, 1963 and lasted until the day in 1973 we got our Vietnam POWs back, or with the resignation of Richard Nixon in August of 1974, take your pick.
All I know is that in that horrible moment, on my knees in front of the TV set, the world came knocking and took away my childhood. Now, Jackie's gone, Joe Jr., and Bobby and LBJ, most of the cabinet and all the PT 109 crew; Rufus Youngblood, William Greer, Roy Kellerman, John Connally, Peter Lawford and the Rat Pack, William Manchester, Oswald, Ruby and Ralph Yarborough, 58,000 young men, and even the little boy who saluted his father's casket.
Vaughn Meader died the other day at 68.
The passage of time and its unavoidable cost, leaves only survivors.
And today someone released a video game that recreates the real nightmare on Elm Street. Players can fire three rounds at Jack Kennedy from the back and choose to see cyber carnage by pressing a "blood effects" option.
I wish I could go back. I'd just stay in the science building.