A Momentous Month, JFK Remembered
The 11th month is always a good one, especially when the 11th hour and the 11th minute are remembered with honor, and red poppies are seen everywhere.
This particular time of the year is one usually noted by a completed election cycle, winners win, losers salve their wounds and generally, after a short time, plot and plan for another day.
Today political differences will be set aside for a while as Americans and the rest of the world recall that time a half-century ago when every community dramatically changed.
The question here is what were you doing at 1:30 Eastern Standard Time, Friday, November 22, 1963? Most people can recall instantly where and when they were on that fateful day. Black-and-white television screens and all radio stations AM and FM, broadcast non-stop coverage of tragic events in Dallas, Texas.
Special editions of the nation's afternoon newspapers were reaching the streets. Yes, afternoon broad sheet pages used 96 point-plus headlines. A pall covered the nation, tears were unabashedly flowing and it was one of the darkest days, if not the darkest, in the nation's history.
High school football games, with rare exceptions, were cancelled.
Fifty years is a longtime, but the indelible mark was stamped on the nation and things have changed dramatically since.
This was the day the 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated.
This was also the day journalism changed; broadcast news reporting became the mainstay. I miss afternoon papers. They have a special place in my heart. I had my start as a teenager at The Times-Herald in my hometown of Newport News, VA. They were the greatest days of my life where every editor and reporter was quality and could work anywhere.
As a young father on that auspicious day, I was babysitting my two-year-old son and watching a midday program, Dialing for Dollars. The host, the late Kurt Webster, broke in with the news that "the President is dead." He tried to choke back tears.
I had to manually flip the TV dial and landed on the CBS outlet and saw Walter Cronkite visibly moved presenting the news.
We only had three TV stations in those days. I was anxious to get to work that afternoon. Gloom and despair was everywhere. My assignment that night was a high school football game, the only one not cancelled, not out of disrespect. When the band played the national anthem, fans stood with hands over their hearts with tears streaming down their faces. No cheerleaders were cheering that night. The game was an endurance run.
Obviously the next two days everyone was glued to the news. Seemed like everyone stayed home, shopping was minimal, and every scrap of information was being reported and absorbed.
Churches of all denominations were filled to capacity. Rectors and vicars were at their best. Sermons and homilies brought comfort to the flocks. Respectful hymns were sung and "God Bless America" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic” were featured.
At St. John's Episcopal Church in Hampton, Va., founded in 1610 and the oldest English-speaking parish in the United States, saw its pews crowded with communicants. Particularly noticeably present were the elderly, many sick, who struggled to participate.
St. John's had established St. Mark's as a parochial mission in a growing section of the city... With the Rev. Winston Hope as vicar, the mission had only recently begun worship in a women's club building. It, too, was overflowed and the booming melodious voice of Mr. Hope, formerly a radio broadcaster, soothed the flock.
At Grace Church, Newport News, the rector, Father Calvert E. Buck, led the worship, reciting the service as always from memory. He delivered a mighty message about how the affairs of man are in under Divine control.
Grace Church was the anchor high church of the Diocese of Southern Virginia in Newport News. I scribbled notes from Father Buck's sermon in my Book of Common Prayer, 1928 version.
Now in 2013 memories are still vivid.
The late Merriman Smith, UPI's reporter, was riding in the fourth car of the motorcade when the shots rang out. His 1,000-word story, dictated on the spur of the moment, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1964. Cell phones were not available in those days.
Despite the tragedy, November is a good month. It's the time of Thanksgiving, when families gather to celebrate all of the good things about their lives and the nation. Squabbling still goes on as to the first celebration, but it doesn't matter.
This period of reflection is a time for every citizen to re-charge and enjoy the goodness and prosperity that is throughout the nation.
November's magnificent colors are worth enjoying and more evidence that all problems, real and imagined, give way to present pleasures. There are many. A reminder is that Thanksgiving Day is more than just a terrific celebration with turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls and a vast array of cakes and pieces.
To this day, I recall the tune "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go . . .”
Despite what some may be saying, the church is alive. Hearts of true believers, however beaten down by naysayers and heretics, still beat to the tune that the God of the Bible is true.
The good old days are now.