I’ve described the impact that the JFK assassination had on me, as a seven year old child. My Catholic family was in mourning, as reruns of Superman, Popeye, The Little Rascals and the Three Stooges were preempted for the nonstop coverage of Kennedy lying in state and then the funeral, with a riderless horse leading the procession.
There was a somber mood over the country, and within my family’s small brick rambler. Like most Catholics, my parents were enthralled with the handsome and well-spoken John F. Kennedy, the youngest president ever elected, and the first one who shared our religion. I was as impressionable as any other kid that age, so I was enthralled with him, too. He was the first president I remember, and that dignified and articulate persona set the template for what I imagined the leader of our country was supposed to be like. Going from that to the crude and bumbling Lyndon Johnson was a culture shock that I think contributed to a national loss of confidence.
We were driving home from Sunday mass when we heard on the radio that suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. Even as a barely intellectually formed second grader, I realized that Jack Ruby must have shot Oswald to stop him from talking. I actually remember pontificating about this to adult relatives at the next big family gathering. No one corrected me. My father, and every other family member who discussed the subject, never accepted the official explanation for a minute. My father hated Johnson as much as he loved Kennedy, so the vice president was his chief suspect. He used to say that, during the Kennedy inaugural, Sam Rayburn told his pal LBJ, “It should have been the other way around,” in other words, that JFK had been vice president.
Now that little anecdote about Rayburn is in none of the Kennedy books. At least the ones I’ve read, and I’ve read a whole bunch of them. My father used to claim dubious knowledge about many things, but as a small child you just accept it as true. At any rate, I never once thought of Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin of JFK. My interest in the Kennedys was reignited with a passion when JFK’s brother Bobby ran for president in 1968. I followed all the primaries, and first learned the nuances of our political process as an eleven year old. I had to go to bed on the night of the California primary, but still remember shouting out, “Dad, did Bobby Kennedy win the primary” as soon as I woke up in the morning. “Yes, but he was shot,” my father replied….