Web Posted: 07/19/2009 12:00 CDT When a newsman and a country still trusted one another
It was five days after my 11th birthday and the movers had left us in our new split-level home in suburban New York, surrounded by cardboard boxes and furniture that no longer fit.
I was still in a daze, uprooted days earlier without warning from the only home I had known in Michigan.
“Everyone moves away, sooner or later,” my father insisted, as we backed out of our driveway for the last time. Panic set in as I realized what was happening.
We traveled eastward in our '60 Ford station wagon, seven of us in all. My parents had anticipated my distress and arranged a birthday surprise. Days later I remained unplacated by the Nov. 17 detour to Niagara Falls.
Now my parents were upstairs, unpacking clothes, indifferent to my gloominess. My two brothers and I were expected to pitch in. My job was to hook up the television cable that led from the wall to the roof antenna. Even back then, it was up to the kids to handle the technology.
It was early afternoon, hours before the evening news broadcast, but as the old box warmed up, the familiar face of Walter Cronkite filled the screen.
“Here is a bulletin from CBS News,” Cronkite somberly announced. “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”
I ran to the stairs and shouted to my parents, “President Kennedy has been shot.”
Everything in our new world stopped. We crowded around the TV now, awaiting further bulletins.
It didn't take long for the network's soap opera to be interrupted again by Cronkite, who delivered a shocking account of Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally being shot as they sat in an open convertible, the president's wife cradling him in her arms before he was placed in an ambulance and rushed to Parkland Hospital.
A Secret Service man on scene, Cronkite reported, had been overheard to say that Kennedy was dead.
Incredibly, CBS then returned to its regularly scheduled soap opera, but not for long. This time Cronkite seemed at a loss for words.
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash — apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago,” America's most trusted newsman announced.
He paused, looked down and removed his dark-framed glasses. A tear formed in the corner of his eye, his voice caught and for a moment Cronkite lost his reassuring and authoritative demeanor.
That's where I was Nov. 22, 1963, a day I now recall as the end of an era, a time that would bring the country and boys like me just coming of age the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and another war in a distant place called the Middle East that would be called the Six-Day War, although time has proven it to be a war that still has not ended.
Cronkite long ago passed from the public stage, but he still represents a standard and a time that all who are old enough remember with fondness, respect and now, more than a little nostalgia.
Robert Rivard is the editor of the Express-News. E-mail him at [email protected]
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