By Terry Boers-
(CBS) I was 13 years old and had myself strategically placed in the back of my 8th grade Art class at Steger Central Junior high.
It was a Friday, so I’m pretty sure I was thinking about the weekend. I say that only because I know that was I never much interested in the class.
The date here is important. It was Nov. 22, 1963.
It was during any one of my multiple daydreams that the loudspeaker in the room came to life, quickly snapping me out of my reverie.
Did I just hear someone say that the President of the United States had been shot?
Could that really be?
Those kind of announcements were hardly commonplace. Back then nobody that I was aware of had taken an assault weapon into a school or an airport or a post office or any kind of shopping facility. The giant malls were yet to come.
In other words, shock was still possible.
Then came the part about the early dismissal, so I knew what I’d heard was correct. President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas during a motorcade and rushed to Parkland Hospital, his condition unknown.
As we left the school about 20 minutes or so later, I don’t remember much being said. I don’t recall seeing many of my friends, so I made the 5-block walk home alone, still not really processing everything.
When I got home my mom was in front of the TV. Again, not normal. I rarely saw her watching the tube. If anything, she was dismissive when I’d ask her when we were going to get a better one, say one of those newfangled color TVs. She didn’t care. And neither did my dad.
But there she was watching Walter Cronkite, a name I was not all that familiar with, even if, as I later learned, he was the most trusted man in America.
It wasn’t long before Cronkite told the world that Kennedy had died.
I saw tears in my mother’s eyes as she left the room, saying she’d be right back. I believe that was the first time I had ever seen her cry. Had she been upset at times? Most assuredly. Words with my father on rare occasion? Sure. But reduced to tears? Never, ever.
Of course, the entire nation wept that weekend. I joined in several times, especially at the sight of Jacqueline Kennedy’s blood-stained clothes as Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the next president.
Then there was little John-John’s salute as the JFK casket rolled past him during the funeral. God, how I cried.
I was discovering a deeply sensitive part of me that I didn’t know existed. But then, I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t deeply shaken, who didn’t seem to struggle to find the right words for all of it. And Jack Ruby added yet another layer of confusion and mystery when he slipped into the basement of the Dallas police station and assassinated prime suspect Lee Harvey Oswald that same weekend.
In the days and years that followed, I felt almost duty bound as an American to know more, beginning a journey for the supposed truth that lasted for more than 30 years.
I started with the Warren Report and from there made sure that no book about that awful day in Texas escaped me. And along the way, I became an absolute conspiracy nut who could not and would not be convinced otherwise.
Yes, I was one of those. There were millions of us. We just couldn’t cope with the fact that an insignificant little twerp like Oswald could kill a man who was not only the youngest, but clearly the most charismatic president in history. One whose New Frontier seemed so promising. This, after all, was called Camelot for a reason.
But as time rolled on, we learned that our hero was flawed like the rest of us, that his ideas weren’t always the best and that when it came to the things that mattered the most for our country, he didn’t have real solutions.
We’ve also learned that when it came to women, JFK knew no bounds. No wonder his back constantly ached. But then, what male didn’t find some perverse pleasure in the fact that one of his many conquests was Marilyn Monroe? No wonder that breathless version of Happy Birthday Monroe sounded like the XXX factor.
More importantly, I’ve long ago given up the notion of any grand conspiracy involving a second gunman or the Cuban connection or the mob connection or any other connection to any other thing. I know Oswald acted alone, hatching the plot all by himself.
But sometimes that 13-year-old boy still weeps.
A longtime sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Terry Boers now co-hosts The Boers and Bernstein Show, heard Monday-Friday from 1pm-6pm on 670 The Score.