PDT Staff Writer
I am sure nearly everyone reflected back this week on where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It is one of those events that will stay etched in my mind my entire life. I was working at WIOI. I was barely 18, when I heard the bells ring on the Associated Press wire machine. That only happened a couple of times in my career. It is one of those sounds that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It scares you because you know you are about to be brought into some huge event, and that responsibility feels almost overwhelming to an 18 year old.
I rushed to the machine, saw the authenticator word for the day, then, and only then, I was allowed to open a sealed envelope hanging on the wall. Inside that envelope was a single word for that particular date. The authenticator word changed each day, and that envelope was sent to us from the Federal Communications Commission once per year, and you had better not open it until you hear the right amount of bells from the Associated Press. I matched up the words.
The first thing I saw was - “Dateline - Dallas” “The president has been shot.” I never thought I would be working at a time when something like that occurred. I immediately read the bulletin on the air and received word from our owner, Chuck Maillet, that we were to cease commercial broadcasting. For the next several days we read only news reports from the national news and local announcements of events to be held or events to be cancelled. We played no music. We ran no commercials. It was so somber that even internally no one, even in the unreal world of radio, was making light conversation. And, oh yes, there were tears, from me, and from the rest of the staff.
I had to go pick up my girlfriend at Portsmouth High School, and everyone was crying as they exited the building. It was one of the darkest days in the history of the United States of America.
I have thought about our country back in those days many times. I remember the real hope that a Kennedy administration promised. I remember several things about the man. First and foremost he brought a new life into America’s White House. Children were playing in the Oval Office. He was sailing off Martha’s Vineyard with his beautiful wife. He laughed at himself from time to time. When Vaughn Meador created “The First Family Album,” and impersonated the president, he laughed and said, “He sounds more like Teddy.” He had the greatest smile, eyes that sparkled, and a renewed outlook on what America could be. He set the timeline for putting a man on the moon and he did it. He stared down Russian ruler Nikita Kruschev, and he made us feel secure in an extremely insecure world.
What may be the most significant achievement of his administration was his stance for the Civil Rights movement. Teaming up with his brother Robert Kennedy, who was his Attorney General, he took on communism, racketeering and racism. He sent federal help into the south where African-Americans were being persecuted and even killed. He sent them into Alabama when young men and women were kept out of state universities. He gave us hope.
He knew things that leaders don’t know today. For example, like Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy knew that when a recession hit, it was time to cut taxes, not increase them. Nowadays we think the answer to all problems is to raise taxes. He knew the government could raise revenue by cutting taxes. It is just an historic fact.
He was also a bonified war hero - see PT 109.
My wife asked me the other morning - “Do you ever wonder what the world would have been like had he lived long enough to really establish his ideals?” I have and I do.
John F. Kennedy was the epitome of class, as was his wonderful wife, Jacqueline. America could be proud when he traveled abroad because he represented a hope that we had not seen in years. I miss him as I know most Americans who were alive at the time do.
Close your eyes and listen - “Ask not what your country can do for you - but ask what you can do for your country.” Rest in peace Mr. President.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at email@example.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.