“The loss of innocence” is a popular meme for the Kennedy assassination…but I think that depends upon your age, ethnicity and sensibilities. Jack was youthful, vital, handsome, moneyed…seemingly all things attractive. Women wanted to be with him; men wanted to be him. And after decades of FDR, Truman and Ike, it was a novelty to have a president who was banging chicks, drinking scotch, sailing on the Cape. His wife was foxy, he was a war hero and had great hair.
You either grieved for your own sense of this tragedy or from your parents somber responses to his death. Since I was by then abstractly aware of Trujillo, the Shah and Medgar Evers, not to mention slavery, segregation, and Native American genocide, I struggle to buy into this “innocence” theme…but I wept right along with everyone else and felt a deep personal sense of loss. If this iconic figure could be so brutally dispatched, how could anyone feel safe?
I was in Regensburg, Germany on that nite 50 years ago, watching my college drama club from Munich perform Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS. My father, director of the German American Institute had invited them up to perform before a German audience. During the intermission, my father appeared n stage and announced first in German, then English that the performance would end. That our president had been assassinated in Dallas.
No TV. No CNN. No Cronkite. We didn’t listen to AFN broadcasts. We hugged each other and wept during that long bus ride home to Munich.
A later visit by Ted Kennedy to Frankfurt, hosted by my father, Dr. Osborn T Smallwood
I posted earlier of my concerns about speaking about veterans to a middle school class. I am a fairly seasoned public speaker, I am not shy. My concern was the degree of darkness I felt upon me and that it might be transferred to these children.
I knew how impressionable I was as an 8th grader, then going to school in Greece. I knew today how very much I did NOT wish to glorify war. I wore no colorful insignia or shirts or caps. I did not speak of waterskiing under fire or leaping from planes or directing the very hell that is Cobra’s and SuperSpooky and napalm and fast movers and artillery. I did not want anyone to respond (as have so many in the past) “Wow,you were in Vietnam. Cool!” or “Man! I can’t wait to do/be/have that kind of experience!”
Instead I spoke of learning at an early age, how many different ways other people of the world lived and realized how unspeakably fortunate those few millions are to have been born in America, how important service to others can be and how many different ways there are for each of us to serve. I spoke of 26 letters in our alphabet that might, in the right hands become a comic book or Mad Magazine or the Bible or the Constitution. I hoped to insert a single thought in a single childs soul to use their knowledge to acquire wisdom, then generate an expression of such TRUTH that it might persuade mankind to put aside war, just as we have managed to put aside buggy whips.
There were 9 or 10 of us at the table, perhaps a few too many; perhaps 40 students seated tightly in a small room, cheek by jowl. Despite very good intentions, I have no doubt; there was some glorification, some cool factor, some very welcome laughter for mishaps and surprises.
A very honorable effort for the leaders of Phoenix Middle School…and of Diana SirLouis. I did NOT mention the irony of that name; that I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my left shoulder…and that my final mission was one for the Phoenix Program.
The event was filmed. If I am ever provided an edited copy, I will share it with you.