Weatherford Democrat

November 22, 2013

Even as a fifth grader, news of president’s death hit hard


Weatherford Democrat

— By GREG WEBB

I was a student in Ms. Colgin’s fifth-grade class at the “rock school,” the local moniker for Azle ISD’s elementary and junior high campus, when Principal Copeland made the announcement over the intercom that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

Ms. Colgin, who was standing on a chair pinning some of the class’s artwork above the chalkboard, exclaimed “Oh, my God!” and leaned against the wall to keep from falling. The usually charismatic teacher went silent while wiping away tears, except to tell us to keep working in our math workbooks.

For what seemed like an eternity at the time, but in fact was less than 20 minutes later, Mr. Copeland’s second announcement came, confirming the death of the president. Copeland, who was a deacon at the church my family attended, emotionally urged prayers from everyone and announced classes would be dismissed early. Any students who failed to grasp the gravity of the earth-shattering event that had happened just 50 miles away saw and heard the grief of our daily authority figures, a side of their personalities we had never before witnessed.

I opted to walk home on that Friday afternoon instead of riding the bus – kids’ comings-and-goings  were much less monitored in 1963 – and was about halfway home when my mom and dad pulled alongside the road to pick me up.

Mom was an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration and my dad owned a front-end auto repair shop, and they car-pooled. The FAA closed its offices very soon after the assassination (not to open again until after Kennedy was interred) and dad said he was having a busy day “that shut off like a spigot” when the news hit.

My mother, who had voted for Kennedy (much to the chagrin of my dad, in fact) was visibly upset. They dealt with the Nixon-Kennedy political difference by agreeing they had cancelled out each other’s vote. Though it was not apparent to me at the time, my dad, who was a World War II Marine who served in the South Pacific, went hunting for the weekend — perhaps his way of finding perspective.

Mom and “us kids” (I was the youngest of three) were glued to the TV news for the next few days — all four channels.

Like virtually the rest of the world, we were limited to piecing together and trying to process the scraps of information fed to us by local and national news broadcasts. We saw the live broadcast of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald and the many re-broadcasts of the surreal event. But then, the whole time period from that Friday afternoon through the next few days was rife with surrealism, even for a kid who had turned 11-years old just a couple of weeks previous.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time outside through those few days, like I normally would have. And the memories of that capsule of time will stay with me always. Like the generation before me, who knew where they were and how they felt at the news of Pearl Harbor — and the tragic, indelible marker of the 9-11 attacks on later generations — Kennedy’s assassination was one of America’s darkest days of the ‘60s though, tragically, not the only one.