Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master of the one-liners

       Many of you have seen this piece before -- I sent it by e-mail two years ago. It's my eulogy for one of my best friends, Ken Liberto, who died two years ago today.
        He was one of the greatest athletes I've known; he could do everything well. He was a natural talent in football, basketball, baseball, even track (he could jump). If we'd have grown up with golf, I'm convinced he could have been a professional golfer. He had everything it took.
        So I'm posting the eulogy here because I wanted to make it a permanent part of my blog. I apologize because it's so lengthy, but I loved this guy.  I miss him ... and I always will.
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        I want to thank Kathy for asking me to speak. It's quite an honor. Ken's death is a loss for me -- he was my friend for more than 50 years (hard to believe) -- and it's a loss for everyone here, but obviously mostly for his family -- and he was so proud of them.
       If I may, I'd like to name them all ... Kathy, his love and his partner for three decades; Kenneth and his wife Amanda and their new baby boy, Aiden; Kevin; Lauren and her husband Chris, and Jaxon and Ava; Brian and his wife Carey, and Tyler, Kaitlyn and Allyson. Wow -- six grandkids; that's four more than we have, but we'll be gaining on you soon. And his mother-in-law, Faye Rogers, who was such a big help the last couple of years.
      I want to mention this early because it was a funny connection between Ken and me. The phone would ring, either me calling him or him calling me, and the first words for both of us would be "Joe Fra-zier." Our Muhammad Ali imitations. Ken could do the greatest Ali -- the Ali shuffle (which evolved into “peel out” for the kids), the dancing, the way he boxed, the way he talked. We loved the way Ali would say "Joe Fra-zier," the way he would make fun of "Joe Fra-zier."
      I'm gonna miss that.
      You know this — this was a wonderful guy. He was quiet and reserved and polite and shy, true. But if you really got to know him, were around him a lot, you know he was quite funny.
       He could mimic anyone. Could make a joke out of most anything; he had a one-liner for most everything. Loved to laugh, loved to eat, loved ice cream as much as I did. We both loved the Beatles. Ken knew a lot of the lyrics and he could twist them ... unprintable. He loved country music, loved to go to Las Vegas (that’s where he married Kathy in 1980), loved riding in a Corvette, loved to watch all sports, loved the Cowboys and the Texans.
        Loved golf, that became his favorite sport. Also produced a couple of his best one-liners, involving our good friend Jon Pat Stephenson, who like Ken, was good at every sport he tried.
       Ken told Jon Pat, “I know the trouble with your (golf) game. You’ve got too much weight on both feet.”
      And, “After you hit your drive, you’re still standing too close to your ball.”
      And there was this line about Jon Pat’s house (a huge mansion-like place outside of Hallsville where Ken stayed one night): “When you call from one end of the house to the other, it’s in another area code.”
      I can't think of Ken without thinking of his parents. It was a neat story. Big, burly American serviceman meets petite English girl in a pub in London at the end of World War II, convinces her to marry him, then she follows him back to the United States, to his hometown of Shreveport. They have one child -- and what a beautiful child he was.
Miss Ivy always called him Kenneth; his dad called him Kenny. It was fun to go to their house. No one -- no one anywhere -- ever made better spaghetti than Anthony Liberto, believe me. That was a treat.
     My folks and Ken's folks were friends, through us, of course, and they remained friends long after we left school. There was the European connection with Ivy -- we were from Holland -- and my dad and Ken's dad were hard-working guys who thought their sons were the center of the universe. Tony wasn't the sports fan my dad was -- not many people were -- but Tony was so proud of Ken, and rightfully so.
      For 10 years, we went to school together -- three years at Oak Terrace Junior High, three years at Woodlawn High, four years at Louisiana Tech. I was a manager/statistician for nine of those years while Ken played a variety of sports; I probably kept stats in 95 percent of the games he played.
      For most of six years, we rode to school and a lot of games together -- Ken driving. So not only was I along for the ride in athletics, but literally, I was along for the ride. And what a great ride it was.
      That's a lot of time to talk about life, school, sports -- that was most of the conversation -- to analyze games, talk about players, coaches, talk about heroes, the Beatles, Ali (almost every day) and, yes, girls.
      Ken was tall, dark and handsome. He understood the tall and dark parts, the handsome part, he just brushed off. Here were all these girls who wanted to go out with him -- they'd mention it to me sometimes -- and he was just unaffected by it. It didn't register. I told Kathy that early last week and she laughed. "Oh, women used to come up to him and they're flirting with him,” she said, “and I'd mention it to him later and he'd say, 'What? What are you talking about."
      Those of you with Shreveport connections know this: He was one of the most talented, most versatile athletes of his era, in a time when athletics in Shreveport-Bossier were very, very competitive. He had great hands, great vision, great coordination, he was smooth, and he could run all day and never seem all that tired.
      He started three years in high school in basketball and baseball. Didn't play football until his junior year -- Ivy was worried about him getting hurt -- but he came out and immediately started at receiver and safety and was the team's punter, and it was no small high school.     
      This was a time when football in Shreveport was very, very competitive. He was an All-State receiver in the top class in Louisiana as a senior, all-district basketball (he averaged 21.6 points a game as a senior, had 37 points against our arch-rival Byrd when he made 19 of 19 free throws), All-City in baseball as a first baseman -- smooth fielder, excellent .300 hitter -- and then he was a long jumper and triple jumper in track when he found the time.
He had great hands, great vision, great coordination. He could run. Odd running style, straight up, laid back, but he could move. He was, from my viewpoint and many others, fun to watch.
      And through it all, through all the success and the publicity, he was the same calm, unaffected guy. Never changed. Didn't brag, played hard, cared, great teammate, coachable. Not as outgoing or fiery like our good friend Trey Prather (who was our quarterback and also played all the sports, all the same years as Ken, and played them very well) ... Trey went to LSU, dropped out, joined the Marines, and sadly, died at age 20 in Vietnam). Ken and I talked about him often.
      What did excite Ken -- and Mr. Liberto -- was this: The football scholarship to Louisiana Tech. That was a money-saver, a college education paid for. Tony liked that.
      I have to tell you about two times Ken was very excited. He had been talking about Cassius Clay for months -- this was when Clay was becoming the Louisville Lip, calling the round he would knock out people, and then doing it. We're riding to school, Ken's talking about Cassius. So Clay gets ready to fight Sonny Liston -- the Big, Ugly Bear. Ken's predicting he's going to win. I'm skeptical. And it happens -- one of sports' greatest upsets. And the next day, Ken was SO fired up. Then a year later, we're at my house listening to the Ali-Liston rematch on radio. This was the fight when Liston caved in, fell to the floor on the first round. Knocked out. Total controversy. And Ken is jumping all over the place ... he's replaying the fight. He's Ali, and I'm Liston. He's punching me -- well, just pretend -- and I'm getting knocked out.
       And this is the way it would be for the next few years. Ken is Ali; I'm the chump, the opponent. He's doing the shuffle on me, throwing punches, doing his Ali talk, and I'm laughing so hard I can't stand up anyway.
       Gosh, we must've watched every Ali fight for the next 10 years or so, and replayed them a thousand times. Those great fights with Joe Frazier, the fight with George Foreman -- and we just loved to listen to Ali and watch those silly interviews with Howard Cosell. We replayed it all so many times, had so many laughs.
      At Tech, Ken didn't play all that much the first 2 1/2 years. Maybe it was because he was quiet, maybe the coaches didn't understand him that well. He was perplexed, a little frustrated, but he didn't complain. He kept working, didn't lose his confidence. And all of a sudden in our junior year, he had that breakout game -- three touchdown catches. From then on, he was a starter -- and a star.
       The quarterback's name for much of the last two seasons was Terry Bradshaw. You might've heard of him.
       The highlight of Ken's Tech career came in 1968. Bradshaw threw the pass, Ken caught it -- 82 yards in the last minute to beat our arch-rival Northwestern State, which was about to beat us for the third year in a row. A lot of Tech fans were leaving the stadium or had left, Northwestern fans were chanting, "We wrecked Tech." Somehow Ken got behind the defense and Terry's long, high-arching pass hit him beautifully on the right sideline, right in front of the Tech bench. Ken went the rest of the 45 yards or so, although one Northwestern player dove at him and stripped him of one shoe.
      It was impossible come true, one of the greatest plays I've ever seen, a play for the ages, one of the greatest plays in Louisiana Tech football history. This past week a dozen people mentioned it to me.
       For years, Ken wouldn't necessarily tell people he had played football at Louisiana Tech or that Bradshaw had been his quarterback. But when they did find out, and if they asked how many passes Ken caught, he would answer, "One."
      Actually, he caught enough in his senior year -- 1968 -- to become the first Tech receiver ever with at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
       He would go on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ken didn’t make the team, but at least the Steelers knew the way to Ruston and Shreveport. A year later they made Bradshaw the No. 1 pick in the draft.
      In 1970, Ken went to camp with the Washington Redskins, where Vince Lombardi was the new coach. Ken said Lombardi treated him well, but Ken was ready to move on with his life.
       So he went to work. And mostly, he had a good time doing what he did. He loved his travel, loved meeting people. He became a factory representative for the Stetson Hat Company. Someone last week said that he must've been a good salesman. You know, I never thought of Ken as a salesman -- he wasn't pushy or aggressive. But I know he was such a nice guy, he met people well, he made them comfortable and he made them laugh. So, yes, I could see where he’d be a good salesman..
       We didn't see each other much, but we’d talk 3-4 times a year. They found colon cancer in my wife in October 2002, they found Ken's two months later. Bea was a Stage III, but she -- thank God -- is well. Ken's was a Stage IV. It never really went away, you know. He and Bea would talk, comparing the treatments, and talking to me, he’d always ask about her.
        So was in treatment from time to time, taking chemo. His mother would tell my mother that Ken wasn’t doing well. I would immediately call him and he’d almost always downplay what was going on. He'd say the chemo wasn't fun, but he didn't complain, he didn't feel sorry for himself. I always worried, we all did.
      I've got to tell you about my last visit with him. Five years ago, I came down to Houston and went to the house, stayed for three hours, met Kathy again, her mom and the kids. Oh, Ken and I laughed and laughed; I got to see the Ali Shuffle again, and he looked good. He was still a big guy, but not the 250 pounds he’d been once ("I'm a flanker in a tight end's body," he joked about that).
      When I got ready to go, he said, "Hey, man, you've got to give me a hug." Last time I saw him. Went home and told Bea that was the perfect afternoon -- what a great family he had, what fun it was to see him.
      Talked to him a few months ago, and he said he was OK. "Just something I have to deal with, got no choice," he said. He always said that. He didn't let on how sick he really was. Kathy said he'd go to the oncologist's office and cheer up everyone there because his attitude was so positive, and because he treated all the other patients so well and made them laugh. No surprise.
       But then things turned worse. I'm sorry to say I wasn't aware of it. But maybe it was just as well. Don’t know that I could have handled it all that well.
       Kathy wanted him to have one last trip to Vegas, one last ride in a Corvette. It didn't happen; he wasn't strong enough. His bucket list included a set of new golf clubs. He bought them. He never got to use them.
      When I got a message from Kathy last Saturday, she didn't spell it all out. But my heart sank. I knew the news wasn't good. Told Bea this was going to be one of the toughest return calls I’d ever make, and I took my time.
    "He never gave in," Kathy said, "but his body just wore out."
     So here we are. I'm not ashamed to say he was always one of my heroes. Better yet, he was my dear, dear friend.
      Good-bye, Joe Fra-zier, and thanks. God bless you and your family.


        

Thursday, November 22, 2012

JKF assassination memories (part II)

     Yale Youngblood: I was home from school, sick with a sore throat. I was in the second grade. I was lying on the couch watching Cartoon Carnival when a Channel 11 (an independent station in the D-FW area) news person broke in to say that the President had been shot. We immediately turned to a network station and watched as the news grew more dire by the minute.
     I remember my mom shaking a lot when we heard that President Kennedy had been pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. I don't remember her crying, but I knew that this was a very significant moment, based on how she reacted. I remember little else from that day or from that weekend.

      Maxie Hays: The fall of 1963 was the first year of my coaching career. I was the athletic coordinator at DeQuincy Junior High and an assistant high school football coach for coach Billy Lantrip. I was in charge of all the scouting for the varsity football program.
     On Nov. 22, I was on a scouting trip to Lake Providence. I was at a gas station in Monroe when I found out that the President had been killed in Dallas. I went on to Lake Providence and scouted the game. Afterward, I drove back to Oakdale and spent the weekend with my mother. DeQuincy lost its game that night, so it was out of the playoffs.
      I was in a state of extreme disbelief, anger and sadness all at the same time. After all, this was something that happened in other countries, NOT in the United States of America. I will never forget the feeling of fear that I had because our security chain had been broken at the highest level, something that hadn't happened in my lifetime.

      Karen Bryant Dye: I was in the [Woodlawn] pep squad and we were in a convoy en route to an out-of-town football game. The buses pulled over for a few minutes, and our chaperone got off our bus. When she came back, she told us what had happened. The bus, which had previously been filled with lively teenaged girls laughing and talking, became very very quiet. I also remember later sitting in front of the TV watching the funeral and crying.

      Leon Barmore: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University walking through the student center on my way to a history class when I learned that President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Like everyone, I was saddened and a little nervous about the news.      A few minutes later in John D. Winters' history class, he made a statement that helped greatly. He said, "It's a great loss for us all, but this country is so great someone else will take his place and America will remain free and strong." That was what I needed to hear at that moment. Thank you, John D. Winters.

      Jerry Byrd: I was living with my Grandma Allen on Topeka Street, a few blocks from Highland Baptist Church, and was watching TV in her house when the President was shot. I went back to the office [Shreveport Journal], where they had already published an extra edition of the Friday paper with Kennedy's picture and a story about the shooting on the top of the front page. About half of the reporters were out on the streets selling the paper. I was also watching TV at her house when Jack Ruby shot Oswald while they were bringing him out of the Dallas jail.

      Gary Ferguson: If I'm not mistaken -- since it has been so long ago -- wasn't Woodlawn in a football playoff game in New Orleans? The students of Wodlawn went as a group by bus, I think. One of the tours we went on in New Orleans was a boat called The President or something like that. Anyway, the captain announced over the speakers that JFK had been shot.

      Jim McLain (The Times sportswriter): I was in New Orleans to cover a Woodlawn High football playoff game. I had driven down from Shreveport after work and slept late in my motel room out near the airport. I went to a (I think) Krystal hamburger restaurant to get breakfast. I walked in, took a seat and heard one of the counter waitresses say, "Well, somebody finally shot that son-of-a-bitch."
      I asked which SOB she was referring to?
      "Kennedy, she replied, "and I think he's dead."

      Tim Looney: I was a junior at Jesuit High in Shreveport. Several of us were hanging around outside the basement classrooms after lunch and before our next class. Someone -- another student -- came up to us and said he had heard that President Kennedy had been shot. We were all incredulous. We didn't know for some time how serious the wounds to the President were.
      As I recall, the school broadcast the news over the classroom intercoms as more became known. When we found out that our young, vibrant hero was dead, a sick feeling came over us all. Too young to know about the horrors of war, and having lived our entire lives in a simple, idyllic time, it was almost impossible to process the magnitude of the tragedy.
      The next few days were surreal. The funeral procession. The evil, yet pathetic, figure of Lee Harvey Oswald. The shooting of Oswald on live TV by Jack Ruby.
      Tina, my wife, was a high school student in Dallas. They had gotten out of class to go line the President's motorcade route, hoping to get a glimpse of him and the beautiful Jackie. Indeed, she saw them pass just a few feet from where she stood with her friends. A very few minutes later he was shot. They had gone to eat at a Mexican restaurant. It was announced over the loudspeakers at the restaurant. She said they all broke into tears of shock, sadness, and disbelief.
     A dark day for our country.

     Gary West: I was in school, of course -- fifth grade, in New Orleans -- and it was after lunch, maybe 1:30, a time that usually found the kids anxious and starting to anticipate the end of the school day, when the principal came to the door, which was strange, and asked to see our teacher, Mrs. Landwehr, in the hallway. Mrs. Landwehr stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
      Her departure, of course, was the signal for Johnny Whateverhisnamewas to turn around in his desk and make faces at the beautiful Sylvia Memphas and for a half-dozen others to take shots at the wastebasket with wadded up balls of paper and for Norman the Noggin to reach into his trumpet case and pull out whatever Ian Fleming book he happened to be reading and had snuck into school.
      We were just silly, naive kids, doing the things that silly, naive kids everywhere do, but for some of us that was all about to change abruptly. I sat in the back of the class, nearest the door, and so when it opened, I got a close look at Mrs. Landwehr. She was pale, her face drained of color, her eyes shiny with moisture. She walked stiffly by me and up the aisle to her desk in front of the class. Slowly taking her seat, she attempted to say something about the lesson we were on. But then she burst into tears.
      We sat there shocked, watching her sob, not knowing what to do. I remember thinking something must have happened to her husband, who always seemed to be traveling. Mrs. Landwehr struggled to compose herself. And then, sitting very erect, she said, "Something terrible has happened. Our President has been shot."
      I don't remember much after that, don't remember when we found out President Kennedy had died. But I recall that some kids seemed completely oblivious to the significance of the news, or maybe they were just trying to be cool. As for me, I was shaken. I never had known anybody who had been shot dead. It was something that happened only on television or in Norman the Noggin's books. And, of course, in that world, only bad guys got shot, and the good guys always won and, well, this didn't make any sense because President Kennedy represented an idealized version not only of the presidency but of America.
      Is this what real life is like, I wondered. And, of course, it was. That day began what became for America a profound loss of innocence, which continued with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and culminated with Vietnam and Watergate. For all of us, I think, everything changed forever on Nov. 22, 1963.

      Robert Steckel: I was a freshman at Archbishop Rummel High School, in Metairie, La. My PE class was showering in the locker room when it was announced on the school PA system. My memory beyond that is only vague, but I’m pretty sure the reaction of my classmates was stunned silence.
      Next period was algebra, and our teacher did his best to try to speak wisely, calm us down, try to get some perspective that would help. I remember, later that afternoon, it was raining, and my mother arrived home from grocery shopping, weeping and worrying about those “poor [Kennedy] children.”
      On Sunday, we got home from church and immediately learned Ruby had shot Oswald. What a nightmare. The President of the United States, gets his head blown off in a public execution, in broad daylight in downtown Dallas. (A friend who is a native Texan (Corpus), and a liberal, remains resentful to this day for people trying to pin it on Dallas because of its “climate of hate.” Bullshit, he calls it. I agree.)

      Dr. Leonard Ponder: I was teaching at Oak Terrace Junior High on that fateful day in 1963. [Principal] Stan Powell had invited me to go with him to Baton Rouge that week where the Louisiana Teachers Association was holding its annual convention. I was flattered that Stan invited me, but a major part of his incentive was that he needed me to drive. Marti (his wife) needed their good car.
      I was harried because I had to get three classes prepared for a substitute teacher. The second period was always my planning period, which allowed me to go to the main office and check my mailbox. When I walked into the teachers' lounge everyone was talking about an event, but I couldn't catch what the event was. One teacher (and I have no idea who it was) said, "I didn't especially like him, but I didn't want him dead." That allowed me to ask "who?" "Haven't you heard, the President was shot and killed in Dallas just a little while ago."
      Little did we know what a chain of events that terrible deed started. I remain convinced to this day that most of the political animosity that we still experience was created by that event. 
     At that time in Louisiana one voted Democratic if he or she wanted to participate in the political process -- there was no other option. Even as a young man I knew that the Louisiana Democrats were corrupt so I chose not to participate in politics at all.
     I, therefore, had not voted for John Kennedy or Nixon, but I thought Kennedy's term was off to a good start. He was very likable. Whatever he was going to accomplish was still before him. Lyndon Johnson gets credit for completing much of Kennedy's agenda, but he was much too abrupt and created unnecessary animosity.

      Billy Maples: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University with residence in McFarland dorm, first floor. After class that day, I was preparing to drive home to Bossier City and a close friend Don Cope (who later became an orthodontist, now deceased) was to ride with me. Don lived on the upper floor and I was waiting on him in the dorm parlor. Suddenly, I saw him running down the hall yelling that JFK had been shot in Dallas. Don was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt.
      JFK was not popular in the southern states and I was not a JFK fan. I was shocked to hear he had been shot but not devastated. I later learned the gun shot was fatal.
Throughout the weekend, news reports kept reporting what was thought to be the facts, including the arrest of Oswald.
      On Sunday at home, I was preparing for a return to Tech. I was watching TV in our living and like millions of others, saw Oswald shot as he was being led from the Dallas jail.
Then, I remember a commission was appointed with a finding Oswald had acted alone. Then all the theories followed, even today.

      A.L. Williams (Woodlawn assistant coach): I was with you at the Holiday Inn in New Orleans for the Woodlawn-East Jefferson game the day JFK was assassinated. Ronnie Hooper came to me and told me the President had just been shot. It was decided the game would be canceled; then it was decided the game would be played, and this decision was changed back and forth several times. The final decision, of course, was to play the game, which was a very rainy game that wound up a 7-7 tie. (Woodlawn) lost the game on first downs. Ken Liberto made an outstanding, one-handed catch of a pass from Trey Prather but came down out of bounds. It was a very bad day: We lost our President and our game.

      Sarah Williams: I was at home with Amy Williams, our 3-month-old first -born watching As the World Turns when the soap was interrupted with the news that the President had been shot. The news was most unnerving and unbelievable.

      Ken Sins: I grew up in Rome, N.Y., attended St. Mary's Catholic grammar school as an eighth- grader. We heard the news early afternoon during a class; the nun-teacher looked ashen as she recounted the report that the President was dead, and she led us in prayer. Since Kennedy was Catholic, this was an incredible shock in our community. Kennedy was a hero to us; he'd campaigned in our town a few years earlier, and the memories still lingered.
      There was speculation that somehow the Russians had something to do with it. Actually, Oswald did have Russian ties ... his wife, his background. Anyway, it was an emotional day.     
     I was an altar boy and had to serve Mass at St. Paul's on Sunday. I don't recall much about the service other than the priest asking the congregation for more prayers for both the country and the Kennedy family, and there were tears shed by men and women in the pews.
       We returned home, and as the eggs and bacon and toast were served, we watched in horror on our black and white Philco as Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. What an emotional weekend! What a confusing weekend for a kid!
      Then, about 15 years later, here I was living and working in North Texas. One of my first tourist trips from Fort Worth was visiting the Triple Underpass and Dealey Plaza in Dallas, long before the museum was installed, going through the events of that day and wondering how in the hell this terrible event took place. To me, Dallas was the City of Hate, and here I was, a Yankee in the midst of it all. That feeling never left; I always felt like a stranger there, 'til the day I left.
 
      Ben Sour: I was eating lunch in the [Shreveport] Byrd High cafeteria, just like every day at that time. Bobby Pack sat down across the table from me. We exchanged greetings. I think he was interested in my sister. He said, "Did you hear about Kennedy getting shot." I said no. We had a couple of Kennedys at the school. A promising basketball player had been wounded in a hunting accident, thus ending his career. I figured one of the Kennedys in the school had been accidently shot. It took a minute to sink in that it was President Kennedy.
      The cafeteria noise picked up but no one was really sure what had happened. Was he dead? How many people were shot? It was like someone who was a big part of you life had suddenly died. You knew it but you really could not believe it. It was not something any of us had ever thought about.
      After my father died, I kept expecting him to come out of his bedroom while I was sitting at the kitchen table, just like he always did. I knew he wouldn't, but that's what I kept expecting and wanting to happen. That was the feeling when lunch ended that sense of not being able to quite accept it.
       A few minutes after Bobby broke the news to me, we went back to class. The cafeteria was on the first floor. Most of the classrooms were upstairs. As we climbed the stairs to return to class, we passed the kids coming down to go to lunch. None of them knew anything about the shooting. As we passed them, we told them what we knew. I honestly don't remember a single emotional outburst. It was like we were just starting to realize that we had all been wounded.
      After about an hour, Mr. Ravenna, the assistant principal, came in to our classroom and told us exactly what was known. He was very calm and precise. That really helped. I think an administrator went to every classroom.
       Mr. Ravenna was at Byrd for nearly 40 years I think. If I saw him tomorrow, he would say, "Hi, Ben, how is your sister, Beth." He had a system for memorizing every student's name and their relation to other students.
      Some 15 years after the assassination, I attended a theater production in London. I saw a familar face in the crowded lobby. Bobby Pack and I recognized each other instantly even though we had not seen each other for years. We recounted the story of where we were when JFK was assassinated. I think I was the first person he told, and I am not sure how he had found out.

      Leo Van Thyn: I remember being in grade 11 and it was some in the afternoon. Our class was suddenly interrupted by a P.A. announcement by the principal saying that the President of the United States had been shot. It brought reactions of shock from my classmates. On my way home after school I remember feeling a profound sadness. Even though JFK was not the leader of Canada it felt as though he was. He was relatively young and I had known political leaders as being older adults. It felt as though someone from our younger generation had died.
      My friends and I had admired his willingness to deal strongly with the leaders of the Soviet Union and Cuba. My generation in Canada looked at him as the leader of all the democratic nations. However, it was his youthfulness that appealed to us and we liked his charming wife and their children, and his younger brothers.
      I remember being glued to the television watching the reports of the assassination and the funeral. It seemed as if I couldn’t get enough and even took me away from watching hockey, which is saying a lot for someone young in Canada.
         
      Bill Smith: I was in ninth grade at Oak Terrace coming out of Miss Waddell's class on my way to my locker when we were told. It was a shock. Many mixed feelings because that weekend was the football team's annual trek to see LSU play Tulane. It was my first train ride. When we got back and were at the train station in Shreveport when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Quite a shocking week.
    
      Jimmie Cox: A bunch of us Woodlawn students were on the SS President steamship on a river cruse in New Orleans. We came down on the train to go to the Woodlawn-East Jefferson state playoff game in football. I always thought it was ironic that we were on the President when the President died.
    
      Beverly Clark Porche: As a member of the Woodlawn band, we were on our way to New Orleans for the playoff game. Of course, like everyone else, that weekend will forever be in my thoughts.
    
      Sandra Groves Timmons: I was on the [Woodlawn] pep squad bus heading to New Orleans for the football playoffs. We had stopped at a little store to get drinks, food, etc. when we heard the news in the store. It was very surreal; the remainder of the ride was very quiet. I think we were all just trying to process what we had been told.
 
      Brenda Boyette Laird: Sandra, I also remember stopping at that little store and hearing the news about President Kennedy.
        
      Jan Baker: As a Dallasite, this day really hit us hard. My dad had taken off work and he drove my mom along the route the President would drive. They parked out by the Haggar Slack building. They were shocked to hear he had been shot a few minutes later.
I
was in elementary school listening to Mr. Shelton, my math teacher, drone on about fractions. He was a bear of a man. I remember the principal calling him into the hall and he was crying when he re-entered. It shocked me. All the students were gathered into the cafeteria and auditorium and we watched tiny black and white televisions on rolling carts as we heard the news for the first time.

Almost every parent took off and picked up their students. I don't recall us going back to school for almost a week. We watched TV nonstop. Scary stuff for a kid.

      Douglas Yoder: I was in the fourth grade and my teacher started crying. Had no idea what was going on. She explained to us what happened and a class of 9- and 10-year-olds were all very quiet and subdued.
    
      Priscilla Goff Cox: It was my Dad's 50th birthday. But the [Woodlawn] pep squad was on the buses going to the playoffs. I remember people standing on the highway holding up signs saying "President Assassinated." Girls on the buses were crying. It was such a sad day in history.
     
      Patrick Booras: I had just turned 2 when JFK was assassinated. I know from listening to my parents and other adults (years later) that it was a huge shock to adults who were trying to comprehend how it could have happened. I don't think any common citizens in America have ever felt comfortable talking about JFK's assassination. "Let's not go there" was the feeling I always got (conversations ended abruptly).

      Gerry Robichaux: I was at home, just waking from a night's sleep from working the PM shift [at The Shreveport Times]. I did the only thing I knew to do. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed. And cried.

      Ike Futch: I was going to lunch at the A&W drive-in (Highway 80, I believe) in Ruston, La., and heard it on the radio.

      John Sturbin: I was a seventh-grader at Transfiguration School in Rome, N.Y. By midday my mind already was wandering to Sunday and the New York Giants' game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. Because back then, my hero, quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and the Giants always beat the Cards twice a season.
      Shortly after lunch a TV was rolled into our classroom and our teacher, a Franciscan nun whose name has escaped me, quietly told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and we needed to pray for him. It wasn’t long after that we watched CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite inform the nation that, indeed, JFK was dead. That reality hit hard in our little parochial school, where Kennedy was revered as the first Catholic president.
      I didn’t realize it then, but Cronkite’s now-famous and emotional words marked the beginning of the coming-of-age of TV as a news medium. Coverage of the Kennedy tragedy continued all weekend on what were then the three major networks. Among the enduring figures to emerge was a young Dan Rather, then a reporter at a Dallas TV station.
      My memories include my mom coming home from work in tears; my father coming home from work irate and blaming the Russians and Fidel Castro … and getting drunk that night. I remember returning from Mass on Sunday morning with my mom and sister, walking in the door only to hear my father yell out: “They shot him! Somebody just shot Oswald, right on TV!” He was referring to Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s accused killer. The conspiracy theories launched by that single act continue to this day.
     On Monday, I watched on a black-and-white TV as the funeral courtege wound its way through Washington, D.C., impressed by the stoicism of the Kennedy family, the magnificent and respectful pomp-and-precision of our military and the rhythmic drum beat that served as the background music en route to Arlington National Cemetery.
     A resident of Fort Worth since 1978, I since have done the tourist thing at the School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza with my mom and sister, and am grateful that tragic moment in American history has been preserved.
     Back to Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963. The Giants lost to the Cardinals, I think by 14-10, in a Yankee Stadium that I recall being described as "eerily silent." NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who made many groundbreaking decisions that propelled the league to the prominence it still enjoys, dropped the ball on that one by opting to play the full schedule. I believe the Cleveland Browns played the Cowboys on that Sunday, with coach Tom Landry and his team suddenly and unfairly carrying the burden as the most hated city in America ... only soon enough to become "America's Team." 
      

JFK assassination: Your memories

      The day sticks in our minds -- Nov. 22, 1963. Where were you at 12:30 p.m. or shortly thereafter when you got the news about President Kennedy being shot?
      Here are the remembrances from people in my age range, including Woodlawn students who were either in New Orleans or on their way for a state football playoff game:
 

      Albert A. "Bud" Dean: Never will forget it. I was in the library at our old, now gone Colfax High School. The word had come, but had not been confirmed that morning. Then as it became clear that the rumor was actually a horrible truth, two things still stand out in my mind: (1) the 10th-grade English teacher made an ass out of himself by running into the hallway on the second shouting "please tell me it's true," which eventually got him fired, and (2) even though there was an anti- Kennedy sentiment in my small town as evidenced by the inappropriate response in No. 1, all of us were shocked and continued classes as if nothing happened other than the pall that had been cast by that sad series of events. Also our basketball practice was canceled, which was a great move on our coach and principal's part.
 
        O.K. "Buddy" Davis: I was sitting in a civics class at Ruston High School and word began to circulate about President Kennedy being assassinated, but we didn't have many details yet. Then during a change in classes, the official word filtered through the hallways and that's all anyone was talking about. Then Ruston High announced school would be called off for rest of the day and i remember walking home and seeing my mom waiting outside on the steps when I walked up. She was crying and said, "We lost a great President today." The whole weekend was so incredibly sad.

      Kirby Ramsey: I was a ninth-grade student at Oak Terrace Junior High when President Kennedy was assassinated. The day he was killed I was walking down the dark corridors of Oak Terrace when I saw a girl who was also in the ninth grade. Believe it or not, she was actually laughing. I asked her, "What's so funny?" She said, "President Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas!" She seemed happy that our President had been killed. I was shocked that President Kennedy had been killed, but I think I was even more shocked by that girl's reaction to such a human tragedy. I never felt the same way about that girl after that encounter. I remember there was a lot of polarization in our country at that time, primarily over civil rights. Vietnam and the Americanization of the war there would not be fully realized until 1965 primarily because President Kennedy was determined NOT to send combat troops to fight an Asian war. (Ref. Lessons In Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Viet Nam).
       
      Ron Newberry: I was in the TKE frat house at Northwestern State playing bridge with frat brothers my freshman year. I spent the rest of the day and the weekend glued to the TV where I saw Oswald murdered on national television. It was a sad day for America and the beginning of a tragic era for the Kennedy family. No, I am not a Democrat but a human being who cares for his fellow man.
 
      Mary Margaret Higginbotham Richard: I was on the band bus going south to the playoff game in New Orleans. Those were the days of transistor radios, and people picked up a few bits and pieces as we traveled. It was a long time before we found out that the shooting had really happened and that the President was dead. We had rain all the way down, and (I think) rain at the game. I have read conspiracy theories about people traveling from New Orleans to Dallas, and they all describe that relentless rain.
      The band stopped for dinner at a horrible truck stop, the game had a horrible ending, and the President was assassinated. It was just a bad trip from start to finish. The only bright spot was a chartered bus instead of a school bus, but all things considered, that didn't help much. I don't think we got soaked, as Mr. Jennings [Richard Jennings, Woodlawn's band director] was always rightly concerned about the uniforms and instruments. I imagine we spent most of the game standing in a sheltered area at the stadium -- or maybe we waited it out in the gym at East Jefferson, as I can't remember a thing about the game. Again, the pits.

       Shellye Abington Cooper: On the pep squad bus traveling to East Jefferson H.S. for the  state playoffs. A car passed the bus holding up a sign that said something like "Kennedy has been shot or killed." It was raining and the closer we got to the game the more it rained. There was a prayer and moment of reflection in honor of Kennedy before the game. Pep squad wool skirts shrunk and the sweaters drooped. We lost by one first down (which none of us had ever heard of). I think, at the time, we were more upset about the game and riding back home on the bus sopping wet than Kennedy's death. That changed, of course, when we got home and reality set in. 
 
      Mike Richey: Neville High School, civics class, Mr. Phillips ... I have no idea why, but our teacher discussed the President's trip to Dallas during class that morning. I can't quote him verbatim, but he said something to the effect that he wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't trouble during the visit. He alluded to UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's visit to Dallas a month earlier to speak on United Nations Day where protestors spit in his face. It wasn't but 15 or 20 minutes later that it was announced to the entire school that the President had been shot, followed later by the announcement that he had died.
      I don't know if the same held true at other Southern schools, but the announcement of his death brought a mixture of cheers and tears in the halls and stairwells. It's hard to believe now that even JFK's biggest detractors could find happiness in his death.
      The rest of the week is mostly a blur ... and probably is for all of us who are old enough to remember. The funeral procession hit home in our house because my sister had marched with the Neville band at JFK's inauguration.
      While this was perhaps the biggest moment up to that point for network television news, it's ironic that two still black and white images are prominent in my memory: the first, Oswald's face just moments after being shot by Jack Ruby and the second, John John saluting his father's casket. 
       
         Lucille (Mrs. Don) Landry: The thing that immediately comes to mind concerns that weekend ... We were planning a party for our oldest son's second birthday on Nov. 24. When this tragedy happened, we were devasted, of course, and seriously considered canceling the party for our little boy. It just did not seem appropriate under the circumstances. We took it very personally, almost as though we had lost a close member of our own family.
 
      Rabbi Dr. Jana L. De Benedetti: I was 3 years old (actually, a bit over 3 1/2). I remember everyone being sad and that the only thing on TV was people talking about the fact that the President was dead -- and they were all sad. At first it was frustrating that I couldn't watch anything fun. But then I realized that I felt sad about the President, too, and it made sense that there was nothing on TV but people being sad about the President.
      
      Jimmy Russell: I was a senior at LSU and had a test scheduled for 1 p.m. I heard the President had been shot but did not know he was dead. I went to my class (Mexican History) and took the test along with other members of the class. The university in the meantime had cancelled classes before 1 p.m., but no one in the class knew it. We took the test. I found out about Kennedy’s death after the class and went home. My older son, Kyle, was born on Nov. 11 and was at home with my wife.

     Steve Oakey: I was working an Elrod strip caster on Nov. 22, 1963, in the foundry of a weekly newspaper and print shop I worked at in Sun Prairie, Wis., during the year I postponed entering the University of Wisconsin so I could establish residency and avoid out-of-state tuition. I was on lunch break with some co-workers in the alley outside the shop when somebody heard the news from Dallas on a transistor radio.
      As the only one in the group who had just moved north from Texas, I was expected to have some insight, but all I could think of was to wonder who could have done such a thing. Was it one of those "outside agitators" for civil rights?
      What I was really thinking about was what effect the momentous news would have on the opening of deer season the next day. None, it turned out. Two friends and I drove up to northern Wisconsin the next morning and hunted all afternoon in 10-degree cold. We bagged zero whitetails, but I did bring down a nice-sized squirrel with a 12-gauge slug from my borrowed pump shotgun. I have avoided any kind of hunting ever since.

      Mike Harper: I was in the seventh grade at St. Joseph's School in Shreveport, was in the library after lunch and noticed that all of the nuns were crying. They later told us what had happened. It still seems surreal, much like 9-11.

     Casey Baker: We [Woodlawn football team] were set to play East Jefferson in the first round of the playoffs in Metairie. Our team was staying at the Holiday Inn. The weather was terrible. Heavy, heavy rain. We were all milling around in our rooms or under the covered walkways outside the room when [coach] Billy Joe Adcox came around to check on us. He asked what was going on, we said "nothing" and then he asked what was going on on the TV. We went to look and the world changed forever.
     The first thing that came to mind was whether we would play that night. The leader of the free world had been assassinated, and I wondered if we were going to play a high school football game.
      I don't remember much of the game except that it poured and water was coming into my hightop cleats. I know the final score was 7-7 and we lost on first downs. Don't remember the trip home, but do remember laying on the living room floor watching Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald.

     Pesky Hill: I was 13 years old and we had just started P.E. class in the eighth grade at T. O. Rusheon Junior High School in Bossier City. All of a sudden, someone came in the gym and said President Kennedy had been shot. Then, a few minutes later we heard Texas Gov. John Connally had also been shot.
     It only took a few minutes for virtually everyone in school to get in front of the few television sets available. It was confirmed that President Kennedy was dead and Gov. Connally was in critical condition.
      What bothered me most was some cheering and applause when guys heard our President had been shot. I couldn’t believe the reaction. My parents didn’t vote for JFK and so I suppose I was pulling for Richard Nixon, too. But, to cheer for the President being shot? That really bothered me. I didn’t understand even though JFK was not popular among most in the Deep South.
      I also remember watching (live) when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. That was surreal. I couldn’t believe something like that could happen with all the security. And, it happened on television.

     Claude M. Pasquier: That Friday started off great. That was the last day of class before the Thanksgiving holidays and the school newspaper, The Flyer, was due to be handed out. I was in the 10th grade at Jesuit Shreveport. I had seen in the paper a picture of Sen. Everett Dirksen giving President Kennedy the ceremonial Thanksgiving turkey.
      The first bell after lunch had run and I was at my locker on the second floor of Jesuit. Bickford Umphries came bounding up the stairs shouting that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas. We went to fifth period and it was announced that President Kennedy had been shot. We said a prayer for him. A few minutes later it was announced that he had died. That was hard to understand.
     Fifth period ended and we went to Gerald Johnson's geometry class. He was visibly upset. We had no class that day; we just talked and read The Flyer. It was rumored in the classroom that Mr. Johnson had actually seen the President in person.
      My father picked me up that afternoon from school. He was never home from work at 3 p.m. It was very quiet at home. The television was on and we watched until Air Force One landed and the hearse drove off.
      Saturday was a sad day. The paper had quotes from a lot of people in the area that were close to the White House. One person in particular, was Mr. John Iles. Mr. Iles was and still is a family friend. I discovered that day that Mr. Iles and President Kennedy were friends. They served together on PT boats during the war. In my adult years, I asked Mr. Iles about the President and he said “he was a good skipper.”
     Sunday we came home from church and we were watching the transfer of Oswald from the Dallas Jail and saw on live television Jack Ruby shoot Oswald.
      It was a rough weekend for the whole country.
 
     James D. Gibson: I was a ninth grader at Linwood Junior High. It was around 2:30 in sixth period gym. We were playing half-court basketball when the ball went out of bounds under the basketball. Both Johnny Lewter and me stepped to pick up the ball. Johnny just asked, “Did you hear anything about President Kennedy being assassinated?” I answered, “No, I haven’t,” and we continued to play.
      Since school got out at 3, gym ended shortly. I went in the dressing room and finished dressing just about the time the bell rang. I walked out the door onto the small parking lot to head toward Linwood to cross the street to catch the trolley to Caddo Heights.
      The parking lot had a turnaround drive and parents, there to pick up their kids, were all out of their cars. President Kennedy had been killed and it was a very emotional scene. Suddenly, I was scared, felt weak, and wanted to get home. I felt alone, although there were people all around I ran and jumped on the trolley that had just pulled up. It was only a couple of miles, several stops, and maybe 10 minutes to Caddo Heights where I got off the trolley and ran home.
       I rushed in the back door into the kitchen where Mama (my mother) was hanging up the phone. It was about 3:20. She was talking to C.J. Serio, the Newspaper Production route manager, who told her that the papers were already at the paper box. It was a special edition of The Times, the first such special since 1945, and not The Journal, the regular evening paper. Suddenly, I felt a lot better. The paper route made me forget my anxieties.
     I put on my tennis shoes, jumped on my bike, and sped the 3 1/2 blocks to the paper box at the corner of Corbitt and Ridgeway to the awaiting papers. I started folding my papers and was joined in a few minutes by Randy Bouknight, who came to get his papers. I threw the route around my house and Randy threw the route around his house. I don’t recall us saying much to each other. We folded our papers and got on about the business of delivering them.
      The weekend and the days after are a blur now. I remember Walter Cronkite and all the TV coverage: Parkland Hospital, The Texas School Book Depository, Officer J.D. Tippitt, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, President Johnson’s swearing in, Jacqueline, little John, Caroline, and the funeral.

      Elsa Van Thyn: I was in seventh grade social studies class (Ms. Cooper) at Oak Terrace Junior High during lunch break practicing a puppet skit with Diana Jacobs, when someone came in the room and announced that Kennedy had been shot, I remember someone actually cheering, which even then I found horrifying. A little later, Theresa Underwood stood up and said she was listening to the radio and the President had died. At about the same time, Ms. Cooper's phone rang and she told the class that the office mandated that the assassination could not be discussed. I know, isn't that the most outrageous?
      I do remember walking home that Friday in shock and that Mama was crying when I got to the house. I also remember being in Sunday school that Sunday with Steven Katz teaching Hebrew when Oswald was killed, somehow it was announced to the class (maybe Steven came in and told us). 
     I believe for all of us alive and aware that it was the turning point in our lives, it changed us all, by the loss of innocence and instilled fear in me that I had not experienced before.













 

Nov. 22, 1963 -- the darkest day

        Nov. 22, 1963, began as a dark, gloomy day in New Orleans. It would become darker.
         It's a day easy to remember, hard to forget. The news was stunning -- and sickening -- by early afternoon. The weather kept getting worse. It poured that night. How appropriate.
         Where were you when JFK was assassinated? (Many of your remembrances are on a separate blog posted today.)
          The Woodlawn High School football team was in the New Orleans area, at the Holiday Inn -- off Airport Highway -- in Metairie. We were playing at East Jefferson High School, just down the road from the hotel, in a Class AAA first-round playoff game that night.
          It was my junior year; I was a manager/statistician/school sports editor; it was Woodlawn's second playoff game in its four-year history; its first one on the road.
---
          At about 11:45 a.m., I was hanging around the hotel lobby when Coach A.L. Williams (the running backs/defensive backs coach) and Lee Prather (father of our quarterback, Trey Prather) said they were going to drive down the road and look at the stadium. Did I want to go along? Sure.
          We got back to the Holiday Inn about 12:30 p.m. As we walked back into the courtyard -- where a couple of the coaches were sitting near the swimming pool -- players began bolting out of their lower-floor and second-floor rooms yelling that "the President has been shot in Dallas!"
         How suddenly life changes.
         The horrible news that President Kennedy had died came a half-hour later. Football didn't seem so important anymore.
 ---
         We should not have been in New Orleans. We should not have been in the playoffs at all. But we also could have been playing in Shreveport that night. We had Byrd High School -- our good buddies -- to thank for it all.
         We had lost to Bastrop (13-7) and to Byrd (14-7), and it looked as if we were going to finish third in District 1-AAA, out of the playoffs. But two weeks before the regular season ended, the news broke on a Tuesday afternoon: Byrd had used an ineligible player, and had to forfeit eight wins overall, four in the district -- including our game.
         We were back in the race. Think practice at Woodlawn wasn't spirited that day?
         If Byrd could beat Bastrop that week, we had a chance to win the district. So we, for once, were rooting for Byrd. Our just rewards? Bastrop, an unheralded Cinderella-type team with three super players, beat Byrd 19-13 ... and deservedly won the district.
          So Bastrop was at home for its first-round game. Woodlawn, in second place, was on the road. On Thursday, as JFK and Jackie made their way to Texas, the Knights took the bus to New Orleans, with a stop at LSU for practice.
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The most endearing moment of the long weekend of
 the JFK assassination -- John-John salutes his father.
          Like the rest of the nation, we were mesmerized by the TV reports that afternoon. JFK wasn't popular in the South, but he was a charismatic man with a beautiful family (Jackie and two young children) and the news of the shooting from the Texas School Book Depository Building was riveting.
           Many of the Woodlawn students, including the cheerleaders, pep squad and band, learned of the shooting on their way to New Orleans.
          What I learned just recently, from Coach Williams, is that afternoon there was a lot of discussion with the East Jefferson people -- and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association -- on whether the game should be postponed. It wasn't.
           As far as I know, every game in the state was played that night. (So were the college games the next day and the NFL on Sunday ... a decision for which Pete Rozelle -- one of the great commissioners in sports history -- was criticized forever.)
 ---
          From our standpoint, it should have been postponed. It began raining in mid-afternoon, and it rained, and rained, and rained. There were some breaks, and it just drizzled some, but most of the game was played in a downpour. Especially when we had the ball.
           Sounds made up? Nope, I'm not kidding. I know this because I watched that game film hundreds of times. In fact, Coach Williams remembers that the East Jefferson coach (Bob Whitman) apologized to the Woodlawn staff at midfield at the end of the game because he knew his team had gotten the best of the weather deal.
            It was a 7-7 tie settled on first downs, which was the rule then (before overtime became mandatory). East Jefferson had six first downs to Woodlawn's five. If the first downs had been tied 6-6, we would have won on penetrations inside the 20; we had the edge, 3-2, because we had recovered two East Jeff fumbles inside their 20. We scored after one of them, but not the other.
            In the game's final minute, Trey Prather threw a fourth-down pass to my close friend Ken Liberto, who made a sliding, one-handed catch -- fabulous catch, really -- but out of bounds by inches. It would have been the first down we needed to advance.
            Instead, we were out. It was a loss (of sorts) for us.
            The country's loss that day? Immeasurable.
 ---                           
             Liberto loved that catch. Loved it so much that during the winter and spring, we had the game film and a Woodlawn projector at Trey's house and we watched the game and that play hundreds of times. That's now I know how hard it rained whenever we had the ball.
             The next day the bus ride home was long and quiet. We went through Baton Rouge, where LSU was playing Tulane, a 20-0 Tigers' victory before the most quiet Tiger Stadium crowd in history.  After getting home on Saturday, we spent the rest of the day and most of the following two days watching TV.
             On Sunday morning, more stunning news -- Jack Ruby shooting alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald  in the basement of the Dallas jail on live TV. I missed that; I was at the Woodlawn gym with Trey and Ken, who were shooting baskets because our basketball season was going to start on Tuesday. When Ken dropped me off at home, my mother gave me the news about Oswald.
             I'm not sorry I missed that scene.
             We didn't have school on Monday, the day of the state funeral. The images of that day are many and vivid in our memories. It was a sad, long day that concluded a sad, long extended weekend.
             For the generation before us, the "remember where you were" moment was Pearl Harbor. For this generation, it's 9-11. For the people my age, Nov. 22, 1963, was the darkest day.