I went to school in England for four years as a kid. My dad was a U.S. Navy officer assigned to work with the British Navy in the United Kingdom in setting up a U.S. style Naval Reserve.
My mother was quite ill.
So, I got sent off to a Boarding School and it was a wonderful experience. It made me the student I still am today.
I was in my second year there and in Evening Prep (Study Hall after Supper) when one of the Prefects came to the door and asked that I and two other students in the room report to the Headmaster right away. In many British Public Schools (oddly that term actually means Private School in the UK), such an announcement would lead to fear and trembling but at my school our Headmaster was very much respected and loved AND trusted. If he wanted us, there must be a good reason.
As we crossed the Yard to the Headmaster’s House a number of others were also crossing the yard. What we all had in common is that we were all “Yanks” from across “The Pond”.
There were 50 or so Americans in the school from age 12 to 18 and we were all gathered in the large hall outside of the Headmaster’s Study. He came out of his office, and walked part way up the stairway that led to his family’s residence. He turned to face us and there were tears in his eyes. It was a bit of a shock. Headmasters were supposed to be “steady” and our man was clearly shaken.
His words were these: “Young men of America, I have the sad duty to inform you that your President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is dead. He was struck down by an assassin’s bullet earlier today. I am so sorry. The entire school joins you in mourning the loss of this great man. We shall have a moment of silence and then join as one in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”
I was pretty young but like a number of others in the room the son of a military man and that plus the obvious upset of my fellow Americans in the upper forms (older grades) seemed to give me and my friends permission to cry. British schools encouraged their students to “get on with it with a stiff upper lip” but there was to be none of that that day. As we finished the words of the Lord’s Prayer (For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours Now and Forever), one of the 6th Form (Senior) American students began to sing….“Oh Say Can You See by the dawn’s early light….” We all joined in.
One of the most powerful moments in my young life.
Postscript: We all grow up. Part of my growing up was coming to grips with how flawed JFK was as a man, and as a leader. Still the moment of his death is in and of itself a touchstone for those in my generation who regarded it as that time when the sense of hope in America’s future that JFK’s “Camelot” seemed to capture suffered a mortal blow.