1024px-John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

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.

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KillgoreTrout
Member

What a day, huh Murph? One of the darkest days for America and the free world. I was pretty young then, only nine years old. I was in elementary school but I still remember that day vividly. We were sent home after learning the news. I can still visualize the school stairs as I was walking down them. I don’t know why those stairs are etched in my memory, but they certainly are. maybe because my head was down in sorrow. When I got home, I soon went out again, to the woods behind our house, a place I used… Read more »

SallyT
Member

Murph, if you were of a certain age in 1963, that day still rings close in your mind and heart. I was in the 8th grade and my best friend and I were in the Nurse’s office listening to the radio. (It wasn’t a day that the Nurse was to be there. She came like once a week or so. She attended several schools.) It was after lunch and we went there to listening to music but there was a break in with the news that the President had been shot. We ran to our class room and everyone was… Read more »

SallyT
Member

One more thing, sorry Murph, but the portrait that Jackie Kennedy chose to hang in the White House, the one you posted, is so wonderful. It was from a photo that had been taken of the President, not exactly, but used as a source. It was a favorite of his. He didn’t know it was taken. He had given a speech, I think in Sept or Oct to a young audience at a college. The young people hadn’t responded to his speech as he had hoped. He had left there and later in the evening had taken a walk along… Read more »

Nirek
Member

Murph, you and I had similar lives. I was in high school (Balboa High School, Balboa, Panama, CZ.) when President Kennedy was shot. I remember our teachers telling us. The school was all American military kids. My Dad was a First Sgt. in the Army. When we were all home we were glued to the TV (black and white console) My folks and my younger brother and sister and I watched Walter Cronkite and were stunned. Later we saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. So Murph, we were both in foreign countries 50 years ago. We… Read more »

kesmarn
Admin

Murph, thanks so much for sharing your unique perspective on this historic day. It much have felt a bit unsettling to be out of the country when you received the news. The nation here was so riveted to the television coverage for days after. I imagine it was different in England. For youngsters, I think it matters so much who breaks news like this and how it’s done. It sounds as though that aspect of things was handled very well in your case. I was in a Catholic school that day, and I have to say that the nuns there… Read more »

choicelady
Member

Thank you, Murph. This touched me greatly. Thank you for writing so clearly about your extraordinary experience.

agrippa
Member
agrippa

That was a real shock; and, a national trauma.