A little over a year before JFK was assassinated in Dallas was the first time I every really prayed.
I was 15, a freshman in an Episcopal prep school in Hawaii. We assembled in chapel and were told that Soviet ships carrying missiles were sailing to Cuba and that we stood at the brink of nuclear war.
Maybe my prayer helped the crisis to pass. A year later we assembled in chapel on Friday, November 22, 1963, and were told that President Kennedy had been killed in Texas. There is a four-hour time difference in Hawaii so we had the entire day after being dismissed from school early to ponder what had happen.
All the championship high school football games scheduled for that Saturday and accompanying festivities were cancelled, and I recall some fellow students complaining. Sitting in chapel hearing the news and recalling the bickering and complaints are two things I definitely remember of that day. I don’t remember praying. The images of the Zapruda film, the black and white photo of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office in the plane and the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald grimacing after being shot by Jack Ruby, and the photos of John-John’s funeral salute—are images of those dark days I built later into my memory.
I remember seeing JFK and Jackie Kennedy in Hawaii earlier in the backseat of a Lincoln Continental convertible in a motorcade being driven Ewa bound on South Beretania Street in front of where we lived. He was either running for president or had just been elected president.
I didn’t know much about President Kennedy in 1963 except that I knew I didn’t like him or Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev for taking me to the brink of nuclear war. And I didn’t like how he was escalating the Vietnam War and sending young men like me to a war far away.
There was a lot I didn’t understand about what happened on that day in 1963 and a lot I didn’t understand about what had happened before and after the assassination. I’ve learned more as I’ve gone along and hopefully will continue to understand more.
In 1964, I put a Johnson bumper sticker on my ’53 Chevy because I didn’t trust having Barry Goldwater’s finger on the nuclear button.
In 1968, I volunteered for Eugene McCarthy because he was against the war and we celebrated after he won the Oregon primary. Right after that and in the summer of 1968, I was sad, scared and angry after Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed and Chicago exploded.
I haven't been sad like that since those years. I’ve been scared sometimes; a lot of the time I’ve been angry. And I never prayed again.