Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering November 22, 1963

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.

--Mike Sato


  1. I was a very young high school teacher in Michigan. With a class of 10th grade geometry students. ... "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States is dead."

  2. I was in junior high school in Boston when the news broke, my first year of being in the US after immigrating from Cuba the year before. My father tasked me with learning English right away so that I could help our family while they went to night school to learn the language. We did not have a TV at home so later heard the details on the radio - I translated as best as I could. What I remember the most was my father shedding tears and getting very sad. He told us that President Kennedy had saved the Americas from being wiped out. He was right, of course. People forget that JFK saved not only part of the United States from being wiped out, but also Cuba and the entire Caribbean.

    When we became US citizens, we immediately registered as Democrats, and have been proud of it ever since. It was a very sad day for our country.

    I always fantasize as to what our country would be like today if JFK had lived and Bobby Kennedy would have ultimately become President, and Martin Luther King had lived on to truly bring all races together. It would have been a brave new world.

  3. I was 18, a freshman at UCLA, in my dorm room when we got the news. A group of us went to the campus chapel for awhle and then we went bowling on campus. Why bowling? I have no idea. Then an adult neighbor from home (300 miles away) was in LA and headed home, so she gave me a ride home in her lovely Mercedes (I still remember the feel of the leather seats). Along with my parents, I was glued to the TV set for days ... watching the whole terrible series of events unfold in real time. Including the death of Lee Harvey Oswald -- Live on TV. We were horrified at everything that transpired; and terribly sad; and terribly frightened that something this awful could happen to that particular president in an American city. We remember the grace and poise of Jackie; the pink suit; the passage of the presidency aboard Air Force 1; and who could ever forget John-John's salute as his father's casket rolled past. There has been no historical moment in my lifetime to compete with that in emotional impact, except for 9-11, in a tragic way, and Neil Armstrong's first steps and first words from the surface of the moon in a hard-to-actually comprehend-at-that-time amazing way. I also remember where I was at those other two unforgettable moments. Not to digress, but I was actually surprised when the award winning series, "The Newsroom" had a historical moment show about the death of Bin Ladin (sp?) which they elevated to much more importance that I gave it. I mean ... at that point ... who cared that one more terrorist died in view of the tragic aftermath of 9-11 and our president's subsequent invasion of the wrong country ... and all that followed and still follows?