November 22, 1963

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Giving thanks that America survived the assassinations of the '60s

Today is November 22nd.

Anyone born in the 1950s or before has an unbreakable bond to that date.

Many historic events have happened on November 22nd through the ages. But one stands out to most Americans alive in 1963. It was the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

I had just turned ten at the time. That event, the Oswald shooting, and the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior in 1968, left an indelible mark on young people of that time.

It has been debated for years whether Lee Harvey Oswald actually shot President Kennedy or not, or if he did, if he acted alone or as a "patsy" for larger, more sinister forces. Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who put Charles Manson and his minions behind bars, has written a book called "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy." In it, Bugliosi makes a strong case for how the only logical conclusion, 44 years after the fact, is that Oswald did indeed act alone.

While the conspiracy theories around this horrible event have always fascinated me, I decided a number of years ago that I believed Oswald acted alone. There are many reasons and I'm willing to concede that in addition to seeming like the only logical conclusion after so many years, part of the reason may be that after wrestling with the un-provable theories for the better part of my life, I may have just been ready to give up and accept the apparent easy answer.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to get to go to Dallas and spend the better part of an hour walking around and sizing up Dealey Plaza, the grassy triangle where the murder took place.

I stood on the same concrete parapet where amateur photographer, Abraham Zapruder, stood and shot his famous footage of the events.  As I stood there, I slowly swung my head from left to right, playing and replaying his film, almost frame-by-frame in my head.

I walked over to the area of the "grassy knoll," where many theorize a second gunman fired at the President.

I walked across the railroad tracks on the overpass, under which Kennedy's limousine sped, enroute to Parkland Hospital where he was declared dead. Later, I also drove by Parkland.

I visited the Sixth Floor Museum atop the nearby Texas Schoolbook Depository, where Oswald is said to have lay in wait to fire the fatal shots.

It was sort of a pilgrimage for me, visiting the scene where history was made and where a drama was played out that haunts America to this day and which played a part in forming the person that I am.

Now, I am several years older than the President was ever fortunate to be, and he has been gone nearly as many years as he lived. But as Bobby Kennedy said sometime after his brother's killing, after Martin Luther King's slaying, and shortly before his own death -- "that fellow Oswald set something off in America."

When a young President could be gunned down in broad daylight with his wife at his side; when a civil rights leader could be picked off as he stood on a balcony outside of his hotel room; when a candidate for President, running on a platform of peace, could be killed as he stood on the verge of victory, who among us was safe?

Today is November 22nd. It is also Thanksgiving. We all have much to be thankful for.

Among them is that despite the violence of that time, and the violence that continues to plague America and the world, we are still the nation where most people in the world would most like to live.

May our way of life survive so that that is always the case.

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