Alaska Notebook: Nov. 22, 1963

Nov. 22, 1963

Like many Americans of a certain age, I remember much about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When word came to Sister Anne Francis, our seventh grade teacher at St. William School in Euclid, Ohio, she immediately had us stand and say a prayer for the president, and then asked if one of the girls had her transistor radio.

That radio, on a shelf along the windows, had everyone's attention. Then came the slow, somber words: "John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, is dead."

Girls sobbed; boys looked stunned. As often with kids, there was also a sense of uncomprehending excitement. Something momentous had just happened.

What I remember about the days that followed was that it seemed the whole nation stopped to mourn. Schools and workplaces closed the following Monday. Thanksgiving was a muted holiday.

As for what the assassination meant in larger terms, I'd recommend Leonard Pitts' column that ran in Thursday's paper (you can find it at He nailed it, dismissing the vacuous notion of innocence lost and accurately portraying the sense of spring that prevailed in the United States during Kennedy's time.

As Pitts wrote, the early '60s were much different than the rest of the decade. Then it was "The Soaring '60s." The space program and the quest for the moon was both a real mission and symbolic of the sense that all things were possible. I've thought since it must have been a wonderful time to work at NASA -- no better front line for Kennedy's "new frontier."

But if Pitts is right and if American youth ended with Kennedy's death, there's promise in the words of one of Alaska's leaders, Jay Hammond. He once wrote that while what he thought of as Alaska's "golden age" was past, for many other Alaskans that time was now or still to come. Younger Alaskans would have their own spring, their own dreams to chase, their own time to carry the torch.

That's a truth JFK would have appreciated.

-- Frank Gerjevic