My Dallas Addiction: How I Became a News Junkie

Posted on November 25, 2015 under Storytelling with one comment

Dealy Plaza 2

The “Grassy Knoll,” Texas School Book Depository and the exact spot JFK died where I’m standing

Peter MacDonald photo



I can remember, with absolute clarity and certainty, the day that my world changed.  Let me be more precise.  I know the exact time of the day fifty-two years ago that I became a certified news junkie.

I was twelve years old at the time and like most young boys of my era, I was a sports fanatic. When I wasn’t playing hockey, I was watching it on television or listening to the mellifluous voices of Danny Gallivan or Foster Hewitt over the radio waves.  I golfed in the summer and played pickup football and baseball with other neighborhood guys.

Life was very simple until shots rang out from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on November 22, 1963.    They felled the president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  It was 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, just before school ended for the day.

When you are young, all you know is that there are good guys and bad guys in this world.  Every spaghetti western that we ever watched at the theatre had one cowboy with a black hat.  The good guy always wore a white Stetson.  Our school curriculum was heavily influenced by our neighbors to the south, especially when it came to history, so it wasn’t surprising that even at a young age we believed that Russians wore the black hats.

We didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle back then.  We got the nightly summaries on a couple of channels.  I had heard of the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba but when the Habs were on a roll, nothing else mattered to me.  The Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 was a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over Soviet ballistic missiles deployed in Cuba.  It played out on television worldwide and was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.  It quickly became a very scary time, even to youngsters.  We thought the world might end.  Especially if you were a kid, you had these thoughts.

So, when JFK was gunned down, my first reaction, as I walked home through the field from school to our house on Hillcrest Street, was that the Russians did this and that World War 3 was going to break out any day.  It sounds silly, but history bears out that the combatants came perilously close to the brink.

My mom was standing in the kitchen, ironing.  She was always ironing something for the 10 of us.  She was visibly shaken.  We turned on the television. It stayed on pretty well nonstop for the next five days, as more drama ensued.

Walter Cronkite was the dean of television news anchors at the time.   “As The World Turns,” a soap opera, was airing at the time of the assassination.   Remarkably, the news started to filter out during scheduled commercial breaks.  When it was confirmed that Kennedy had died, Cronkite removed his glasses and uttered the famous line, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

The story unfolded over the next several days with the apprehension of the assailant, Lee Harvey Oswald; his death at the hands of Jack Ruby; the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side in her blood stained pink suit; and the funeral of President Kennedy.  It was riveting television.

There is no one thing that marks the passage of time more bluntly for most baby boomers than the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  Every year, without fail, I think about the events.  The images are burned into my memory bank.  It is a cliché to say that it “just seems like yesterday”, but for me and many others, it does seem that way.  We were so young and so innocent.  And in an instant, everything changed.

And I became a serious news junkie, an affliction that remains with me to this day.  Standing on this hallowed ground a few weeks ago may not have brought closure or made it more real for me.

But it filled me with a sense of awe … undiminished … unsurpassed.

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