Nov 21, 201309:50 AMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
50 years ago we suffered a national wound that has not healed
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It amazes me that so many of my associates have no memory of that black Friday in Dallas 50 years ago. They have a good excuse; they weren’t born yet.
Like everyone of a certain age, we remember exactly where we were on Nov. 22, 1963. It remains the defining moment of our aging baby boom generation.
Walking between classes early that afternoon at Sun Prairie High School, the two upper-class girls ahead were talking about someone being shot. It was deer hunting season, and many boys took excused absences for the annual ritual. I wondered if it was one of my classmates.
We were herded into the gymnasium and listened to the radio over the speaker system. No teacher or administrator spoke. School was let out early. Just as I got outside, a student came exploding through the reinforced glass between the doors. He had been launched; it was not the right time to crack wise.
At home, no one expected Walter Cronkite to look into our living room (his primitive camera only just reluctantly warmed from its midday slumber), swallow hard and pronounce the president dead, look up at the clock, and give the time. It was simply unbelievable.
The only other event in my lifetime that compares was 9/11. (Of progressively lesser impact were the Challenger explosion, Princess Diana’s death, the two Iraq Wars, O.J., the Barneveld tornado and — on a more joyous note — Scott Walker’s recall victory.)
Sept. 11, 2001, was an attack from without; it raised our hackles; we circled the wagons. They would soon hear from us, President Bush declared at Ground Zero. We could make this right by defeating the terrorists (or so we thought). There was expiation for the twin towers — none for Nov. 22, 1963. Only a communal numbness.
The youthful promise, the glamor, the soaring rhetoric, the lofty ideals, the sense of destiny appealed to the young mind and, perhaps, a re-engaged nation. Life and Look magazines could not get enough of the photogenic clan, the touch football games, the pool parties and Mad Men cool. The New Frontier was cello recitals in the White House, the Hollywood Rat Pack, French couture, cocktails, and bookish intellectuals. The promise of the Peace Corps, a man on the moon, civil rights, the exhortation to bear any burden, to pay any price — could be undone by a single weak-chinned loser, an utter nobody who was quickly erased from the scene just after emerging.
Unlike most of my later college friends, I never bought into the conspiracy theories. They were trying to make sense out of the senseless. It was a Greek tragedy, explainable only by the gods.
Dateline Dallas differs from the other where-were-you-when calamities in this way: It still hurts to this day.
We were invested in this man. Dad had taken brother and me to watch JFK speak two weeks before the 1960 election at the UW Fieldhouse. Like Kennedy, he had fought in the Pacific Theater, was one of nine children of a mother named Rose. Cousin Annie Blaska, then age 6, was photographed on the candidate’s lap during Wisconsin’s primary. (The picture is reproduced above.) That contest was fought at ground level, from individual living rooms to downtown barbershops.