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Nov 21, 201309:50 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

50 years ago we suffered a national wound that has not healed

(page 1 of 2)

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.


Old to new | New to old
Nov 21, 2013 12:20 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

You just had to corrupt an excellent article with a criminals names... leave Walker out of it. Just wait... the prosecutors are getting closer.

Mr. Frustrated

Nov 21, 2013 12:36 pm
 Posted by  mark

A fitting tribute, Dave. And marked by some uncharacteristic near restraint, I, at least, appreciated that. Thank you.

Nov 22, 2013 06:25 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

As one of the people with no memory of the event because it was three years before I was even born, I started out really sick and tired of all the coverage of the anniversary. What's the big deal? But in reading about this - you've given me a little more insight into the importance of it all, and I plan on spending Thanksgiving asking the older family members what their memories are - because no one has really talked about it!

Nov 22, 2013 07:23 am
 Posted by  madisonexpat

I was a fourth grader at Blessed Sacrament and those wonderfully strong nuns were stunned at the killing of a Catholic president. THAT was powerful. Everyone sent home for a three day watching of the aftermath on live TV.
The draft missed me, I volunteered for the Peace Corps and went from Madison to 28 months in West Africa. Usually I was the only white guy in sight. My name was Koffi Mensah.
THAT is what I could do for my country.
And lo these many years later, I dream of it.
But I especially remember that long weekend 50 years ago.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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