Friday, November 22, 2013

FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY



Fifty years ago to the day, shortly before my 25th birthday, I was a young wife and mother in my Tampa, Florida home, caring for my sons aged four and five. We were playing in our front yard, when a neighbor yelled from across the street that President Kennedy had been shot. I hurried my sons into the house and turned on the tv. Yes, shot and we soon learned that he was dead. President Kennedy had recently been to Tampa and I remember how I feared for his life while he was there. I admired the president, but I knew there were many who greatly hated him. Still, when I heard that he was dead, it was unbelievable. I called my husband at his office and told him. When he repeated my message to others there, I heard the office secretary shout, “Yaaaay!”  It hurt me deeply that anyone would cheer at the death of our president. 

He had been a good and inspiring leader. I loved and revered President Kennedy and remembered how he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis a few years earlier while we were living in our Miami home.  My own family discovered missiles mounted along a canal where we sometimes walked.  I remember the day we were led there by my young nephew who had first discovered the missiles. They were situated a distance away from us, and at first I could see nothing. My nephew kept saying, “Wait. Wait.” While we stood there, looking, the missiles rose from underground. My husband and I finally determined they were on a US military base north of Miami that was carefully guarded. Within days of seeing the missiles, Russia was found to be mounting missiles in Cuba aimed at the USA, aimed at Miami where we lived. It was a fearful time. It was during the height of the cold war, and most US citizens knew there were nuclear missiles on earth enough to kill every man, woman and child three times over. 

On Television photos of the Russian missiles in Cuba where shown over and over. I remember well those days riding the bus to my job at The Credit Bureau of Greater Miami downtown, my toddler and infant son at home with the baby sitter who was my sister. In Miami, whether on the bus headed to work or at lunch break with my fellow workers, because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, people carried transistor radios. Everywhere on the streets of Miami we saw convoys of American soldiers. Only four blocks from my father’s house, the US military camped out in the Orange Bowl for weeks. It was scary. On tv, President Kennedy declared that the US would board the Russian ships that were known to be carrying more missiles to add to the ones already set up in Cuba. I feared war would come at any moment. 

Finally one evening we watched President Kennedy on tv telling the Russians they could not bring any more missiles to Cuba. He told them to turn their carrier around. Back at work the next day, everyone said how much they admired President Kennedy. On transistor radios we learned our US Military boarded the Russian carrier and ordered them to turn around. In the evening, back in our own homes, on tv we watched film of the Russian ships turning around headed back to where they had come from. We were told the Russians  dismantled their missiles already in Cuba that were aimed at the USA. I never heard one word about the American missiles I had seen with my own eyes lined up along the canal bank north of  Miami which I assumed were aimed at Cuba. I always believed President Kennedy was a good president. He stood strong against the Russians. 

Most of all, I saw his greatness in his effort to lay the groundwork for justice among the races. He was drawn into the Civil Rights Movement as we all were by the sight of bloody demonstrations, black citizens being downed by large fire hoses, women beaten my policemen, dogs turned loose on black protestors wanting only equal rights in America. On tv I heard President Kennedy speak in his plea for justice. He called for Congress to pass new civil rights legislations banning segregation. Only five months later, he was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. I was stunned for a long time over the loss of our great and inspiring leader. 

Today, it all came rushing back, every memory. Fifty years have passed and I am not that young woman now, but I remember as if happened today.

4 comments:

Glenda C. Beall said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy.
Those of us living at that time will never forget that awful day.
Sadly there are Americans living today who would cheer if our president was killed.
I don't understand such hate.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Thank you, Nancy. It was a difficult time to find our way through, just as our present day time is, with so much hatred and anger out there. We have to keep remembering the past, telling our stories. Otherwise we are lost.

Pat Meece Davis said...

As frightened as I was at Western Carolina, it must've been terrifying to be in Miami, such a short distance from missiles pointing toward the US from Cuba. We only had a few TV's on campus and everyone crowded around them between classes. War seemed inevitable and I expected the next loop past the TV to confirm it.
Tragic that the secretary cheered Kennedy's death. I heard a few students laughing about the assassination but most of were devastated.Thanks for sharing your memories of those horrible few days!

Nancy Simpson said...

Glenda, Kay and Pat, Thanks for your comments.
I've lived a long time and must remind myself that I have seen the best of times and the worst of times. Things always seem to get better sooner or later at least granting us enough hope to keep putting one foot before the other. Let us all hope for better days to come.