On Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963 I was in 6th period study hall, I was a junior in high school.
In those days I spent as much time as I could in the library reading Scientific American and other such publications. I also read every single book on the shelves that had anything at all to do with ships or sailing. I was so ready to 'Get-Out-Of-Dodge' when I was that age. In 1965, within a month of graduating from high school, I was in the United States Navy at the Naval Recruit Training Center at Great Lakes Naval Base, Illinois.
That afternoon in 1963 an announcement came over the school intercom that the president had been shot. I recall my classmates and I talking about the announcement saying: "Was he killed or wounded, why did they just say shot and nothing else."
We did not have a television but our grandparents who lived right next door did.
The next few days were a blur of television coverage of all the events.
Just a few months earlier I recall being glued to that same television as the president spoke about missiles in Cuba and setting up a sea blockade of the island until Russia withdrew them. During those years I recall conversations around the dinner table about nuclear war and my dad making the point that since there was a US Air Force SAC airbase just 12 miles north of our town that it would not help to build a bomb shelter. The reasoning was that we, the USA, would not strike first so if a war occurred then the Russians would have struck first and that airbase must be a prime target since it was not any sort of secret that it was there.
A couple of years before that Friday afternoon in November of 1963 I was so excited about the gubernatorial and presidential election of 1960. My father was instrumental in helping Terry Sanford be elected over a racists segregationist opponent. John Kennedy was also elected president at the same time. I, and my brothers and sisters were made fun of by some of our classmates for our father's support of Terry Sanford. When Stevenson was beat by Eisenhower twice in 1952 and then again in 1956 I knew about it but I was only 5 then 9 years old but in 1960 I was 13 and was very much aware of what was going on and what the stakes were all about.
The weekend of the assassination and funeral I happened to be the only person in my family who was watching at the time they led Lee Harvey Oswald out of his cell to be transferred to another jail and saw the shooting on live TV. That was an astonishing moment.
That was the only time in my life I have seen someone killed. Some years later while I was stationed at Cau Viet in Vietnam I was within a few yards of where a fellow was killed during an artillery attack. Then, many years later, when my mother died after suffering a massive stroke I was at her bedside in the intensive care unit of Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville NC. I recall, the evening before, my wife and I and our two young daughters traveled to Mount Olive NC, my home town, to visit my mom and dad, and as we pulled up in the driveway my father came out of the house and met me saying, "Your sister just now went with your mom in the ambulance to the hospital, I'm going over there in the car now." My wife and I decided she and the kids would go on to her mom's home in Rose Hill NC while I rode with my dad to the hospital. I'll never forget sitting with my dad when the neurosurgeon came in and addressed my dad saying, "Mr. Cox your wife is going to die, she had a stroke and it is as if she has been shot in the head." After that he did say we could hope for a miracle but that was not likely. I have always been thankful for medical folks who tell the truth so you can know what the situation is.
Looking back on events like these I get a profound sense of just how ephemeral our existence is, not only as individuals but as part of the biosphere of this planet, the only blue marble we have. As we think of things like these then life, living and experiencing the events that occur to and around us as we enjoy our brief moment in time take on higher sense of awareness and appreciation.