"The President is dead.", 11/22/1963, “That’s the way it is.”, Bay of Pigs, Betty J. Kenel, Bomb Shelters, Civil-Defense, Cuban Missile Crisis, Fake News, Francis Carl Kenel, Illinois State University, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Oakland Elementary, Sit-Rep, Walter Cronkite
History books tell us that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the thirty-fifth United States’ President eighty-nine days before I was born. I do not remember his assassination two-years, ten-months and two-days later; a fact most unsurprising as I was only two-and-a-half years old when the man was brutally gunned down.
I don’t know exactly where I was at 12:30 p.m. EST on November 22, 1963, but it is highly likely that I was home with my mother and two or possibly three older siblings. Steven, the first-grade, eldest progeny of Betty Jean and Francis Carl, would have walked the half-mile home from Oakland Elementary, eaten lunch and walked back to the Bloomington, Illinois public school. Eighteen minutes after the shooting Walter Cronkite took to the airwaves to tell the nation of the assassination attempt; within half-an-hour Cronkite announced to the world that, “The President is dead.” It is unlikely that Mom would have had the television on. My father was neither at home nor at work that day. He was crammed inside a bomb-shelter as part of a civil-defense drill.
In the early 1960’s taking precautions against nuclear attack was prudent and rational. My April 1961 birth coincided with the US attempt to sabotage Castro’s successful revolution against Batista via Cuba’s Bay of Pigs counter-revolution. The CIA led Bay of Pigs fiasco was followed by the late October Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 which brought the threat of nuclear war to a just over the horizon one-hundred-mile distance from Florida’s south-western tip. Nineteen-sixty-two A-Bombs were not nearly so powerful as they are now and people in remote areas who sheltered properly had a real chance of surviving. Dad was performing his duty and acting the part of an Armageddon Guinea Pig.
Dad had joined Illinois State University as a graduate student and instructor in the fall semester of 1961, and I’m sure he was happy to volunteer for the civil-defense drill. The drill was designed to measure citizen’s reactions to stress in the close-quartered, over-crowded bunker. It was just bad timing and coincidence that Dad was incommunicado when Lee Harvey Oswald fired his three shots from the grassy knoll and spilled President Kennedy’s brains directly in front of a rolling motion picture camera.
Because the drill’s purpose was to simulate an actual attack, the public address system inside the bunker would occasionally relay fake news events. News events like Washington, D.C. being struck by an atomic bomb, Hoover Dam being breached and Soviet paratroopers landing in Chicago. Among the fake news was an announcement that the president had been assassinated.
Dad later learned that among those conducting the drill there had been great debate concerning whether the drill should be terminated. The President had been butchered and the civil-defense boys debated among three possible courses of action. The first alternative was to end the drill and let the men, there were no women in this save the world and repopulate drill, go home to comfort their wives and families. The second alternative was to carry on and not let the Guinea Pigs know of conditions outside their test-tube civil-defense bunker. The third possibility was to inform the participants via the public address intercom that the president had been assassinated and to continue with the drill. Option three was selected.
In addition to the scripted catastrophic sit-reps broadcast via the P.A. an announcement was made that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. Everyone within the bunker assumed that this was more fake news being broadcast as part of the simulation. It was not. It was real. The drill continued for two more days and on Sunday the men were stunned to learn that one of the news items broadcast to them had been truthful, accurate and devastating. President Kennedy had indeed been shot and killed on Friday, November 22, 1963.
Fake News is a topic that is alive and well in The USA today. It’s a shame how easily it’s called, how easily it’s accepted and how easy it is to learn the truth. And, as Walter Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it is.”