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  • Saturday, 16, November, 1963,

    I was 11 years old, only about a month away from my Confirmation, and my twelfth birthday. I attended a Catholic school; St. Xavier, in Spokane, Washington, just a few blocks from my home. Raised as Catholic from birth, I also attended Mass every Sunday there with my mother, two older sisters, and my little brother. My brother, William Robert,(we called him Billy-Bob, or just, Bobby) wasn’t actually so ‘little’. In stature he was as tall as I was, and outweighed me by several pounds, and we were only 10 months apart. Today I call him Bill, he still outweighs me, and we are still best of friends, as were we back then.

    Sunday was a mandatory for us, and the weekdays were filled with school, but Saturdays were ours. There were several other boys from our school living in our near neighborhood that were the same approximate age of my brother and I, and we would choose up sides to play at WW2 battle reenactments, that happened to pervade the television movies that we saw in those times. We dutifully portrayed the honor, and valor of the Americans, and vilified the Germans, as we saw on TV, depending on which side we were ‘chosen up’ for. No matter what side we were on, we glorified the war, and had little concept of actual death, and the horror, that is actually war, or often part of our every day lives.

    One of the boys on the German side that afternoon, had gotten a little over zealous with his part in the dramas of the day, and had chalked a Swastika on my next door neighbor’s garage, to mark it as the German headquarters. This hadn’t been noticed right away by our neighbor, as the playing stretched well into the light fail of dusk.

    When it was discovered, he was outraged. He wasn’t Jewish, but had served in the war, and received several purple hearts during his tour. Gene Smith, was his name, and he worked at the same place as my father; Kaiser Aluminum, at the Millwood plant in north Spokane. I say worked at, I mean he was involved with the other employees there. He was a union official for the laborers there. My dad was a foreman over the pot lines, and was ‘company’. On the surface, even in their private lives, they seemed to be at odds with each other, but they obviously liked, and respected each other. Needless to say, my dad was outraged as well, on many levels. He too served in the war, as a medic, In Fuschia, Italy.

    I never knew which of my friends chalked Gene’s garage door, but I was the eldest among us all, if only by a few months, and was selected to shoulder the blame. I was made to scrub the offending graffiti off of the door, made also to promise to discuss this with the priest in confession the next day, and would not be allowed to play with the other boys on the next Saturday. I was assigned chores around the house instead.

    The next Friday, 22, November, 1963, I was at school. I had spent the entire week thinking of a Saturday without my companions, and the dramas that we would have played out. Toward the end of the day, Father Pineau, our Pastor, came into the class room. He didn’t look at, smile to, or address the class in any way, as was his usual behavior. Instead he somberly walked directly over to our teacher, Sister Mary Bernard, and quietly whispered a communication with her. This had our full attention, as it was so unusual of Father Pineau to act so. Sister Mary Bernard lost all color in her face, and sat at her desk and quietly cried for several minutes, after the Pastor left the room.

    Once she finished composing her self, she stood up, and addressed the class, telling us that our President had been shot to death, by an assassin. She told us that class would be dismissed immediately, and that if needed, our parents could be called to come and get us from school.

    “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC) on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas governor John Connally, and the latter’s wife Nellie, in a Presidential motorcade.” - source; Wikipedia.

    In light of these events, the restrictions, and chores that had been applied to me were forgotten, though I had no desire to go out and play with my friends. I sat with my parents, and watched the television news reports, without thinking of anything else. Mass was focused on nothing else, as well that Sunday, and commanded much more of my attention than it ever had before.

    Eventually, I did return to my friendships, and enjoyed playtime with the other boys in the neighborhood, but for all of us, it seemed that ‘War’ held nothing of the fascination that it had before. We had been awakened to the horrors of real life, and play took on a much more important role in how we wanted to be perceived by the world. We played more at sports, bicycling, and social interactions that had nothing to do with the darker aspects of human nature. In time girls were added to these relationships, and we took more responsibility for our conduct, so we wouldn’t be shunned, as offensive types.

    Now, and again, on the anniversary of that event, news agencies will ask if we remember where we were on that day. I can say without any reserve, that I remember vividly the place I was, In my personal growth, as well as geographically. I was then being prepared by the events of the world for my coming of age; my Confirmation, in the church, and in life.

    I was no longer an innocent.
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