Remembering

Okay, it’s officially the Christmas Season. I just heard that tv commercial in which Hershey kisses are being rung like handbells playing, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

My surgeon told me a few days ago that I am his “star patient” because I am healing so swiftly. My knee goes almost straight out front and I can bend it about 117 degrees.   But I still can’t kneel in church. I’ve been treated by a “Healer,” a woman in my building who lays her hands on me.  I think it’s helping.

I hope all of you have a very pleasant Thanksgiving and, if you take a minute or two to name the things you’re grateful for, I hope that’s not enough time to list them all.

Meanwhile, this: It was about this time of year in 1962. I had survived boot camp and a few months of “General Duty” (cleaning the barracks) every new WAVE was assigned to, and was just settling in to work in the Public Affairs office, striking for the job of journalist at Naval Air Station Alameda, California, when the phone rang. The chief grabbed it and he listened so intently a silence fell as we waited to hear what news he was getting. He threw the receiver into its cradle and announced, “They just shot the president!”

Another silence fell, this one shocked and alarmed. The president, we knew, was in Texas. Out in the open, not safe in the White House. There was tension between the US and Russia over Cuba. Were we at war? Suddenly the fact that I was in the military became exceedingly relevant to me.

The president was alive, he was in a hospital, he was seriously wounded, there were others also shot, Mrs. Kennedy was not injured, it happened during a parade – we turned on the radio to listen as meager facts came dribbling in. I was sent to lunch. The talk there was excited, sad, frightened, full of rumors. He was dead, he was only wounded, it was the Russians, it was the Cubans, we were going to bomb them back to the stone age, they were going to bomb us. I don’t remember what I ate.  I was walking back when a loudspeaker blew the trumpet call for Attention. It was a pretty day, cool and sunny. I and the other sailors out of doors halted where we were and faced the Admin Building, where the flag was. Taps began to blow, we saluted, and one solid fact was known: the president was dead.  A young sailor near me began speaking softly, obscenities, over and over.  I was nineteen years old and too scared to cry.

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