There have been three major “Where were you whens…” in my life. I was born in 1948, making me 72 years young. The first, “Where were you when…,” happened while I was a sophomore in high school in Monroe, Iowa. The date was, November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The high school principal, Mr. Gansky, came into our history class (what a history lesson!) and gave us the shocking news. At least one girl started crying. I could not believe, in that day and age (we’d just gotten dial telephones), a President of the United States could be shot. Something like that hadn’t happened since Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Gansky assured us that, yes, political assassinations were still in the realm of possibility.
A party had been planned that weekend at a classmate’s house. Instead of dancing the twist, and attempting the Limbo or Watusi, as we would normally be doing at one of our parties, we sat around in the classmate’s darkened basement and, instead of necking (or making out), we talked in hushed whispers about the assassination. Jack (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”) Kennedy was well liked. Jacqueline (Jackie) Kennedy was every young man’s heart throb, and every young girl’s idol. We generally concluded that Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was immediately sworn in as president while on an airplane, had planned the assassination (he wanted the presidency and Jackie). Then followed the wild days of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby on live television, and conspiracy theories (we didn’t even call them “conspiracy theories” yet, we called them rumors) abounded, like popcorn popping. Little John John saluting, as his father’s casket passed by in a horse drawn caisson, followed by a riderless horse, broke a nation’s heart.
The second “Where were you?” was obviously September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon and the country, came under attack by jet-airplane-flying-foreign terrorists. I was getting ready for work and had CNN on. I watched the whole scenario of “An airplane has just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. What’s going on?” unfold. I was late for work. Once again the nation was thrown into a tizzy, and conspiracy theories (we were calling them “conspiracy theories” now) abounded. A popular one was that President George W. Bush (or “W”) had planned the whole thing. “September 11” would be shortened to “911,” which was and still is the number we dial for an emergency. It was speculated the terrorists had planned that date for this reason, but never verified. A coincidence? I can still visualize a man jumping out of a window of one of the Twin Towers and plummeting to his death—like in a nightmare. What would become of our nation? President Bush, taking a bullhorn and addressing the nation from atop a pile of rubble, brought assurance to a trembling nation.
The third “Where were you?” I’m sorry to say, happened just this year on January 6—a day that will live in infamy, to quote FDR. Our nation’s Capitol was attacked and overrun, not by foreign terrorists, but United States Citizens—like in a Third World Country! The US Capitol had not been destroyed since the War of 1812, and that was by foreign adversaries. Ginnie was at work, and I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Instead, I was glued to the television for the whole day, and once again watched the nightmare unfold—Democracy under siege. I believe there were eight hours of commercial-free coverage—the truest sign of a national emergency. I kept texting photographs of the television screen to Ginnie, at first as a “Can you believe what’s happening?” then as an “OMG!”
I don’t want to go through another, “Where were you?” Our country or the world may not survive a fourth. Conspiracy theories the reality might become.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com