Christian Brothers School was a joy to attend. Housed in an aging mansion in New Orleans’ City Park, the building was surrounded by open land, trees, shrubs and ponds. It was a quiet place, except for the sound of quacking ducks.
It was a Friday afternoon, and we were ready for the weekend. Recess had just ended and my eighth grade class was forced to line up like soldiers before we were allowed back into the building. We were being disciplined — then it was called punished — for unruly conduct the prior week.
As we assembled, one of the brothers briskly told us to immediately go back to our classroom, with its rounded bay window overlooking the front lawn. He had a stern expression on his face.
Barely settled in, Brother Brendan stood up from his chair and nervously told us that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. He then led us into the small, dark chapel upstairs to say a prayer. We quickly returned to the classroom.
Once Brother Brendan found a radio, he plugged it in and, fumbling a bit, turned it on. As soon as he found a clear station, the dulcet voice of a news announcer cut through the tense silence. The voice said simply, and too bluntly, “The president is dead.” Hearing those horrible words, Brother Brendan quickly turned off the radio. The news was too big, too jolting, too sad to hear anymore. We needed a moment without words.
I was a JFK fan. When he ran for president, I plastered my bike with his stickers. He represented something new and exciting. His death, so sudden and savage, was more than I could bear. It was more than the nation could bear.
I went to A&G cafeteria with my parents that evening and couldn’t eat.
Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, 60 years ago. Those old enough will never forget that day or the days of solemn disbelief that followed. We won’t forget the processions, tears, eulogies, salutes, the riderless horse, the eternal flame, Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the presidency or the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. It was unforgettable, regrettable history.
JFK’s assassination is now clouded by serious questions as well as the weird and macabre — wacky theories, stark autopsy pictures, animated re-creations of events, films showing his head exploding. Did Oswald pull the trigger? Was there a conspiracy? Was it a CIA operation? Did New Orleans crime bosses play a role?
The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone. But the commission’s investigation, its gaps and flaws, became the target of thousands of researchers and hundreds of books critical of its findings. Members of the commission included New Orleans Congressman Hale Boggs and a future president, Gerald Ford.
In 1978, a follow-up U.S. House investigation was completed. It, too, concluded that Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy. But it also surmised the assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy, without specifying who was involved.
Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have refused to open remaining assassination files that could provide answers to some of the nagging questions.
A new Gallup poll finds that 65% of Americans believe there was a conspiracy. A substantial 38% also say elements of the U.S. government were involved, including the CIA and FBI. This coincides with a decades-long hemorrhaging of trust in public institutions.
Oswald had a fateful connection to New Orleans. Born in the city 84 years ago, he was 5 when his mother, by then a widow, moved him to Dallas. Ten years later, they moved back to New Orleans, where Oswald briefly attended Warren Easton High School. He was married in the Soviet Union, eventually returning to New Orleans. Seven weeks before the assassination, the 24-year-old Oswald went back to Dallas.
Who could forget New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s sensational investigation of the president’s killing and all the odd characters he paraded before cameras and grand jurors? Garrison indicted local businessman Clay Shaw, the only person ever brought to trial for Kennedy’s murder. Shaw was acquitted; it took the jury less than an hour.
John Kennedy was the fourth U.S. president assassinated. It changed America forever.
Ron Faucheux is a nonpartisan political analyst, pollster and writer based in Louisiana. He publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a nationwide newsletter on polls and public opinion.