It's almost unfathomable to know 50 years have passed since that fateful November day in Dallas when the sunshine-filled skies turned black as night in our hearts, in an instant, and as has often been stated, the day the United States lost its innocence. Joining any of you who remember where you were when you heard the news, following is yours truly's memory of that day:
I had been a delegate to one of the first Broadcast Promotion Association's national conventions in San Francisco, at the Jack Tar Hotel. It began November 16th. The conclave concluded the evening of November 19th and I was asked by friends in Yuma, Arizona, to drive to see them for a one-day visit, since we hadn't seen one another for several years. I was living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the time. I agreed and got to Yuma the evening of the 20th, spent that evening and the next day and evening with my friends, then left the morning of the 22nd to return home to Idaho Falls. I left Yuma later in the morning, around 10, but didn't have the radio on, for whatever reason. I soon reached the point when I crossed the Colorado River into Needles, California, and turned northward toward Las Vegas and eventually southern Idaho. Around noon, Pacific Time, I decided to turn the radio on, just south of Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid's hometown), but still in California. The first thing I heard was commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr., talking about Presidential succession. The first thought to enter my mind was, "Why?", as well as thinking it was a morbid subject to discuss. Then he announced, for those just tuning in, the details of President Kennedy's assassination. I screamed in horror and anger, then almost went off the highway. Since there were no cell phones in those days, I waited until I reached Boulder City,Nevada, went to a pay phone and called my wife to reassure her our nation would get through this and I'd be home the next morning.
When I pulled into Las Vegas about a half-hour later, it was announced all the lights on the Strip and downtown (Fremont Street) would be darkened until Midnight that night, the first (and I think the last) time in history that city ever paid that kind of homage to anyone or any occurrence. In addition, to add to the somberness of that late afternoon and early evening, the weather conditions were rain and snow mixed.
I drove through nearly blizzard conditions all night to reach Idaho Falls the next morning about 7. During that drive, about 4 a.m. Mountain Time, I heard then Senator Hubert Humphrey and Rhode Island Senator John Pastore on the radio urging the nation to be calm in the face of this tragedy and their discussion enveloped me (and I'm certain millions of others) with a sense that regardless of the horror, life would continue and the nation would survive. I had no idea that morning someday (beginning in 1966 in Seattle) Mr. Humphrey would become a good friend and champion for my broadcasting work, and in Janaury, 1977, at the Washington, D.C., Hilton, I would have the honor to emcee Vice President Mondale's pre-inaugural banquet, and introduce former Vice President Humphrey to the podium by relating the story I just stated, focusing on his great calming influence to me on that snowy Southern Idaho morning, rushing home. In his characteristically warm and heartfelt manner, he kindly thanked me for relating that remembrance to the audience that evening. It was truly an honor I'll never forget.
The only Kennedys I ever had the privilege to meet and with whom to engage in some lively conversations, were President Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and her daughter, Maria, both at different times. Eunice was my guest on my SKI SCENE television show in D.C. (it's viewable on the net) relating how and why she had created the Special Olympics and describing the first event held at Soldier Field in Chicago. She was an articulate, wonderful, first-class lady, as one would expect, but was surprisingly somewhat nervous about being on television. In later years, after interviewing Arnold Schwarzenegger in New York, while he was still married to Maria Shriver, Maria was in the hallway when I exited the interview suite and literally shouted, "There's my weatherman!". Big smiles abounded. She and I then exchanged some pleasant memories about the D.C. days, and that was that.
Thank you for reading and the privilege to share some more memories. I had intended to write the pieces about Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves this time, but it would have been disrepectful, in my opinion, to mix those stories with the preceding. Next time, for certain. Blessings and Happy pre-Thanksgiving.