Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: November 22, 1963
I started my senior year of high school the fall of 1963, and anticipated all the real and imaginary perks that went with the status of being a senior. There were thirteen of us in the class, all but one having gone to Harrold school all twelve years. We were a close-knit group, half from town and half from the country. Several of us had our own cars, and made the most of them, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, cruising up and down the two block mainstreet of Harrold, listening to KOMA out of Oklahoma play the newest rock and roll music. We were unconcerned with the world outside Hughes County, dimly aware that we would be going to college or work far away from our little town in less than a year.
Harrold didn’t have a football team at that time, so we started “unofficial” basketball practice a few weeks after school started in September. We ran around the track, from one end of the six block long town and back, along the railroad tracks and up and down the three flights of stairs in the school building. Official practice began in the gym, and we had high hopes of a winning season.
The first night of the season was packed with games all across the State. We were scheduled to play Agar for our opener, and we felt we had a good chance of finally beating that powerhouse. That noon, as we gathered in the study hall after lunch, our principal stood up at his desk and called us to attention. He seemed subdued as he began to talk. They had just heard that President Kennedy had been shot while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas. No further information was available. We were stunned. Unbelieving silence filled the normally noise-filled hall. We all went to our desks, and quietly prepared for our first afternoon class. No one knew how to act, to react, not even our teachers. It wasn’t far into our second class that the announcement came across that President Kennedy had died, and later we were told they had captured the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald.
We players went to our meeting after school, not sure whether we were going to play Agar that night or not. We knew many schools had called off their opening game of the season. Our coach said we were going to play! The usual excitement of a game had been replaced with confusion and an undefinable sense of personal loss. The game was surreal, with only flashes of competition and excitement. President Kennedy was someone we worshiped. Handsome, married to a beautiful lady, two little kids, and he was our leader! How could this be happening? We lost that game. We also found out ours was the only game played that night in South Dakota.
The next day, Saturday, instead of watching tv shows like the Lone Ranger, we were all glued to sets watching the blurry clips of home movies shot in Dallas the day before, and following the preparations for President Kennedy’s funeral. Our parents stopped their work and watched along with us. The sense of loss was like losing a member of our own family.
We also saw Lee Harvey Oswald, surrounded by lawmen and in handcuffs, with bruises on his forehead and around his eye. He was a small, nondescript man, haughty and smug, defiantly shouting he didn’t know why he was being arrested.
That night, as we drove the streets in Harrold, KOMA was keeping us informed about the assassination. There was no music and no advertisements, only the serious voices speaking, sometimes in disbelief, sometimes with a trace of anger in their voices. The question was always, “why”? we teenagers were somber as we listened to the news. Our perfect world had been shattered and we couldn’t grasp the reality of it.
Sunday morning we again watched tv, only to see Jack Ruby come out of the crowd and shoot Oswald in the basement of the police station. Sorrow for Kennedy’s death was crowded by mixed emotions knowing Kennedy’s killer was also dead. Oswald’s death started years and years of conspiracy theories which are still being promoted.
Disbelief flooded the country. How could this senseless thing happen? How will we go on from here with our hero slain? The one thing we all knew, young and old, was that life was never going to be the same. We would no longer be naïve or secure about life. We had lost more than our President, we had lost our innocence, and we have never recovered it.
Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News