Where Were You in '63?

by Mike Peters

Please forgive this non-genealogy topic.  The timing is, however, appropriate and my story includes many family members who have since gone.  Some of these things have even become oral legend in my family.  So it is part of my history as well as the history of our nation.  It is part of my genealogy.  This is my answer to the question many have asked since then.  Where were you on 22 November 1963 when you heard the news?  What I remember, blended in with what I've been told, is as follows:

It was the first news event, according to a survey of 12 years later, that the graduating class of 1975 remembered.  Such was the impact of what some people have come to call the "Fall of Camelot."

A first grader was on his elementary school playground when he heard the news via the intercom.  "Red Rover! Red Rover! Let ......"  The game was interrupted by the principal's voice revealing the shocking news.  The children looked toward their teachers for guidance.  One teacher was crying.  Another was looking toward the ground and pacing in place.  Another had a blank stare.  It seemed like the teachers, those used to guiding, were themselves, on that day, in need of guidance.

James Burton Peters, retired coal miner and native of Raleigh County, WV, was on vacation visiting his middle son Shelby, daughter-in-law "Wendy" and grandson Michael in Texas.  Grandpa Burton heard the news at an Abilene, Texas shopping mall.  He took off his Stetson and placed it over his heart and prayed.  He then went to one of the stores and informed my mother. She cried for a moment and then regained her composure. "We must go home.  They will be letting Mike out of school.  We need to be there."

The "Children of Camelot" were dismissed from school early that Friday in November, just as Mom had predicted.  We sat on our couches that weekend sipping Dr. Peppers and eating potato chips.  We were afraid to leave. Afraid we'd miss something.  We stared at the black and white box in the corner of our living room.  For one matinee we saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald. This wasn't John Wayne and the Indians.  This was real life!   It's a weekend many of us would never forget.

After Jack shot Lee, my father informed us that we'd never know the whole truth.  You were right Dad!  It's now 37 years later and there is still talk of that traumatic weekend, still talk about the grassy knoll, conspiracy and a lone gunman.  In retrospect, whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or at all is not really important.  What's important is what was lost.  Besides a man's life there was an innocence, a naiveté gone from the children.  The "Children of Camelot" went to die in foreign jungles and protest on local campuses.  Some even rioted in the streets yelling, "Burn baby burn!"  An uncivil way of trying to obtain civil rights.

Thirty-five years later and all one of the first graders on that Texas playground can recall and pull from the haze of that November weekend is a horse without a rider, a part of the President's funeral procession.  William Shakespeare once wrote, "My kingdom for a horse."  Now a horse is all that remains of a kingdom.


Mike Peters

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