Mom and dad sent me a wonderful present for my birthday that just arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. It’s a book called We Interrupt This Broadcast, a collection of news events that shocked the world. In addition to essays for each event looking at the events of the time that influenced what happened and the details of each event, from the Hindenburg explosion to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001, the book comes with two audio CDs with the actual radio and television broadcasts that went out over the airwaves. Wonderful, fascinating stuff.
Reading through the introduction by Walter Cronkite, I was struck by his description of his on-air announcement of the death of President John F. Kennedy…
As is the nature of many events which warrant interrupting broadcasts, I also was there to report on the terrible tragedies.
Our flash reporting the shots fired at President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade was heard over the “CBS News Bulletin” slide and interrupted the soap opera As the World Turns.
For the first hour, I reported sketchy details to a nation in shock. Then came the report from Eddie Barker, news chief of our Dallas affiliate, and Bob Pierpoint, our White House correspondent. They had learned the President was dead. We were still debating in New York whether we should put such a portentous but unofficial bulletin on the air when, within minutes, the hospital issued a bulletin confirming the news. It fell to me to make the announcement.
My emotions were doing fine until it was necessary to pronounce the words: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash — apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. central standard time — a half hour ago…”
The words stuck in my throat. A sob wanted to replace them. A gulp or two quashed the sob, which metamorphosed into tears forming in the corners of my eyes. I fought back the emotion and regained my professionalism, but it would be a few seconds before I could continue: “Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the thirty-sixth President of the United States.”
Reading that, and remembering other accounts of how the nation reacted to the news of his death, it hit me that I can’t think of a single President since JFK who would inspire such loyalty and love in the nation. I wonder how long it’s going to be before we as a nation are able to respect our leaders, our nation, and ourselves like that again. For the curious, here’s a complete list of events covered in the third revision of the book:
- The Hindenburg Explosion
- Pearl Harbor Under Attack
- D-Day: The Normandy Invasion
- President Roosevelt Dies
- V-E Day: War in Europe Ends
- Truman Defeats Dewey
- General MacArthur Fired
- Sputnik Launched by Soviets
- John Glenn Orbits Earth
- Marilyn Monroe Dies
- Cuban Missile Crisis: Nuclear War Threatened
- President Kennedy Assassinated
- Lee Harvey Oswald Assassinated
- President Johnson Declines Reelection Bid.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated
- Robert Kennedy Assassinated
- Apollo 11: Man Walks on the Moon
- Apollo 13: Astronauts Escape Disaster
- Kent State Massacre
- Munich Olympics Tragedy
- Nixon Resigns
- Saigon Falls
- Elvis Dies
- Iran Hostage Crisis
- John Lennon Assassinated
- President Reagan Shot
- The Challenger Explodes
- Berlin Wall Crumbles
- Operation Desert Storm Begins
- Rodney King Verdict Incites Riots
- Waco Standoff Ends in Disaster
- O.J. Simpson Saga
- Oklahoma City Bombing
- Flight 800 Explodes Over Atlantic
- Atlanta Olympics Bombing
- Princess Diana Dies
- The Impeachment of President Clinton
- Tragedy at Columbine High School
- John F. Kennedy Jr. Dies
- The 2000 Election
- America Under Attack
Also possibly of interest: Where Were You?, a post where I look back on what I remember of historical events that have occurred in my lifetime, and encourage readers to do the same.
iTunes: “Sad and Damned” by Nymphs from the album Earphoria (1991, 2:59).