My family’s JFK assassination story


My father recently told me this story, which brought home the emotional impact of JFK’s assassination. Although I’ve heard parts of it before, I never heard this one little detail. I don’t think my generation has ever been as respectful of Presidents as my parents’ generation was, but until I heard this story I really didn’t appreciate how different we are.

November 22nd, 1963 was my father’s 21st birthday. He was already married to my mother, had two children and was in the Air Force. My parents have told me many times that they had planned to go out to eat that night, but after news of JFK’s assassination spread, all the businesses in town closed. They spent his birthday at home.

I don’t think we’d have the same reaction to the death of a President today. I have no doubt that many people would have cheered GW Bush’s death in office, and many would likewise celebrate if the current President died. Our nation just doesn’t hold as much respect for a President as we used to. And honestly, I never really understood how important Kennedy’s assassination was to my parents.

But last week I was in a restaurant with my them, and the conversation turned to the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. My father told me a little more about that day. He was on base when Kennedy was shot, and later heard the news that the President had been declared dead. Immediately afterward, my father got into his car to head home.

As he was driving toward the main gate, he saw a Training Instructor with a group of new Airmen. My father drove up to the instructor and told him, “The President just died.”

The instructor called his men to attention, in honor of the President’s passing.

My father, 71 years old today, veteran, father of five kids, grandfather of many more, choked up as he told me that. Tears welled up in his eyes and he had to take a moment to compose himself. He almost broke down from the memory of the instructor’s very simple act: bringing his men to attention, as a silent tribute to a President’s death.

I wish we as a nation still held the same respect for Presidents that my parents held for Kennedy. Or maybe I wish all our elected representatives deserved that respect.

Love you, Dad. Happy birthday.

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16 Responses to “My family’s JFK assassination story”

  1. 1 David Hernandez

    Thank you, my son. Someday I hope to be the man you are.

  2. 5 Redleg

    “Or maybe I wish all our elected representatives deserved that respect.”

    This, 100 times this.

    Not that or society bears no responsibility or is above reproach either as those we elect are reflection of ourselves. Sadly a majority continues to elect those who neither deserve our respect nor our support. I know that many in the older generations (this is not a reference to your father) that I have spoken with believe that elected officials should be given respect no matter what based solely on their position, rather than on their record. I refuse to respect or support an elected official who based on their actions is obviously undermining the nation. They need to be spoken to bluntly and challenged in a most aggressive manner. Too many times society and the media gives people like Boxer, Feinstein, Pelosi, et al a pass because they are “elected officials and deserve our respect as such.” I’m sorry but as much as I hate to admit it those days are long gone. It sickens me as I was raised by the “greatest generation” and I know what things used to be like…but it just isn’t like that any more.

    Finally, society needs to revamp its institutions of education and teach responsibility, accountability, independence, self-sufficiency, hard work and respect again as well. No more awards for just showing up. Hold every member of society accountable for their actions again. No more excusing bad behavior based on someone having a rough upbringing. No more excuses! Unless we start with the next generation of children we can only expect more of the same.

    • Redleg,

      Very well put, thanks for commenting. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with your last line. I don’t think we can expect more of the same, I think we can expect things to get much worse.

  3. 7 Mike_C

    Happy birthday and many happy returns, Mr Hernandez. That Chris is the man he is today speaks volumes about you.

    maybe I wish all our elected representatives deserved that respect
    I just got back from a trip to Dallas, and drove by Dealey Plaza every morning I was there. A senior colleague recommended visiting the Sixth Floor Museum. He was a young adult at the time of JFK’s assassination and was visibly moved just talking about being at the museum. Contrast that to a cynical but smart high-school friend of mine saying “I wish Kennedy had survived, so we could hate him like we hate all the other recent presidents.”

  4. 9 David Hernandez

    thank you Mike. I have been truly blessed witrh a wonderfull family.

  5. 10 Jeff Wood

    The generation who fought the War – that’s WWII I speak of – and their immediate descendants – including me – had an innate respect for leaders, regardless of Party.

    The reason was the War. At whatever level one served, it was possible to be conscious of the responsibility taken on by Prime Ministers, Presidents, Field Marshals, Admirals, Air Marshals. Their decisions might get you killed, but someone had to shoulder those responsibilities and take those decisions. They deserved and earned respect.

    That respect survived the War. For instance, people who never voted for his Party mourned the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. You in the US may be interested to know that much of Britain was saddened by the later death of Dwight Eisenhower.

    The successors of these leaders inherited the respect they had earned, and Jack Kennedy had served in WWII, besides leading the Cuban missile affair. I am old enough to recall the grief in Britain when he died. Whether that grief was deserved, as has been much discussed since and recently, is a separate matter.

    Current leaders, on both sides of the Atlantic, are less interested in responsibility, but fixated on power, and the trappings and spoils of office. Essentially, hollow men. The odd one can generate temporary worship, like Blair or Obama, but only in proportion to the contempt they deserve and, one hopes, in the end receive.

  6. 13 RandyGC

    I wonder if part of the open lack of respect shown for elected officials might lie the decreasing number of people that never served in the military, and thus never had “Respect the rank if not the person wearing it” ingrained into them. I’m sure all of us that served can thing of at least one incompetent loser that you wouldn’t pee on if they were on fire, but you never let on because of the rank they held.

    That said, there is a difference between showing respect and giving too much deference to someone who, at one level, is nothing more than a temporary Federal employee on a 2 year (Congress) 4 year (POTUS) or 6 year (senate) renewable contract. (with of course only one renewal term for the POTUS).

    They aren’t aristocrats anointed by a deity. And the the persons that fill those slots, at some level, are interchangeable and unimportant compared to the fact of those positions existing in a Constitutional Republic, hence respect for the position, while still holding certain individuals currently in those positions in contempt.

    Happy Birthday Mr. Hernandez

    • 14 Les

      My folks were not fans of Mr. Kennedy as a President, but they were extremely upset and angry that a serving elected President of our country could be and was assassinated.

  7. Chris – I was a freshman in high school when President Kennedy was shot. I didn’t come from a military family but from a generation of Kansas ranchers who subscribed to the ‘John Wayne’ philosophy. I believe if Pres. Kennedy had lived, our country would be in a much better place. In all honesty I’ve seen more federal employees rejoice at a free leave day to honor a past presidents death.

  8. 16 Travis

    Kennedy deserved respect because the respected the rights of the American people. One of the things I learned recently with the passing anniversary was this:

    JFK was a lifetime member of NRA.

    And said this:

    “By calling attention to a well-regulated militia for the security of the Nation, and the right of each citizen to keep and bear arms, our founding fathers recognized the essentially civilian nature of our economy. Although it is extremely unlikely that the fear of governmental tyranny, which gave rise to the 2nd amendment, will ever be a major danger to our Nation, the amendment still remains an important declaration of our basic military-civilian relationship, in which every citizen must be ready to participate in the defense of his country. For that reason I believe the 2nd Amendment will always be important.”- JFK

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