I realize some of the Insiders were not born yet But I was one day older than 19 that November day.
I remember that it happened just after lunch fifty tears ago. Penn State’s campus was filled with wandering students. University Park's buzz was about the upcoming football game at Pitt, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, our arch rival. It was chilly, but not yet the bone-chilling cold we came to know in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
That morning I’d scanned the Daily Collegian, the school newspaper, discovering that I was supposed to be the evening newsreader on WDFM, the student FM radio station. I called my girlfriend, Myra Lynch, telling her that we’d need to catch the later movie.
After morning classes I headed for the basement radio studio, hoping to find enough copy to fill that 15 minutes of air at six o’clock. It was just the chattering Associated Press news ticker and me. I looked at the long sheets of paper hanging on the wall, old copy that had been red-lined, meaning that it was already used. This could be the shortest newscast on record. Myra might see me after all.
The ticker stopped, not that unusual, and then the bell rang three times. Once was a breaking story, twice at major story of national importance, and three times—well, it never rang three times before. I looked at the machine, waiting for the words to come. Obviously someone somewhere in AP had a momentous story but was having trouble composing.
Finally, it punched out all caps: SHOTS FIRED AT PRESIDENT’S MOTORCADE IN DALLAS TODAY (more). I ripped the page from the machine, pocketed the third copy, and waited for more. Three more bulletins came in quick succession. Word spread and within 10 minutes the studio was crowded with senior staff, and I was summarily excused from doing the news.
I saw people walking more slowly on the campus, some crying, others wearing sunglasses even on this cloudy day. A few people held bulky little transistor radios to their ears, sitting on park benches. Bars in State College with televisions were crowded within a half hour. Saturday classes were cancelled later that day.
A friend told me, with authority, that they’d never cancel the Saturday football game, that it was not that big a deal. I looked at him wondering if he’d really caught the importance of what happened in Dallas, in Dealey Plaza that November afternoon. A few of us sat around, wondering what it meant. A gaggle of conspiracy theorists holding forth at the Student Union told me it was the communists who did it, that World War III was just around the corner. Since we’d lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis only a year before I thought they could be right.
I called home; spoke with my parents, toyed with the idea of going to Washington, thumbing, just to be there. My parents asked me to come home to Pittsburgh, just be with them.
Saturday morning I rode on the Edwards Lakes to Sea Bus home, and then took another to my suburban neighborhood. I fell asleep on the bus, sitting on my suitcase in the aisle, since all the seats were taken.
My parents were watching the black and white images on the old Zenith when I got home. The long national nightmare was unfolding before our eyes, real-time. Sunday morning we drove downtown to the Trinity Cathedral, our church. Dean Moore, the rector, struggled for the first time to find the words to explain it all, to give us a sense of what happened. Jack Ruby stepped forward and killed Lee Harvey Oswald while we sat in our pews.
Myra Lynch and I broke up. The football game was not canceled, just postponed. Classes resumed at Penn State the following Tuesday.
None of us was ever the same.