I was a freshman at Holy Cross when the word came. I was a waiter in Kimball Hall. It was just after lunch and I was down in the basement checking my mail box and a classmate came up and said, “Kennedy’s been shot!”
I RACED OVER to Carlin Hall and turned on the television on the ground floor and sat there, amazed, as Walter Cronkite told what had happened, and then… took off his reading glasses, to say that the President was dead.
I had a World History class a good walk across campus. By the time I got there people were all talking and wondering what had happened. All we knew is that someone had shot at the president— nothing else. The history professor, James Powers, announced that he would hold the lecture but that anyone who left could do so without taking a “cut.”
I remember going to a terminal in New York a few days later and an older woman asking me where I went to school. I told her Holy Cross, and remarked that ‘people must be so sad up there in Kennedy’s home state.’
It was a lot bigger than that. I think something changed in this country that day. We went from the early Sixties of short haircuts, thin ties, and the New Frontier — to the Sixties of the Beatles, drugs, and protest. It took four years— until the Gene McCarthy— Bob Kennedy race of 1968 — to bring back the hopes that had died that early Friday afternoon of November 22.
Myself, I was lucky to spend the last years of the Sixties in the Peace Corps in Africa. It was a life-changing experience and I have Jack Kennedy to thank for it. I will never forget listening on the short wave as Americans stepped on the moon, that other JFK program that changed everything.
Senator Pat Moynihan of New York, who worked for President Kennedy and loved him, once said to me, “The country’s never gotten over Kennedy’s death. You, Chris, haven’t gotten over it.”
I will always take that as deepest, warmest compliment. It was as if the old New Frontiersman was welcoming into a compact of those who know— and live— the loss.
40 years later, JFK’s legacy as an inspirational leader is as large as the day he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. In the special program ‘JFK: The Day That Changed America,’ MSNBC asks prominent Americans “Where were you?” on that fateful day when time stood still. Airs on May 29, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET on MSNBC. JFK's birthday was on May 29.