dinsdag 15 augustus 2023

When Kennedy died

Translated from Dutch

On Facebook, someone posts photos "from the good ol' days". "What a beautiful time", someone responds "everything was still clear: if a president was assassinated, we only had to know about it three hours later...".

Three hours later? Is that right?

That comment, of course, brings my mind back to the assassination of President Kennedy. Twenty years later - November 1983, I was 28 - I saw a curious phenomenon: many magazines - from Time to Elsevier - placed the memories under the same headline: "Where were you when Kennedy died?" I found that so striking, because I myself have said so often in my younger years: I remember exactly where I was when Kennedy died. I don't mean that as parroting the experience of others, but as an expression of my own experience. Which apparently was a collective experience.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 PM in Dallas, Texas, so 7:30 PM Dutch time. The message arrived at 7:40 pm in the telex room of the main and only Dutch TV newsservice NTS Journaal, where editor Wibo van der Linden picked up the message.

Twenty minutes later, at eight o'clock, Fred Emmer opens the news as follows: “We have just received word that there has been an assassination attempt on the life of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Details are still missing. There is still uncertainty about the exact condition of the seriously injured president.”

There is no footage or further news available. The programming is not changed, news that comes in is reported verbally in the meantime.

As an eight-year-old I am already in bed, but I am still awake. My two year older brother immediately runs up the stairs to tell me that President Kennedy has been shot and is probably dead. So 35 minutes after the shot, I knew it, as I lay in bed as a child.

At 1 p.m., that is 8 p.m. Dutch time, President Kennedy is pronounced dead by the doctors in Dallas. In the telex room of the NTS, during the news broadcast, various rumors come in that the president is dead, but no confirmation yet. At the end of the News, Fred Emmer reports that the president has been seriously injured.

My elder brother, with whom I share the bedroom, also has to go to bed now, and tells me that the president apparently is still alive according to this latest report. That gives hope.

At 8:35 p.m., the telex room of the News receives confirmation from the Reuters news agency that President Kennedy is dead. Without further explanation.

Brandpunt, the current affairs program of the KRO, that has it's broadcasting slot immediately after the main News, is pre-recorded and cannot be adjusted, but the presenter verbally passes on the message about the death of the president. That would have been about a quarter to nine.

My eldest sister has to go to bed by then and comes to our bedroom to tell us that the president is dead. So within an hour and a half after the shot, the sad news has reached us.

The KRO decides not to broadcast the planned episode of the Western Bonanza that evening, but to replace it at the last minute with a serious documentary about India and the text Pause appears on screen for a long time.

The next day there is a lot of criticism. Not so much about the coverage, but because the broadcast had not been replaced by solemn music.

We had just got television that year. The funeral of former Queen Wilhelmina, at the end of 1962, which also made a great impression on me, we had watched at the neighbours. In 1963 Kennedy came straight into our living room with the TV, symbol of increasing prosperity and progress. Kennedy had become president and popular thanks to television. Radio listeners preferred Nixon, but on television Kennedy won and with the television he conquered the world.

The Dutch government declared a period of national mourning. I remember the announcement that the flag would be flown at half mast on all public buildings. I was very surprised when the flag was also flown at half mast at our school. I was not in public school but in a Christian school, so as far as I knew that was not a public building. But I thought it was more than right that the flag was also flown at half mast on Christian buildings.

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