By George L. Moneo
I was a second grader in Mrs. Mudre's class at St. Mary's Cathedral School, my parochial school here in Miami. The day started as all days back then did. I have no memory of it save that it was my birthday and I was expecting lots of presents when my class celebrated it later that afternoon. We had a Cowboys & Indians theme party and I received a great present -- a gun that fired plastic bullets -- that was a very cool plastic western Colt .44. It worked great and you could reload it just like the Cowboys in the movies. We sang songs, my classmates sang happy birthday, we ate cake and stuff, and all was right with the world. I was seven years old! When the dismissal bell rang, we formed our usual line to wait for our parents.
It was around between 2:30 PM, Miami time, on Friday, November 22, 1963.
The nuns who ran the school -- for the life of me I can only remember the name of one of them, the principal, Sister Mary Esther -- stopped us as we were leaving and said that we had to go to church to pray because something terrible had happened. I know that I showed the gun they had given me to my mom and she quickly told me to put it away. We went to church and prayed for, what seemed to my seven-year old mind, hours and hours and hours. I vaguely remember hearing that the President had been shot. What did I know? I sort of knew that the President was a Roman Catholic like I was. All I knew was that I had a great present and I couldn't wait to go home to play with it.
That day, and the three days that followed, would, of course be forever etched in my mind. The black and white TV was on in our house for what seemed all the time. Nothing was on the TV except that the President had been shot. My mother and father, grandfather and grandmother, all looking very, very serious. On Sunday, November 24, I saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald on TV. Live. Ruby yelled, "Oswald!" and pow! Oswald went down. What did I know? I was seven. I thought I was watching a movie that lasted all weekend long. And I saw the funeral on Monday. The haunting drums that kept the pace for the escorting of the caisson carrying the President's body still gives me goose bumps when I hear them.
In the intervening years, November 22, has held a special significance for me. Not because it's my birthday -- I haven't had a birthday since when I haven't remembered the assassination -- but because of what it did to us, all of us, as a nation.
We were hurt badly that day.
And I became obsessed with the assassination. The theories about it have become a cottage trade, like spy novels or B-movies. I've read huge chunks of the Warren Commission Report. Its purposeful lies were promulgated to assuage a nation and to cover up the ineptitude -- or complicity? -- of the Federal agencies that failed to protect the President. I most definitely do not believe the "single-bullet" theory. I remember hearing about it this "magic bullet" in 1964 -- a year after the assassination. I was amazed at what that bullet had done! In my young mind, I was still thinking it was like a movie or a TV show. Over the last thirty years I've read books about the assassination by Anthony Summers, Mark Lane, David Lifton, Jim Marrs, Fletcher Prouty, Edward Jay Epstein, Gus Russo, and Henry Hurt; magazine articles and websites. I've seen hours upon hours of documentaries, all of them outlining their theories about what happened. I don't believe David Lifton's theory that the President's body was altered on Air Force One to reflect an entry wound to the back of the head instead of a frontal shot, but I do believe the autopsy was badly bungled by someone who was not a trained forensic pathologist. I don't believe that Connolly was the target of the attempt and the assassins missed. I don't believe Oliver Stone's JFK and its leftist paranoia of a right-wing cabal, although it is a cinematic tour de force. I don't believe it was the CIA: did they suddenly go from inept, after the disasters they had been involved in, to brilliantly efficient, and execute a complex murder almost flawlessly? I don't think so. And I've seen the Zapruder film over and over again, its gory images etched in my mind forever.
I still remember.
I have my own theories about what happened that day, but I'll keep them to myself. What is certain is that none of us will ever know the whole truth about the forces that came together on that beautiful sunny day in Dallas to murder the President.
No matter what I think of JFK -- his fear of fidel and his betrayal of our brothers on Playa Giron; the sordid deal he made with Kruschev in 1962 that effectively sold out the Cuban exiles in the United States (myself included) by effectively preventing us from taking military action against fidel; the dishonest, some might say criminal, way in which he was elected in 1960 -- the manner of his death, so public, shot like a rabid dog on a street in Dallas, in full view of all of us, young and old alike, is a trauma that has not healed.
On November 22, 1963, on my seventh birthday, our innocence died and our unbounded optimism was derailed. America has yet to fully recover from the shots fired in Dealey Plaza forty-five years ago today.
By George L. Moneo