Nations, and often their citizens, are defined by their disasters – both natural and man-made.
To this day, old-timers on the Brac still recount the horrors of the 1932 hurricane, while succeeding generations remember all too clearly the ravages of Paloma. In Grand Cayman, of course, Hurricane Ivan is the benchmark, and events are still demarcated as “pre-Ivan” or “post-Ivan.”
In the United States, 50 years ago today, the nation experienced one of those moments that will live in both infamy and the collective consciousness of the American people and their friends around the world: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.
Some say, perhaps overly dramatically, that the event signaled the end of American innocence, the passing of an era of Camelot – “Where once it never rained till after sundown, by 8 a.m. the morning fog had flown” – which, of course, was mythical but nevertheless still comforting.
Like Camelot, the Kennedy legacy was largely mythical, even fictional. Historically, he was not in the top tier of American presidents, but that ranking pales when compared to the promise that was so memorably extinguished as his presidential motorcade made its way down Elm Street past the Texas School Book Depository, the murderous Lee Harvey Oswald ensconced on the sixth floor, Carcano rifle at the ready. Three pulls of the trigger and the world changed.
On days such as today, one question will be repeated millions of times in America – and elsewhere, including Cayman – namely, “Where were you when you heard the news that President Kennedy had been killed?”
Of our two co-publishers, Vicki Legge has the better story. She was attending an undergraduate history class at the University of Texas in Austin. Also in attendance was a classmate, Lynda Bird Johnson, elder daughter of Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
Three Secret Service agents assigned to Miss Johnson walked into the classroom and pulled the professor aside to tell him what had occurred. The professor in turn announced to the class that President Kennedy had been killed, and the agents whisked Miss Johnson away. Class was dismissed.
Meanwhile, co-publisher David R. Legge was cutting class (creative writing – as if that would ever be useful), opting instead for the tennis courts on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In the midst of a particularly intense and close match, the news was delivered of the president’s death. After a pause, the match went on.
Attorney William Davis, a frequent and well-known visitor to Cayman, may have the best story of all. As a young law student in Dallas, he received a phone call from his boss who had learned that authorities could not find a copy of the Oath of Office by which to swear in Lyndon Johnson as president. Fortuitously, Mr. Davis was able to provide the oath in the U.S. Constitution, and the swearing-in ceremony took place aboard Air Force One, the new President Johnson flanked by his wife on one side and grieving widow Jacqueline Kennedy on the other.
These types of stories are being told and retold across the world. In spite of, and perhaps because of, their sadness, the shared memories remind us of the connections that bind us together, regardless of our countries of origin or adoption, and show that in many ways the planet is smaller than we often imagine it to be – and that history is not so far removed from where we are today.