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The important dates of memory

Nov 18, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

There are fewer of them in our collective minds than there used to be.

If you were to ask your parents, grandparents or anyone else in the generation that survived the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II to identify the significance of the following dates, most if not all could rattle off the events of these days as if they occurred this morning. Try these on for size: Dec. 7, April 12, June 6 and Sept. 2.

If you answered Pearl Harbor, the death of FDR, the "D-Day" Normandy Invasion and VJ Day, you're either an astute student of history, or you lived through these times.

Living through the seminal events of our history provides a unique viewpoint to the people, places and things that made these days ones of great importance.

In lists of the top 10 events in American history the past gradually recedes to popular culture in a less-than-complimentary statement about Americans and our limited ability to remember the past.

A recent top 10 list contained the killing of Osama Bin Laden (do you know that date?) and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in prominent rank but didn't mention Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington in their polling.

Perhaps it's the constant droning of "We will never forget..." touted in commercials for commemorative coins, wall hangings and statues sold by hucksters, along with extremes in the media lauding us to always remember, remember, remember...

On the note of memory, one of the two greatest historical events in our collective lifetimes came 50 years ago next week. It's nearly impossible for me to imagine a half century has come and gone since the fateful shots were fired at Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

America lost its innocence on that mild Texas afternoon. As a nation, we've never regained it.

I was a first-grader at Gosnell Elementary School just a mile or so off the front gate of Blytheville Air Force Base in northeast Arkansas that Friday. As a just-turned-7-year old, I couldn't understand why all the teachers and the junior high and high school girls were crying.

We were loaded on the bus just an hour or so after lunch and taken home. Two teen-age girls who lived next door explained to me that President Kennedy had been shot.

My mom was upset when I walked in from the bus ride. My dad was called back to the base immediately, on alert.

At the time no one knew if the shooting was a precursor to a Soviet attack or some other act of war. It had been just 13 months since the air base went through the gut-wrenching tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Saturday was disappointing for a kid in the pre-network cartoon era when it was the only day dedicated to children. No Bugs Bunny, no Huckleberry Hound, no Snaggle Puss. Just a constant flow of news from our old black-and-white television as one talking head after another lamented the loss of our president and speculated about the murder.

The speculation hasn't diminished over the last 50 years and would seem to have increased exponentially in our present conspiracy-ridden society.

The events of Nov. 22, 1963, are forever etched in the American psyche. Sadly, however, if you were to ask a teen=ager today to tell you something about President John F. Kennedy it wouldn't be his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in June 1963 with the famous phrase, "Ich bin ein Berliner" or his speech at Rice University in 1962 challenging America to go to the moon, "Not because (these things) are easy, but because they are hard." Or even, his quarantine of Cuba that prevented World War III. Kids today would be quick to respond "He got shot," or "He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe."

We've lost something as a nation when our national heroes are poked, prodded and investigated in attempts to destroy, discredit or deny their ability to lead.

July 20, 1969, will be forever tied to Nov. 22, 1963. It was President Kennedy that challenged us to go to the moon and his influence over Congress funded the moon shot that succeeded in the summer of '69.

The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 26, 1986, was another turning point, albeit one that ended the romanticism of the earlier space age and erased another vestige of optimism for the future in our generation.

The children of Generation X and Generation Next have just Sept. 11, 2001, to lay claim to as the seminal event of their lives.

The individualistic nature of news, music and entertainment brought on by the digital age has created a nation that steadily grows apart. We all received the news of the three shots from the Texas School Book Depository building at the same time, and most of us watched as Walter Cronkite removed his glasses, his resonant voice beginning to shake as he said, "From Dallas, Texas, the flash -- apparently official -- President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago."

A half century is gone, and I can still hear his voice.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator. He farms in rural Riverton.

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