The Days of the Bitter End
NOVEMBER 22, 1963 was a day many Americans still living will never forget....
The President and Vice President were in Dallas...
Most of the Cabinet were on a plane bound for Tokyo...
The country was preparing for Thanks giving which I was looking forward to spending with Helen Fairbanks, my teenage love, in Baltimore.
Whether you liked JFK or not, you found yourself listening to Peter, Paul and Mary, the Sound of Music and a song about "chickenfat" supporting Kennedy's fitness program.
You were YOUNG. Even going to Atlantic City High you could wake up JOYFUL.
It was just something in the air.
Some people, including noted author Jack Engelhard, said we lost our innocence beginning in the early afternoon when the first word from Dallas was flashed around the country.
I, of course disagree. Kennedy had a sordid private life and no experience governing. Rep. Howard Smith could halt the New Frontier by adjourning his powerful committee. Joseph Kennedy's mad ambition to turn his criminal millions into presidential power for some twenty years gave those of us who preferred the gentility and quiet, simple dignity of the Eisenhower years pause as well.
But those bullets that blasted into the head of the President on that fateful day did change the world for all of us.
The aura of youthfulness began to dry up. Helen and I had a great Thanksgiving....and we went to a Kennedy Era Hootenany... but things were about to change.
Nowhere can you find a more down and dirty, truly accurate description of the change than in Jack Engelhard's DAYS OF THE BITTER END.
The cities began to burn. There were tanks and National Guardsmen in the streets. Vietnam was escalated to a vicious slaughter... The Armed Forces were disintegrating with mutinies and fraggings. A whole division sat on the DMZ with the Army afraid to move them. Their officers refused to even try to take them out and the Pentagon felt it was too dangerous to bring them home.
As an Air Force officer I faced sit-ins... slow downs...
There was a pall upon the land as that gross creature in the White House twisted arms ramming through Great Society opium to hook the economy on government aid.
Yes, I missed Kennedy. His successor had the nation in flames...mobs in Washington chanted "burn...baby burn
...burn that White House down."
It was nearly a half century ago...
Yet those of us there will always remember... Why wasn't this Black Day in our history observed with a pause... a minute of silence?
A lot died with the President that day.
Whether you liked him or not.
John W. Cassell
PS-I don't even know where Helen is now.