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"JFK:" A Commentary

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – I was waiting at Dallas Love Field that perfect morning, November 22, 1963, to see President and Mrs. Kennedy. Barely 18, my freshman college mid-terms were scheduled that afternoon.

I drove ahead to several spots along the published parade route. First, Lemmon Ave, where, barely ten feet away, Jackie smiled into my star-struck eyes as if I alone beguiled her. Then, at noon on Main Street, a block from Dealey Plaza, small-town Dallasites clapped while I shouted directly into John Kennedy's beaming face, "Thanks for coming to Dallas." He nodded as if to say, "You're welcome." A minute later, I heard the shots.

Dark automobiles flew in every direction like the world suddenly had vertigo. On my radio, I heard, "President Kennedy died at 1, in Dallas, Texas." My first thought was: I will be glad when this is thirty years ago.

That weekend, I and the world watched someone kill Oswald, 17 blocks from my bedroom.

I failed that semester. There were no make-up exams. I learned: The human touch does not extend into the adult world unaltered.

The holidays came and went, with Elvis singing "Blue Christmas." In February, my darkening path took a grisly turn. Stopping near midnight to help a stranded motorist, I found instead four young men gang-raping a woman, then slitting her male companion's throat. By morning, after the lineup, I was taken to Captain Will Fritz in Homicide. We were quickly joined by Jesse Curry, Chief of Police, and later, by District Attorney Henry Wade.

As sole prosecution witness, I began daily dialogues with each now-historic Dallas figure investigating Kennedy's death. Clearly, to these men, the assassination was a one-man, one-shot, local murder. It confounded me how the pivotal players could catalog such events as simplistic: the assassin was a "cop killer," and Ruby, a "cop-wannabe" grandstander. They resented the FBI and disregarded the Warren Commission.

No one knew I was privy to any of this. I blocked it out for ten years. My parents died not knowing.

After 20 years, I could talk about the November events without choking.

It took 30 years to put it on paper.

I never again felt that same kind of young, as on that morning at Love Field. Something lost. On the other hand, turning 20 on a witness stand, I became, somehow, fearless.
Something gained.

Time heals all wounds? Not really. But in time, our younger selves seem like we were someone else, our remembrance becomes some other person's story.

This story once was mine.

Rawlins Gilliland is a freelance journalist and former National Endowment poet. He lives in Dallas.