Where Were You?

Outtakes 121

Where Were You?

By Cait Collins

November 22, 1963 was an ordinary school day for this 12-year old junior high school student in Bangor, Maine. I had just left my social studies class and entered my home room for the last period of the day. My home room teacher was a very strict lady. Miss Rankin did not tolerate talking or fooling around. She considered this period to be a chance for students to receive school news, report cards, or other paperwork to be taken home to parents. Once the business was completed, the time was to be used to do homework. My English teacher assigned a book report so I began reading a book I had checked out of the library earlier in the day.

Each room had a receiver installed near the door allowing the principal or other members of the office staff to contact a teacher without sending a runner. It did not ring often, so the buzz interrupted all study. Miss Rankin rose from her desk to answer the summons. She identified herself and then stiffened. “I shall be there immediately.”

Replacing the receiver, she turned to her students. “I must go to the office. I trust you will continue your study with no talking.”

No talking. Was she serious? Whispers circulated. “What’s happened?” “I don’t know.”

I cannot say we continued to study. We watched the door.

Miss Rankin returned. She stepped to her desk, pulled out her chair. “Children.” She always called us children. “We have been ordered to lower the flags to half-staff. President Kennedy has been assassinated.” She sat down. “Please return to your studies.

I couldn’t believe it. My current events report that day had been on the President’s response to the assassination of Vietnamese President. Besides I had seen President Kennedy a few weeks earlier when he landed at Dow Air Force Base for a speaking engagement at the University of Maine in nearby Oreno. It did not make sense.

When the bell rang I gathered my books and went to the bus stop. My older sister joined me. “I was shelving books for the librarian. I had PT 109 in my hand when Mr. Sweat announced the President died.”

On Sunday, Jack Ruby murdered suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. We watched the events on television. And as school was suspended, we were glued to the television for the funeral services. I will never forget John-John saluting as the coffin was loaded on the caisson.

Whenever people of my generation speak of the Kennedy assassination, they vividly recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the horrible news. History should be told dispassionately with attention to facts. However, the human response and emotion is revealed by those who witnessed the events. Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you on September 11, 2001? Have you recorded what you heard, saw, and felt? Will your children and grandchildren only know the facts and not the emotion?

Pick a historic event. Where were you? Write it down.

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