The day that President Kennedy was shot

On the day that President Kennedy was shot, 50 years ago, I was in Boston and witnessed the reaction of New Englanders.

Ir was just over 50 years ago when I and a fellow student, and lifetime friend, flew for the first time. It had been arranged that as part of our postgraduate studies in computer science we would spend almost a year at MIT in Boston. I can still vividly remember sitting in the the Boeing 707 on the runway at Heathrow airport, hearing the roar and vibration as the pilot turned up the power of the engines, and then being pushed back in my seat when he let the brakes off-

A while later, exactly 50 years ago now, on 22 November 1963, we were in MIT when the news came through that President Kennedy had been shot in a cavalcade in Dallas. The President, the favourite son and pride of New England, shot in the head down there in the South. Soon it was confirmed that he was dead.

MIT is a place which is normally always busy, always humming, but on that day the work stopped and the silence took over. I walked along empty corridors past open rooms and saw people in them obviously in a state of shock. Many were just sitting with a radio at their ear. Secretaries were silent in front of their typewriters, looking at them but seeing nothing through eyes filled with tears.

What happened in the following days is now well known, but for us it was news happening in the most extraordinary circumstances, which we watched on a black and white television lent to us by our landlord. The incredible sight of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot, live on television, by Jack Ruby. The funeral, and its riderless cavalry horse with the boots facing backwards: at the same time moving and so sad. The television stations which, almost unheard of, stopped broadcasting advertisements.

For some events we always remember where we were when they happened, and what we were doing. Sadly, they are so often tragedies. This, for me, was one such event. Thinking of what might and might not have been if the shot had missed is tempting, but there is only one history. Edward Fitzgerald, whose family name was also the second given name of President Kennedy, expressed this so accurately when he translated verse 51 of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

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