Remembering November 22, 1963
by Rick Stoltz
NOTE: On this, the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination, I have chosen to display this official portrait of our 35th President rather than a photograph more closely associated with his death. I much prefer to remember him as a young, vibrant world leader, carefully steering our nation through treacherous waters, rather than the bloody, unwitting target of a mad man, cradled in his wife’s arms with half his skull blown away.
On this date 50 years ago, I was in my 6th grade classroom at Ladera Palma Elementary School in La Habra, California. I believe it was Social Studies period, and we were studying Latin America. Ladera Palma was a new school equipped with many modern innovations of the day, the most impressive to me being an intercom system in every classroom.
Every morning, our principal, Mr. Maza, would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and make general announcements. The intercom was occasionally used for unscheduled announcements, as well. On this morning, shortly after 10:30 Pacific Time, Mr. Maza, speaking over the intercom, interrupted our studies to announce that President Kennedy had been shot while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas. Mr. Hailey, our teacher — generally a tough-skinned old coot from Mississippi — stood silently at his desk and dabbed his reddened eyes with a handkerchief. A short time later, Mr. Maza somberly announced that the President was dead. And then, over the intercom for all the school to hear (except perhaps the lower grades), he prayed for our nation and the President’s family, and requested God’s guidance for the difficult days ahead.
In any era, that would be a bold, somewhat risky act. It was particularly so on this occasion, due to the Supreme Court’s recent (1962) decision declaring public school prayer unconstitutional.
If there was fallout from the incident, whether from faculty, staff, parents, or students, I was not aware of it. However, on that morning five decades ago, Mr. Maza could not predict what the outcome of his prayer might be. Nevertheless, he obviously believed that the gravity of the situation warranted a public statement of trust in God. Though today I do not support mandatory, audible prayer in the classroom (for reasons I will not discuss here), I will always appreciate and respect Mr. Maza’s bold, potentially costly decision to pray in the wake of such a tragic, world-shattering event. I salute you, Mr. Maza.
November 22, 2013 • © 2013, Richard D. Stoltz