My Father and the Death of JFK by Oliver Shortridge


qCaptureMy father, Thomas J. Shortridge, was born on March 14, 1947 in Anderson, Indiana. Before he turned twenty, many significant events of this country’s history occurred; America’s first man in space, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a major shock to the nation. Seventeen days after the assassination, Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy compared the presidency of her late husband to Camelot, a metaphor for the positivity his time in office seemed to generate.[1] My father was only sixteen at the time, a sophomore at Bedford High School in his hometown of Bedford, Indiana. On the afternoon of Friday November 22, 1963, my father was in his history class, when his school’s principal came over the loudspeaker to announce the death of President Kennedy.[2]

sAlmost immediately after announcing the death of the President, cheering could be heard from the more conservative students and faculty. This angered the principal, who returned to the loudspeaker, and admonished the entire school. My father doesn’t quite remember the exact wording the principal used, but they were along the lines of “How dare you! That man was President of the United States and you should be mourning his loss!”[3] Those cheering were quickly silenced by the realization of the seriousness of the situation.

Despite being too young to vote in 1963, at the time, my father identified as a Republican, much like the rest of his family. However, my father was not among those who cheered the death of President Kennedy, rather, he was simply in shock of what had transpired. Additionally, unlike other Republicans in his hometown, my father had a favorable view of Kennedy. In fact, during the 1960 election, my father played a prank on his older brother, in which he put a Kennedy bumper sticker on his brother’s car. His older brother has always been a fairly conservative person politically. Upon seeing the bumper sticker on the back of his car, in my father’s own words, “he was pissed,” and made my father not only remove the sticker, but the adhesive residue it left behind.[4]

As with the rest of the country, the assassination of John F. Kennedy left a lasting impact on my father. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson, who would end up being one of my father’s least favorite presidents. Like the vast majority of his friends and family, my father supported civil rights and approved of President Johnson’s push of the Civil Rights Act. On the other hand, my Johnson’s same determination when it came to the Vietnam War soured my father’s views on him, as many of his friends fought in the war and did not return (my father was exempted due to a heart defect). My father also disliked Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphry, causing him to begrudgingly vote for Richard Nixon in 1968, as he disliked Nixon slightly less prior to Watergate.[5]

tCaptureToday, my father is no longer a Republican, by the end of the 1960s, my father was left with bad taste in his mouth from conservativism in general, that he became a Democrat by the time he left Indiana to attend MIT. In hindsight, my father was never a conservative person, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy was his first step in realizing that.

[1] Brigance, Linda C. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot.” Studies in Popular Culture 25, no. 3 (April 2003): 1-12. Accessed March 31, 2016.

[2] Shortridge, Thomas J. “Interview of My Father.” Interview by author. March 31, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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