If historic events can fix a day you witnessed forever in the mind, November 22 will always be “The Day” for this burned out, retired hack. A lot more so, even, than 9/11.

I recall exactly what I was doing, and what I said. It was unprintable in a family newspaper.

It was right in the middle of noon chow, in my third week of Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I was on KP, lugging an of armful of dirty meat pans over to the guys in “pots and pans” for them to wash, when a kid in my flight stopped me and said with equal parts of breathlessness and incredulity:

“Monty! (they called me that even then) President Kennedy’s been shot and he’s not expected to live!”

“Don’t f— with me, Hoover! This ain’t fun,” I said, or something like that. “No, it’s true!” The load of greasy pans in my arms struggled with history for a second or two, until I saw a mess sergeant in his whites, holding a transistor radio to his ear and crying. The sight  brought me to reality.

And back to my mission, which must be completed. To some in the large armed force of which I was a newcomer, the mission was to fly at supersonic speed with weapons to incinerate  people and their surroundings on command. My mission was to tumble three or four dirty pans into a sink and return for another load. And clean the cooking area and the dining tables after chow.

About two and a half hours later, we took a 10-minute break, allowed to step outside the chowhall, though not too far, to see the Texas sky and grab a smoke, if that was our addiction. Since I’d discovered beer at least four years prior, it wasn’t mine.

As usual, we found the adolescent Mexican newsboys that always clustered there, waiting for us.

I’ll never forget the giant  headline of the San Antonio Express, across the page in large red letters: “Kennedy Assassinated, Connally Shot.” You could get that much into a headline in 1963, since the pages were much wider then.
And now that I’d read it in a newspaper, I knew the horrible event was real.

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Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery, aka "Monty," packed it in a few years back after 38 years as a reporter with the AJC, covering mostly crime and other forms of public insanity, such as political campaigns, strip club crackdowns, and the Georgia legislature. His career includes coverage of zanies that run the gamut from Lester Maddox and J.B. Stoner to Larry Flynt, and crime reporting that followed the 1973 Alday family killings in South Georgia to the execution of ringleader Carl Isaacs 30 years later, and the 20-year saga of Palm Beach millionaire James V. Sullivan, who hired the murder of his estranged wife at her Buckhead condo by a gunman packing a pistol in a box of roses. Montgomery lives in a Decatur condo with his wife Linda and their Boston terrier.