All of us can remember exactly where we were at the time of a catastrophic world event. In my parents’ generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing entry into World War II was the incident which created a permanent memory for them.
In my generation, two events stand out: The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the 9/11 attack in 2001.
I can still remember sitting in 9th grade Spanish class in Verona High School (New Jersey) when our principal, Edwin Willard, came into each class to announce what had happened. A hush followed and we all crowded around a small transistor radio which one of the students had brought to school. I can still remember the facial expressions of my fellow students when we heard that he was pronounced dead.
When the attack on the World Trade Center occurred, I was driving to the hospital to see a patient. When the broadcast was interrupted to say that the first Tower was hit, I immediately returned home to be with my wife to watch the horrific events which occurred within the next few hours.
On a much more pleasant note, I also have very strong memories of what happened when I was in 10th grade in 1964. I was sitting in Mrs. Alleine Graef’s Biology class when Mr. Willard entered the room. The class froze because it was not even a year after he had delivered the news of the JFK assassination.
But this time, he had a wide smile on his face. He held up a telegram and read it aloud. Mrs. Graef’s son, Jed, had just won the Gold Medal in swimming (backstroke), setting a new world record.
I can still remember the expression on Mrs. Graef’s face. She then told us proudly about his swimming achievements which many of us had never heard about.
In 1964, live coverage of the Olympics was very limited. There were a few broadcasts transmitted by satellites but nothing like today where we feel as if we are standing next to the Olympic athletes.
Jed graduated from Princeton University and he went on to receive a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan. At the age of 79, he lives in Vermont and is still working in software development.