Because of the Cold War and especially because of the fairly recent Cuban Missile Crisis, military commands in France were required to conduct an unannounced alert (readiness exercised) each month. Since I was assigned to the office that determined when such alerts were to be conducted, I knew one was to be conducted after midnight on Nov. 22.
Shortly after dinner, there was a knock on our apartment door. When I opened the door, a military policeman told me that the planned alert had been cancelled. When I inquired as to why, he informed me that it was due to the president having been assassinated. It was undoubtedly the most shocking news I had ever received. Confounding the situation was our inability to obtain timely information on the tragedy. At that time, there was only one French TV station in Paris and because of our lack of fluency in French, we didn’t understand much from that source and rarely watched TV. We had to rely upon The Stars and Stripes (a newspaper for military personnel stationed in Europe) and obtained most of the pictorial coverage from French magazines during the following weeks.
Even though the assassination resulted in the cancellation of our planned alert, it necessitated increased levels of readiness, longer work hours and increased planning in the anticipation that our potential enemies might take advantage of the situation to initiate aggressive action.
In remembering the shock we experienced upon hearing of the assassination, it saddens me even more to think that the moral fiber of our society began to crumble on that day in November 1963 and has continued to unravel ever since. Somehow, in the ensuing years since the assassination of JFK, I think our nation has, in many respects, lost much more than it’s gained.