I was fifteen… not a worry in the world. It was a care-free, go lucky time. The world was a wonderful place… the birds sang, and the music of our time was the best there had ever been. Everything was just perfect. Well, I did have one worry… would my secret love would really “like me”. I had known her since eighth grade. I wasn’t ready to make my move yet but that was OK because we were both in the marching band.
The band practiced marching every day. There was always a parade in some town we were getting ready for. We were right in the middle of the band completion season. Each day instead of going to class during the band period we would meet up, instruments in hand, at the edge of the school grounds. Then we would go marching through the housing area right next to the school.
We were having sort of an Indian summer. The band period started at 10:30 and it was good to be out of the classroom on such a nice day. I was a drummer… ummmm… sorta. Since I was only a freshman, I was relegated to cymbals. Drums were the domain of the juniors and seniors. Oh well… it didn’t matter, I would get my turn soon enough.
The drum major at the head of the band started us off and we headed down the street. With the ratt-a-tatt-tatt of the drums we headed down Sycamore Avenue. After about five minutes of marching, the drum major tooted his whistle and whirled his baton to signal us to start playing music… or in my case to start banging the cymbals together at the right time.
We were pretty good. Our rows and colums were straight… everyone was in step, and the music sounded good. We were playing some sort of John Philips Souza kind of marching band music. Then suddenly the drum major tooted his whistle and whirled his baton signaling us to stop. It was weird… we stopped right in the middle of the music. We had never done anything like that before.
Some woman had come out of her house and got the drum major to stop us. She talked to him for a few seconds. Then he turned to us, and I’ll never forget his words. He said,
“Turn around and walk slowly back to school… the President has been shot”
When we got back to the school grounds there was a news broadcast on loud speaker system. There seemed to be sort of a non-belief that this had happened. No one went back to class… and no one talked much. We just sat around the lunch area listening to the broadcasts.
Then came the announcement… the president was dead. No! It couldn’t be… something is wrong… this is not possible. We waited for the news on the loudspeaker to tell us it was some kind of mistake. But that news never came. It was true. John F. Kennedy was dead.
As teenagers we had seen the world through rose colored glasses. Suddenly we were no longer teenagers. It didn’t matter how many years we had been on earth, we weren’t teenagers any more. And the world wasn’t rosy any more. We had believed we lived in almost a fantasy world. We knew that our valiant prince the president could slay any dragon that might threaten us. But the prince was no more. Camelot was over.
As I post this it has been fifty years, almost exactly to the minute, when those shots rang out in Dallas. Yet, it is as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. I still get something in my eye any time I see those scenes of a little boy saluting a caisson as it goes by in front of him.
For those of that remember it, we all know that the world changed forever that day. Our innocence was over. Don McLean wrote “American Pie” a few years later. He has always avoided giving an answer to what the words mean leaving each individual to their own interpretation.
Although most say that McLean’s words, “the day the music died” are about Buddy Holly’s untimely death. For me… it has a completely different meaning. It was the day we were marching down that street and the blue sky turned grey… our music was stopped mid note and our world changed. Indeed, for me November 22, 1963 was the day the music died.