| || ||
Boom!: Voices of the
By Tom Brokaw
1962, I had an entry-level reporter's job at an Omaha television station. I
had bargained to get a salary of one hundred dollars a week, because I didn't
feel I could tell Meredith's doctor father I was making less. Meredith, who
had a superior college record, couldn't find any work because, as one
personnel director after another told her, "You're a young bride. If we hire
you, you'll just get pregnant before long and want maternity leave."
retrospect, the political and cultural climate in the early Sixties seems both
a time of innocence and also like a sultry, still summer day in the Midwest:
an unsettling calm before a ferocious storm over Vietnam, which was not yet an
American war. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was confronting racism in the South
and getting a good deal of exposure on The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC and
The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, the two primary network newscasts,
each just fifteen minutes long.
the fall of 1963, first CBS and then, shortly after, NBC expanded those
signature news broadcasts to a half hour. As a sign of the importance of the
expansion, Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley were granted lengthy exclusive
interviews with President Kennedy. ABC wouldn't be a player in the news major
leagues until the 1970s, when Roone Arledge brought to ABC News the energy and
programming approach he had applied to ABC Sports. Kennedy, America's first
truly telegenic president, was a master of the medium, fully appreciating its
power to reach into the living rooms of America from sea to shining sea.
our time in Omaha, John F. Kennedy was not a local favorite. The city's deeply
conservative culture remained immune to Kennedy's charms and to his arguments
for social changes, such as civil rights and the introduction of
government-subsidized medical care for the elderly. I'm sure many of my
conservative friends at the time thought I was a card short of being a member
of the Communist Party because I regularly championed the need for enforced
racial equality and Medicare.
of the most popular speakers to come through Omaha in those days was a
familiar figure from my childhood, when kids in small towns on the Great
Plains spent Saturday afternoons in movie theaters watching westerns. Ronald
Reagan looked just like he did on the big screen. He was kind of a local boy
who had made good, starting out as a radio star next door in Iowa and moving
on to Hollywood, before becoming a television fixture as host of General
Omaha appearances were part of his arrangement with GE, which allowed him to
be an old-fashioned circuit-riding preacher, warning against the evils of big
government and Communism, while praising the virtues of big business and the
free market. He was every inch a star, impeccably dressed and groomed. But
those of us who shared his Midwestern roots were a bit surprised to find that
although he was completely cordial, he was not noticeably warm. That part of
his personality remained an enigma even to his closest friends and advisers
throughout his historically successful political career.
Omaha the only time he lightened up in my presence was when I noticed he was
wearing contact lenses and I asked him about them. He got genuinely excited as
he described how they were a new soft model, not like the hard ones that could
irritate the eyes. He even wrote down the name of his California optometrist
so Meredith could order a pair for herself. (Later, when he became president,
I often thought, "He's not only a great politician, he's a helluva contact
Kennedy also passed through Omaha, but only for a brief stop at the Strategic
Air Command headquarters there. In those days, SAC was an instantly recognized
acronym because the bombers it comprised -- some of which we could see because
they were always in the air ready to respond in case of an attack -- were a
central component of America's Cold War military strategy.
memorable for me was a visit to SAC by the president's brother Attorney
General Robert F. Kennedy. The younger Kennedy was a striking contrast to the
president, who had been smiling and chatty with the local press and even more
impressive in person than on television. Unlike the president, who was always
meticulously and elegantly dressed, the attorney general was wearing a rumpled
suit, and the collar on his blue button-down shirt was frayed. He was plainly
impatient, and his mood did not improve when I asked for a reaction to Alabama
governor George Wallace's demand that JFK resign the presidency because of his
stance on school desegregation. Bobby fixed those icy blue eyes on me and
said, as if I were to blame for the governor's statement, "I have no comment
on anything Governor Wallace has to say."
was on duty in the newsroom a few weeks later when the United Press
International wire-service machine began to sound its bulletin bells. I walked
over casually and began to read a series of sentences breaking in staccato
fashion down the page:
Three shots were fired at president Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas . .
. Flash -- Kennedy seriously wounded, perhaps fatally by assassin's bullet . .
. President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 pm (CST).
F. Kennedy, the man I had thought would define the political ideal for the
rest of my days, was suddenly gone in the senseless violence of a single
moment. In ways we could not have known then, the gunshots in Dealey Plaza
triggered a series of historic changes: the quagmire of Vietnam that led to
the fall of Lyndon Johnson as president; the death of Robert Kennedy in
pursuit of the presidency; and the comeback, presidency, and subsequent
disgrace of Richard Nixon.
that beautiful late autumn November morning, however, my immediate concern was
to get this story on the air. I rushed the news onto our noon broadcast, and
as I was running back to the newsroom, one of the station's Kennedy haters
said, "What's up?"
responded, "Kennedy's been shot."
said, "It's about time someone got the son of a bitch."
the gauzy shades of popular memory, the invocations of Camelot and JFK as our
nation's prince, it may be surprising to younger Americans to know that
President Kennedy was not universally beloved.
Kennedy was gone, and this man was glad. I lunged toward him, but another
co-worker pulled me away.
Copyright © 2007 Tom Brokaw from the book Boom! by Tom Brokaw Published by
Random House; November 2007;$28.95US/$34.95CAN; 978-1-4000-6457-1
About the Author
Tom Brokaw is the author of four bestsellers: The Greatest Generation, The
Greatest Generation Speaks, An Album of Memories, and A Long Way from Home.
From 1976 to 1981 he anchored Today on NBC. He was the sole anchor and
managing editor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw from 1983 to 2004.
| |Copyright © 1995 - 2005 Boomers International ,
All rights reserved.
All articles written by our editors / writers plus
all information created by our web site
are owned by Boomers International™.
To use our materials, you must obtain a permission
in writing from Boomers International™
© Jieranai T. Maier.
The products and services advertised
are not necessarily endorsed by Boomers International ™
| || |