Friday November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As we reflect on that tragic day and honor the memory of the late president, students in the “Oral History” class this semester conducted a series of interviews with current and retired Samford employees and alumni. Each day this week, the Bull Pup will highlight these Samford voices.L to R: (Top Row) Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government; William Mike Howell, Professor of Biology; William Nunnelley, Senior Editor and Director of Public Relations at Samford; Marlene Rikard, Professor of History; Wilton H. Bunch, Professor of Philosophy; (Middle Row) Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; Larry Davenport, Professor of Biology; (Bottom Row) Ellen McLaughlin, Professor of Biology; H. Hugh Floyd, Professor of Sociology; Joe McDade, class of 1961; Elizabeth Wells, Special Collection Archivist
Which was more impactful for you: the JFK Assassination, the Nixon resignation, or 9/11?
McLaughlin: Coming from NY and knowing some people who worked in those buildings – [they] were not killed, but they did go across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home – I would say that had more of an impact than either Nixon or Kennedy, because in both of those, there was a resolution— there was a transition that our government had provided for, our system of government. 9-11 there’s still not… there’s still too much emotion all wrapped up in that. There’s no resolution yet for these people.
Nunnelley: I thought that the Kennedy assassination probably was more impactful because it was so shocking. It may be simply because I was up there marching in that funeral procession after Kennedy was shot and seeing those hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets. We marched from the Capital, down to the White House and then over to the church where the funeral procession was held. And then we marched from there past the Lincoln Memorial and across Arlington Bridge to Arlington Cemetery. We didn’t go into the cemetery, but . . . right outside and we could hear the funeral being conducted. The guy that blew “Taps” made a mistake on one of his notes which was an unfortunate thing. Air Force One flew over and all the dignitaries were there.
Rikard: They’re all different. The assassination was of someone that I admired and had policies that I identified with. Nixon I did not like from the very beginning. I used to almost yell at the T.V. when he came on and was lying to us and you knew he was lying. So I was glad when he resigned. I was upset that he was still going to get a pension, but I was glad that he resigned and that we were through with him. 9/11, I was at a different age and it was a different world. It was a world where we had suddenly become aware of terrorism. They’re different events and I don’t know how you compare them. It’s apples and oranges.
Marshall: Definitely 9/11. I mean, if you look at it, we’ve had a number of presidents killed in the past. This was a terrible thing, but it was something that had happened before. The tragedy of Kennedy being killed was over with Oswald being killed by Ruby. With 9/11, with the terrorists killing all those people, and it wasn’t over. You knew that was just the beginning. A terrible beginning.
Brewer: They are all so different. They all represent failure. In terms of tragedy — the magnitude of tragedy [of] 9/11 would have been probably greater. In terms of failure of the system of government in which we take such pride and for which so many have died . . . it just failed. The person [Nixon] we selected to lead proved unworthy of the trust that was placed in him. That is sad, a personal failure like that is sad. The Kennedy assassination just represents an act of violence for what reason we don’t know. When a flower is just taken from among us — we were deprived of the results of his vision. He had a vision, a great vision. Every leader has a dream of the way he wants to go; some are stronger than others. Few would have been as strong as John Kennedy was with his and his sincerity of purpose. Our nation, his generation, and the generations to come were deprived of the realization of that dream.
Mayfield: Oh I felt the most impact from the war in Vietnam. That’s the big if — if Kennedy had lived would we have gotten stuck in Vietnam? I really think that Vietnam, it took ten years, and had more of an impact. There’s catastrophe, then there’s ongoing catastrophe. We can often bind our wounds after catastrophe, but to see people sent off to die, over and over again, in my opinion was just devastating.
McDade: Each one is different, each one has their own unique connection with history and that was a loss of a president. We had lost presidents before, some died in office and that was a tragic thing. But I think when terrorists attack you in your own country it is a different experience, so they are unique in their own experience.
Bunch: I followed the Nixon resignation much more closely, the most closely of those three. I think because I am older and more thoughtful, probably 9/11 had a bigger effect on me because I could imagine outcomes that could be disasters. I was fascinated by Nixon, but I don’t think I worried that the nation was ever going to fall. Whereas 9/11, I could easily imagine World War III, and so I think that probably had the biggest effect.
Dvonch: Oh, personally? Nixon. I was in Washington D.C. going to college during Watergate and I was taking a class taught by a congressional aid on politics in the election. and so I volunteered at the White House and I volunteered for Spiro Agnew, opening his mail. And I wrote Christmas cards for congressmen. So I was very involved and it just totally mesmerized me and also disappointed me. Because of my personal experience being in Washington at that time, I felt like I was experiencing that history, as opposed to just observing 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination. I had met Spiro Agnew, I had been in the Nixon White House. It was more real.
Wells: I was angry at Nixon. I was angry because he didn’t have to do that to win. He had been so good with China. Yet when 9/11 happened, I couldn’t believe. I couldn’t understand it. It was so loud. I thought, ‘what is happening?’ I saw it, then I saw the second one hit and realized this is real. It was just incredulous. I had to teach a class in here that afternoon on the Civil War. Can you imagine what that was like to teach a class on the Civil War on 9/11?
Floyd: 9/11. . . 9/11 was a global issue. It disturbed me more. Not necessarily because the towers were attacked and the pentagon was attacked. Globalization . . . means we are right in the middle of it. 9/11 was so powerful and [it was] symbolic to attack the trade center which was the center of global capitalism and to attack the Pentagon which was the center of global militarism because we are the big guys.
Davenport: Well, this will be unpopular, but I would say the Kennedy assassination, because I was at such an impressionable age. After that, it was just like the innocence was all gone. The Nixon resignation, we applauded that, we knew it was coming. That was not a shock. Now, 9/11, I’m still trying to make sense of it. But, the first loss of innocence was Kennedy.
Howell: 9/11. That was the first time we had really been attacked here by a foreign nation. And so many people got killed. I remember exactly where I was when that happened too. We all thought it was a small plane to begin with, but when we found out it was a jumbo jet, it was crazy. I was watching the TV when the other plane came in and I KNEW it wasn’t an accident. We watched the buildings crumble, fall to the earth. We saw people standing up there and jumping. I think that had more of an effect on me. I mean, those people went to work that morning and they had wives and husbands and kids and they never came home. But my daily life didn’t really change after [the Kennedy assassination and Watergate]. Everyone’s lives were changed immediately. We went straight to war, then we went into Iraq, and the war is still going on. The economy tanked. We are still reeling from that one event. It rocked the world.
Adapted from Oral History Interviews by Holly Howell, Sara Curley, Ben Woodall, Haley Rester, Smith Ann Burley, Katie Dover, Lauren Ziemer and Robert McNeill.