Only one completely isolated from the world could have missed the fiftieth anniversary this past Friday of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The media was inundated with stories—some nuanced history, others conspiracy theories—about the President and that tragic event in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.
There were also stories this week that focused on President Kennedy’s family: beautiful Jackie, sweet Caroline, and precocious John who loved to salute his daddy, both in life and in death. One article related the family weekend the Kennedys spent together the week just before that fateful, and fatal, trip to Dallas. It evoked images of sun and health and idyllic joy. Fifty years later, we still speak of that family as if from a storybook, and when describing them, we still use the mythic, royal term, “Camelot.”
A twenty-something young man from the highlands of Scotland had recently moved to New York City. He lived in a mid-rise with paper thin walls. After a month, his mother called to see how he was getting on. The man replied (in a Scottish brogue I can’t mimic), “It’s okay, I suppose, but the neighbors are a bit daft. The woman on one side of me screams and cries all night, and the man on the other side keeps banging his head against the wall.
“Never you mind,” said his mother, “Don’t you let them get to you. Just ignore them.”
“Aye, that I do,” the young man replied, “I just keep on playing my bagpipes.”[i]
In Memphis National Cemetery, very near my hometown, ten thousand American servicemen are buried, including one of my own great uncles. Within the cemetery, one finds row upon row of white markers engraved with “Unknown U.S. Soldier” on the marble. There are more unidentified troops buried at Memphis than anywhere else in the country except Arlington National Cemetery. That seems an odd fact for a military graveyard in a mid-sized Southern city, and I always wondered why it was so.