- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Nov. 22, 1963, in Paris as I remember it was a bleak, cool day. As in most of Northern Europe, autumn temperatures vacillated almost hourly, and rain and snow flurries came with little warning.

In other words, it was good pneumonia and flu weather, and I had called in sick with some sort of bug or virus to my job at the International Edition of the New York Times. It was already dark, and my wife was fixing supper for our children when the call came from the Times' office manager:

"The president's been shot, probably killed."

My first reaction was that some of my colleagues had put him up to a very grim joke on me I simply could not believe such a thing had happened.

He soon convinced me, however, and adrenaline overwhelmed whatever illness I had. The normal-45 minute drive to the office probably took me half that time as I hurried to help put out a newspaper on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was a frantic night for us in our American outpost in the middle of Paris as it was for all Americans and all American newspapers. We added pages to our scheduled edition, in effect doubling the size of the paper, and all the additional space went to coverage of the killing.

It was a tough night. We really did not have enough people to put out a newspaper that big. Also, we had to beat back a certain awful numbness and disbelief even while watching events unfold on the newsroom's old black-and white television set.

But work, in a way, helped us deal get beyond what had happened: Seeing a mourning Jacqueline Kennedy still in shock and with blood still spattered on her dress; her watching Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president; our fellow Americans weeping back home. We could revert to being professionals doing what we did best.

We doubled the press run, and before a week had passed, we were out of newspapers to meet the flood of requests. All of Europe seemed to want an authoritative account and turned to us as the best voice. I think we could have doubled the press run again, and still not filled all the requests.

On our ways home after the paper was on the press, most of us in the newsroom took a bundle of papers to leave the edition at newsstands and newspaper vending shops that normally did not carry the Times. I checked the next day, and all the ones I left had been taken.

It now seems to me we all felt Americans and Europeans alike that an age of innocence had come to an end in the United States.

That next day, our French neighbors and our British friends (as well as expatriates from all over the Continent) made a parade to our front door to offer condolences. It finally hit home to me how admired Kennedy was in places that I least expected.

It also seems to me that it was then that Europeans reacquired a jaundiced view of the United States. Even amid the "Ami Go Home" placards, there had been a genuine admiration for the country as well as a liking for individual Americans. While we as a family stayed "their Americans" in our neighborhood, the opinion around us on the United States began to shift, and seems to have drifted even further as time has passed.

I do not remember anyone voicing any conspiracy theories until after Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, two days later in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters.

Some of us were watching a live feed from the United States on the newsroom TV set and got to see the shot fired and Oswald's collapse when it happened another moment of stunned disbelief. This may be my mind playing tricks, but I think I remember seeing Jerry O'Leary in the crowd. It would make sense because he was covering Kennedy's Democratic Party-mending trip to Texas for the old Washington Evening Star. I would later work with Jerry at the Star and again at The Washington Times.

The French could not fathom how any police force could be so incompetent to let such a thing happen by accident and felt it must have been allowed on purpose. They could not believe professional law enforcers would be so greedy for publicity that they would endanger such a notorious and important suspect.

Many Americans seem to have the same feeling.

Still, what stands above all the deep emotion from that period is the warmth of sympathy from the parade of friends, neighbors and even casual acquaintances as they came to share our grief over an American tragedy.

Stroube Smith is a copy editor for The Washington Times and a free-lance writer.

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