Everyone in our generation is supposed to remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963 when they first heard the news about President Kennedy being assassinated in Dallas.
I was a 22-year-old with about three months on the job training as a public relations representative for a big North American Aviation (now Rockwell International) aerospace plant in the San Fernando Valley. I had been hired as the editor of the employee newspaper for $115 a week. It was big money compared to the $85 a week I had been earning at the Van Nuys News & Valley Green Sheet (now the Los Angeles Daily News).
No radios were allowed inside the plant gates. The SONY Walkman hadn't been invented, nor had CNN or PC based news services that deliver news to your desktop. As a result, we were fairly isolated from the news inside the plant.
Shortly before noon Pacific Time, my wife called me and told me what she had just heard on the radio. The President had been shot during a motorcade in Dallas. He had been taken to the hospital. No one knew if he was alive or dead.
By coincidence that day, all the executive and senior managers were out of the plant at some sort of meeting. Nobody was in charge of a plant employing 3-4,000 people.
I ran out to my car and heard the news on the radio. Then I ran back into the plant. By this time, the news had spread like wildfire and anyone who was entitled to leave the plant during his or her shift (blue badge) was heading for the parking lot. Hourly employees (with red badges) weren't allowed to leave until quitting time.
I ran straight to the Plant Security Office and told the sergeant on duty to turn on the PA system and give me the microphone. Somewhat bewildered, he did as I asked.
Summoning up my best radio announcers voice, I made an announcement that was heard throughout the plant. Nothing was written down. I just ad libbed.
"The Associated Press is reporting from Dallas that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connolly were shot this afternoon during a parade in downtown Dallas. The President has been taken to the hospital but it is not known whether he is alive or dead. We will provide additional information as it becomes available."
I then repeated the message, word for word.
My boss, the head of the Public Relations department, had taught me (apparently pretty well) that when the poop hits the propeller, the P.R. department is supposed to clean up the mess. The poop was hitting the propeller and I was the only member of the P.R. department in the plant. So I figured that I was pretty much in charge.
When we finally learned that the President was dead, I told somebody to lower the flag in front of the plant to half-staff. The only legal radio in the plant was in the plant security. So I turned it on and opened the mike and broadcast the news over the P.A. system.
Moments later, the chief of the plant security department, a crusty, cigar-smoking retired Irish cop named Thomas William Patrick Murphy comes storming into his office. He was red in the face and looked like he wanted to kill something. Me.
He demanded to know from the sergeant who had authorized the public address announcement. I told him I had. He blustered that public address announcements could only be authorized by the chief of police, which was him. You weren't here, I told him. Then he complained about the flag being at half-staff, saying the only the President could order the flag lowered. I told him that we didn't have a President.
By this time, the people who had fled to their car radios in the parking lot were slowly returning to the plant since they could hear the news over the outdoor speakers.
When the executives and managers finally made it back to the plant, my boss relieved me of my brief stint in command. I also got a $10 a week raise, which was serious money.