Most people who were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
My memories are still vivid.
I was working in Washington on temporary duty as a junior NBC News correspondent. I was having lunch with some friends at the National Press Club just a couple of blocks away from the White House when the news broke.
The place cleared out like a Chinese restaurant kitchen when an immigration officer shows up. There must have been a lot of unpaid tabs that day.
My first reaction was to start swearing, and I kept on swearing until I reached a pay phone downstairs on the street. When I called my office, I got a message saying that "all circuits were busy." I immediately wondered if some kind of conspiracy was under way.
But I finally got through to the news desk. "Where are you?" asked an editor. I told him. He told me to get to the White House right away. He said there would be a camera waiting for you. "What do I do when I get there?" I asked. "Talk," he said. "What do I talk about?" "Just talk."
So I headed off to the White House, slowing down as I approached the front gate so I wouldn't be out of breath when I went on camera.
I was immediately miked up and put on the air--the first correspondent to broadcast from the White House on that fateful day.
I had zero information, so I talked about people starting to gather in front of the White House. I talked about how the sad gray sky and the barren trees seemed to symbolize the gloom enveloping Washington. I talked about not knowing where the Kennedy children were or if they had been informed. And I "just talked."
But after a while, I just ran out of something to say, and I just stared blankly at the camera, not thinking quickly enough to throw it back to the studio. I thought I was looking ridiculous, but when I saw the tape some time later, the director had mercifully started to pan off me to the people in front of the White House, so the long pause seemed quite natural.
I then went back to "just talking" until the network switched back to Dallas and did the same report periodically until the new President reached the White House and we started getting some real information.
By the end of a very long day, I was totally drained, with no time out for grieving, and then shock kicked in as I realized the enormity of the event. Although I knew that three previous US Presidents had been assassinated, I never ever thought that it could or would happen during my lifetime.