“Where Were You When?” (WWYW) moments bind us together. They are a generation’s touchstone and cement a shared identity. My parent’s generation included December 7, 1941 — Pearl Harbor and June 6, 1944 — D-Day.
My first WWYW moment was fifty-five years ago today, Nov 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. I was nine years old, in the 4th grade, in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. It was a Friday. Mrs. Bulalee Herring was my teacher — a strict but fair teacher as I remember her — a pit bull in a poodle suit. We had returned to class after the lunch period and she was delayed. (Mrs. Herring was never late, only delayed.) She had been crying and was very upset. She instructed us to gather up our things and coats, as school was dismissing early; the school buses were on their way. She said President Kennedy had been assassinated.
One of my classmates raised their hands and asked “What is assassinated?”
Mrs. Herring said he had been shot and killed. She said this would be a very important few days to remember.
How true she was. We gathered spell-bound around our black and white RCA television and watched. Our village received one VHF channel, KBIM out of Roswell, New Mexico. We watched Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. We watched the president’s funeral procession and John John’s salute.
I was leading a Process Mapping / Triaging session at Sprint Corporation when 9/11 happened. We gathered around a television monitor in a break room and all the feelings of my childhood’s “Where Were You When” day flooded my emotions. I sent everyone home, explaining, “This is your generation’s Pearl Harbor. Your Kennedy Assassination. Clear your calendar and watch it carefully, as it will be permanently imprinted. It may change the political course of your generation.” And it did.
My most treasured WWYW moment, by the way, is when I saw a stunningly beautiful young woman tending a breakfast bar in college. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was definitely “Someone Really Different at First Sight.” She’s still amazing after 41 years of putting up with me.