My friend Myron Wachendorf played rock and roll dances throughout the United States and Canada, but one of the amazing stories from his long career involved a gig he didn't play.
Over the years, Myron has told stories of his years on the road as leader of Myron Lee and the Caddies. He became good friends with Bobby Vee early on, and when Dick Clark (of American Bandstand fame) needed a solid band to back up 12 to 15 rock and roll acts for a concert tour in 1963, Vee recommended Myron Lee’s band.
He and his band left Sioux Falls that fall for Clark’s Caravan of Stars, a traveling roadshow that included such chart-riding stars such as Vee, Brian Hyland, The Ronettes, Jimmy Clanton and Little Eva. As the tour wound its way through the final dates on its schedules, the buses traveled overnight from a gig in Wichita to Dallas, where a show was scheduled on the evening of Nov. 22. The musicians arrived at midmorning. Some headed to their hotel rooms to sleep. Myron and Hyland strolled the downtown streets, noticed a crowd and joined in time to see a motorcade go past with President John D. Kennedy, his wife and the governor of Teas. Shortly after the vehicles had passed, Myron heard what sounded like firecrackers. He’d soon learn, along with the rest of a shocked nation, that JFK had been assassinated in Dealey Plaza.
The Clark show that night was cancelled. The musicians and road crew mourned with the rest of the country. As Myron recalls, the Caravan of Stars went on for a few more show dates. Crowds were small and subdued. The magic was gone with the charismatic president with the unruly hair and gleaming smile.
“I don’t believe any American, including those of us with the Caravan of Stars, was in the mood for entertainment,” Myron writes in his biography. “It was instead a time of mourning and reflection.”
All of us of a certain age, anyone who was born before about 1955, remember where we were when we heard the news from Dallas that day. Our stories aren’t as dramatic as Myron Lee’s, but we all have them and we’ll never forget them. Sunday is the anniversary of the assassination. I don’t recall a November since 1963 when I wasn’t aware of the approaching date. This year is no different.
For me, it was a hoo-hum Friday on the campus of South Dakota State University. I sat in a sophomore ROTC class, probably fidgeting in my wool Army uniform. It was hot in the room. The wool scratched. The military issue dress shirt was an inch too short in the sleeves and half an inch too tight in the collar. None of that mattered when the news came that the Commander in Chief had been shot while traveling in Texas.
The cadets in the room looked at each other puzzled at first and then, when reality sank in, unable to comprehend such a thing. Who did it? What could it mean? And mostly, why and what now?
The instructor continued for a minute or two before the word came that all classes were cancelled for the day. I walked out of the ROTC armory, saw the journalism building across the drive and went there. Several students had gathered near a second-floor teletype machine that carried bulletins and updates from The Associated Press. A few students were close enough to read each dispatch. The rest huddled close and listened closer. I found some comfort in being with others. We didn’t say much, none of us except those reading the news. We were together though, and it helped just a bit to know that others were struggling to comprehend the enormity of what we were learning.
People simply don't kill the president of the United States. Except they sometimes do. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and now John Kennedy. Even today, just typing those names, it seems impossible.
The world changed that day for my generation. All these later, the anniversary remains, as Myron Lee wrote, a time for mourning and reflection.