‘Ask Not … ‘

UCSB's student paper scrambled to portray the mood on campus the day President Kennedy died.

There are few people my age who cannot tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963.

I was a senior poli sci major at UCSB, trying to rustle up rent by working as one of the deputy editors on the student newspaper, then called El Gaucho. The Opinion Page was my responsibility, partly because I could also draw political cartoons as well as write editorials. Marcia Meier was ed-in-chief.

We were on deadline that Friday, putting out Monday morning’s paper, if I recall correctly, in the one-story wooden shack that still stands near Storke Tower (of course the tower came years later) when the dreadful news poured out of the radio. There was immediate shock, disbelief, and an angry sadness that our president had been shot. Since the radio was hooked into a loudspeaker system aimed at the tiny patio between the Gaucho offices and the then-student union, students and staff began to concentrate there in small knots.

When the anonymous radio voice intoned that JFK had died, many burst into tears and virtually everyone looked as if he or she had lost a cherished friend. Our small staff took the blow with everyone else, but we did not have much time to mourn. EIC Marcia started giving orders in a matter-of-fact manner to tear up the front page. We talked about the replacement editorial she would write, and I went to work on suitable editorial art as well as a new layout for the page. Pete Young was our news editor, I believe, and he assigned reaction stories to the few reporters who showed up asking how they could help.

I was proud of the student staff and how we pulled together to rise to the occasion, tragic as it was. Our printer, an Orcutt firm, worked late with us so the Gaucho could be printed that weekend and distributed on Monday. After that, the details fade into the mists of the past.

The following April 1964 I was accepted into JFK and Sargent Shriver’s still-experimental Peace Corps and was sent into training for a health project in Brazil come June. I was already interested in the Peace Corps before the assassination, but once in training I was determined to make my two years of service worthy of President Kennedy’s legacy. And I think, in some measure, I accomplished that. I also think my sentiment was shared by many in the Peace Corps Class of ’64.

Vic Cox, a Goleta resident for 30 years, contributes monthly to the Goleta Grapevine column online at independent.com.


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