Earliest recollection of tragedy QUESTIONS

One of the facts about 9/11 is that if you’re young enough, it was the singularly shocking event. But if you’re old enough, you might recall Pearl Harbor, various assassinations, Chernobyl or the Challenger disaster. I don’t remember Pearl Harbor, but I do recall two Kennedy assassinations and those of Medgar Evers and of ML King, Jr when I was growing up. It was Evers’ death I first recall.

But the event that actually terrorized me more was the University of Texas at Austin tower shootings by Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966. It terrified me because it was so random; his victims, save for his mother and wife, killed earlier, were people not known to him. It was determined at Whitman’s autopsy that he had a brain tumor, which likely triggered his rampage. This was, as far as I can remember THE precursor to mass school shootings in the United States such as Columbine and Virginia Tech.

What was the first public trauma – as opposed to a personal trauma, such as a death or divorce in the family – that you recall? How, if at all, did it affect you? I know after the Whitman shootings, I was always looking up at tall buildings for several weeks.

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9 thoughts on “Earliest recollection of tragedy QUESTIONS

  1. Though the Challenger disaster happened before, the San Francisco earthquake in October 1989 was the one that really opened my eyes. The thought that really got me were the people driving home from work on Interstate 880, only to have it collapse on top of them, with some not making it home. It also opened my eyes to how quick your life can be snuffed out. I learned of the event after coming home from the funeral parlor where my maternal grandfather was laid out, having died a few days before. I turned on the TV to watch the World Series and was informed (obviously) of the earthquake. As sad as I was of my grandfather’s death, he was 80 years old and had a good life. These people that were killed in the earthquake could have expected to live that long too, if not longer. It put things into perspective for me.

  2. The worst thing I will always remember happened in Brussels in 1967, when “The Innovation” department store burnt down, more than 322 people were killed and many never found or identified. There were more than 1000 people in the store. I still remember the smoke, my collegue lost her mother in the fire and people throw themselves out of the windows. It was horrible.

  3. I have some memories of John Kennedy’s assassination, mostly the reaction of my cousin who was living with us at the time while her parents were in the US. She was very much affected by the event, although but to my young mind, this was something that had happened in a distant land.

    There were two ‘tragedies’ that did affect me as a child. The first was the polio scare and my mum making me queue to get my vaccination booster, pink liquid soaked into a sugar cube.

    The second was the Aberfan Disaster of 1966 when a colliery spoil-tip collapsed on to a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

    I think it was the fact that the children were killed at school where they should have been safe. Not unlike your school shootings I guess.

  4. To me it was the famine in Ethiopia during the 80s – as a 14 year old I was horrified (and confused) that while we were going on about our days as usual, hundreds of thousands of people were dying of hunger.

  5. I was 3 years old when JFK was shot. I remember my mother crying about it and I remember seeing black cars and people dressed in black on TV. I don’t think I knew what was going on at all then but it sticks in your mind when you see your mother crying like that.

  6. The Jonestown massacre. My parents were generally pretty good at shielding my brother and me from the horrors of the news, until we went to a relative’s house that year, and it was all over the tv and people seemed to have a sick fascination with it. I remember my brother (then five) asking “Will God kill us?” when he got the gist of what happened there.

    I also remember my dad not being very happy with said relative.

    The fact that that’s the first sad world news I know may be why I react with such revulsion to flip comments about “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

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