Everyone in my generation -- at least anyone in their late 50s or older -- can remember exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy was shot fatally in Dallas a half-century ago.

We can remember who told us. We can remember what we did next. We can remember the shock of the television reports, the desperate hope for survival. The memory branded our lives as uniformly as a mass-produced tattoo.

Before the half-century mark of the assassination on Nov. 22, we will be suffused with retrospectives. But at bottom, our recollections are personal. And it's worth sharing them.

FILE - In this October 1962 file photo provided by the White House, President John F. Kennedy, left, claps time as his children Caroline, center, and John,
FILE - In this October 1962 file photo provided by the White House, President John F. Kennedy, left, claps time as his children Caroline, center, and John, Jr. dance in the Oval Office. Asked in 2012 if she ever felt overwhelmed by the legacy of the Kennedy years and the carefully cultivated image of a modern day Camelot, Kennedy said, "I can't imagine having better parents and a more wonderful brother. So I feel really fortunate that those are my family, and I wish they were here. ((AP Photo/White House, File))

So with this column, I'm inviting readers to tell me exactly what happened to them on Nov. 22, 1963 -- where they were, who told them, the reaction of people around them, how they remember the assassination 50 years later.

Let me tell you my story. I was a ninth-grader at Amphitheater High School in Tucson, Ariz., a 5-foot-2 kid with a short haircut and parents who had supported Adlai Stevenson in 1960.

I can remember passing through a door on one of Amphi's wings toward the end of lunch and bumping into Bonnie Burke, who said, "Scott, have you heard anything about the president being shot?" I have no idea how she knew.

Spanish class


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Not long afterward, we went into Mrs. Labiaux's sixth-period Spanish class, where -- to our consternation -- she insisted on parsing Spanish verbs rather than letting us watch television. By that time, I think most of us knew the president was dead.

The next day, the Arizona Daily Star, a paper for which my minister father did a brief stint as a reporter a couple of years before, ran several pictures of mourners around Tucson. One of them showed my mother and father intently watching television at the University of Arizona student union. Sadness creased my father's face.

The memory of that day marks us whether or not we liked John F. Kennedy. History has treated him unkindly. He conducted a reckless personal life. And his inaugural rhetoric -- "bear any burden, pay any price" -- led to the morass of Vietnam. It was in death that he had his greatest impact.

Yet his assassination meant a lasting loss of innocence for America. We wanted JFK to be something that he was not -- the charming family man who led a country that could be safely counted on the side of the angels. The shots in Dallas destroyed our dreams and left a raw, red welt across our pride.

Half-mast

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1960 file photo, Caroline Kennedy gets a piggy-back ride from her father, Sen. John F. Kennedy, in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1960 file photo, Caroline Kennedy gets a piggy-back ride from her father, Sen. John F. Kennedy, in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the first chance in weeks Kennedy has had to relax with his daughter during his presidential campaign. ((AP Photo))

The other day, a few of us with gray in our hair were reminiscing about Nov. 22, 1963. On that day, one of my friends was a fifth-grade crossing guard at Willow Glen Elementary School, a job that involved raising the flag. When Kennedy was shot, the principal called him in and told him to lower the flag to half-mast. "Maybe he's only wounded," my friend said. The principal had to tell him that it was fatal.

If you're part of my generation or older, you have your own story. Send them to my email: sherhold@mercurynews.com, or to Scott Herhold at 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA. 95190. Include the town you live in now. If you have a picture of yourself from that era, all the better. We'll pick the best stories and run them in a column on the week of Nov. 22, a day we can't forget a half-century later.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/scottherhold.