50 Years Later, the Kennedy Assassination Still Haunts a Generation

Sarah Feuerbacher, director at SMU's Center for Family Counseling, provided expertise for a story on the nation's psychological reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy.

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

Alan Hilfer remembers precisely where he was when he heard the news 50 years ago today.

Hilfer was 15, and his high school German-language teacher was sobbing in the hallway. He and his friends asked the teacher what was wrong, and she said, "The president's been shot and I think he's dead."

Alarmed and confused, the boy had no idea what that meant for the country or for his future, remembers Hilfer, now director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City.

Most Baby Boomers tell a similar story with the same clarity half a century later, a collective memory that psychologists see as the hallmark of a generation transformed forever in one stunning minute. . .

But after that single moment in Dallas, a cascade of events soon followed that roiled America: more assassinations, divisions over the Vietnam war, urban riots, and social strife -- events that pitted young against old, right against left.

"It's very similar to what happened in 9/11," said Sarah Feuerbacher, clinic director at the Center for Family Counseling at Southern Methodist University, in Plano, Texas. "In the days afterwards, everyone came together.

"But afterwards, the fallout occurs," she added, dissolving the sense of common ground and shared experience.

Feuerbacher said most Baby Boomers don't realize that they probably suffered some level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing JFK slumping in the convertible and Jackie Kennedy scrambling over the trunk.

Viewing even just one traumatic event like the assassination can produce all the symptoms of PTSD, Feuerbacher said.

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