Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August 1, 1966

I was twelve that summer. We were spending a few days at my grandparents' house in Elgin. I can remember eating a watermelon out under the big tree earlier in the day.

My grandfather and father had gone to Austin to deliver a load of watermelons. There was no telephone at the farm house. Television in those days consisted of one station, KTBC, and there was no reason for us to be inside on a hot day watching television. There was no air-conditioning either, so it was best to be outside in the shade. So we weren't listening to the radio either.

In other words, we had no idea what was happening a mere 30 miles away on that hot August day. It was probably best. If we had caught any news reports, we would have been worrying all day about our menfolk who were in Austin.

Because that was the day that Charles Whitman went to the top of the UT tower and went on a shooting spree, killing and wounding dozens of people in his line of fire. The first we knew of the day's events was when our men came back and told us what had been going on.

For days afterwards the papers and news reports were filled with the grisly details. One photo that sticks out in my memory all these years was that of a coed who was crouched behind the concrete foundation of the flag on the mall, just barely hidden from Whitman's view.

We had two cousins on campus during the rampage. Cousin Jo was taking a test in one of the buildings and her husband Luther safely made his way to that building to warn her. I remember a story of a man who said he was trying to climb a fence and was about to give up when a bullet sang over his head. He cleared the fence easily with that extra bit of motivation. I remember the grainy black and white news films showing the ambulances taking away the bodies. I remember learning that one of the victims was an unborn baby whose mother was struck down by one of the bullets.

Anyone who was at least 10 years old and lived in Central Texas during 1966 probably has similar flashes of memory when they drive down Guadalupe Street and past the Tower. I never go within rifle range of the Tower without glancing up and thinking about that day.

One madman on a hot August day. I remember.


1 comment:

dw said...

I thought I remembered us being in Elgin that day...so I was right. And we were at Bill and Richard's the next day, I think, because I remember the big Cronkite report was on and we saw it on their TV.

Even now the name "Whitman" is creepy to me.