Friday, November 11, 2011
Life as I Knew It
The Weekend President Kennedy was shot – Part 2
There is more to the story of the burglar who broke into my family’s home that fateful weekend in November 1963. This story is best told by my friend Ron Wasson. Ron was a year older than me and a very close friend of mine. While I was trying to get home from my local leave trip, he and his family were encountering the burglar who called himself “Terrible.” Here is Ron’s story:
My Name Is Terrible
"Terrible!" answered the enraged intruder when my Dad asked, “What is your name?”
It was November of 1963, a typical warm, dark, night during the early dry season in Ogbomosho, Nigeria. Mom had gone out to visit other missionaries that night and was just returning in the car. Dad was home in the living room, on the couch, reading. My younger brother, sister and I were already asleep in our bedrooms.
Suddenly, without any warning, a Nigerian man yanked opened the screen door and stood in the doorway holding a knife in his right hand and a broken Sprite bottle in the other. He demanded money from my Dad and threatened to kill him if Dad did not have any money to give. Although greatly startled, Dad calmly got up from the couch and asked the man his name. He replied “Terrible!” Then he once again demanded money as he lunged toward Dad, threatening him with the knife. Dad could tell from the look in his eyes that he was not in a normal state of mind, perhaps he was on some type of drug. Dad remained composed and told the man he had no money. Then with a firm voice, Dad cautioned him to be quiet so as not to awaken his sleeping children. (This specific response would later become the talk of the mission and beyond, that although faced with a possible life threatening situation; Dad’s priority was to not wake his children!) The man was obviously confused and perplexed at Dad’s response. He didn’t notice that Dad was slowly approaching him, closer and closer, until Dad grabbed the heavy wooden door and slammed it into the man. The glass window in the door shattered when it hit the man’s outstretched arm and he fled quickly still holding the knife or bottle.
Meanwhile, Mom had parked the car just a few yards away when Dad started shouting, “Stay, Stay” (as in don’t come this way, stay there). Mom thought he was saying “Snake, Snake”. She thought a snake was in the house and had climbed in bed with one of the children. (Snakes were known to find their way into houses.) She had a flashlight and kept walking toward the front porch, thinking nothing of her potential danger. At this point, Dad was frantically worried; he didn’t know what direction Terrible had fled and did not want Mom to encounter him. As it turned out, Terrible ran in the other direction and Mom was never in any danger.
I remember waking up to the breaking glass and Dad’s yelling, but I didn’t get up and must have dozed off again. I later came out of the bedroom when Mom and Dad were sweeping up the glass and was told everything was OK and to go back to bed. Evidently, they didn’t want me to worry about what had happened and have problems going back to sleep. Completely unaware of any problem I soon fell back asleep.
The next morning, everyone was excited and talking about what had taken place. I learned more about the events of the night before. Another missionary house just three houses down was robbed and ransacked during the night. The missionaries were gone at the time. The thieves (not sure if Terrible was involved) were able to get in through the back door of the house. I remember seeing the inside of the house after the police had been through it. They allowed us in but we were told not to touch anything. It was a mess! Nothing was left undisturbed. Drawers were pulled out; clothes, furniture, kitchen utensils - everything lay scattered about. One thing that has stuck in my mind all these years is that that the thieves did not disturb a small matchbox that one of the missionary kids was using as a “piggy bank”. I guess the thieves never thought that money would be hiding in a matchbox.
Soon after, we learned that Terrible was a murderer who had escaped from prison. A few days later, we heard yelling in the streets of the nearby town. The yelling sounded like what might be heard at a ball game as a crowd reacts excitedly to a great play. As it turned out, the crowd was reacting to the news that Terrible had finally been caught, but not before stabbing and wounding a policeman during his capture. Terrible still had the cuts on his hand from my glass door.
I remember visiting the policeman at the Ogbomoso Baptist hospital where my father was the pharmacist. It didn’t take long for word to spread throughout the town about the white missionary man who was not afraid to stand up to Terrible and chase him away. Dad’s action that night made him a hero to the local people. He was being referred to as “John Wayne”. Dad never thought himself a hero though, after all, he was simply doing what any parent would do – trying to let sleeping children sleep. His actions to prevent the awakening of his children despite the danger he faced as he stared down a crazed murderer has been discussed and laughed about for years and happily continues on even to this very day. A short time later, all the windows on the mission houses were outfitted with expanded metal to prevent anyone from getting in from the outside and they still remain there today.
That same day, we had learned about the assassination of President Kennedy. I remember seeing a newspaper with the headlines “Kennedy Assassinated” on the back of a policeman’s motorcycle parked outside the house that was robbed.
So, whenever someone asks, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot”? I always have an interesting story to tell.