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December 7 1941, “a day that will live in infamy”, was deeply etched into the memory banks of my parents. My father, Rudy Messar, graduated from Wausaukee High School in 1937 and my mother, Mary Peeters Messar graduated from WHS in 1941. Where they were and what they were doing on that fateful Sunday when they first heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor were readily recalled and relived. That day changed their lives.
September 11 2001 is likewise engraved in the then youthful memories of my now middle-aged children. For my children and their entire generation, September 11 will always be a date to remember… a date that for them will live in infamy. The recent twentieth anniversary of September 11th and the solemn events held across our country to commemorate the loss of life on that day triggered a flashback in me to another date in history… a date in history that rocked my world. It was, in the words of CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, “a day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times” … and I was there and I was altered.
The day, November 22 1963, was a Friday. I was a freshman in Wausaukee High School and that particular Friday was the day before the opening of deer season, and it was basketball game night as well. As you might guess, in my opinion, there are few if any better Fridays on the yearly calendar than the Friday before deer season… and to have a basketball game scheduled for that same Friday made the day even better … at least in Rangerville. Coach Bob Eichinger had the Ranger JV’s ready to play and Coach Dick Yenchesky had the varsity boys ready to go.
Lunch hour was over (though why they called it lunch “hour” I never understood because it never lasted the required 60 minutes that make up an hour). Time to report for the afternoon classes. I found myself in the old high school’s chemistry lab. Mr. Arlen Hilgendorf had his Phy Ed class learning first aid. The exact lesson for the day isn’t recalled but sometime around 1:00 there was a school-wide announcement over the public address system: “President John F. Kennedy has been shot while visiting Dallas Texas. At this time the condition of the president is unknown.“
As time slowly went forward from that first announcement of an assassination attempt on the President, radio coverage continued over the school PA system. The back story was shared with an anxious audience not only in Wausaukee High School, but all across America. We learned that the shooting occurred in Dealey Plaza. Riding in the Presidential limousine were the president, first Lady, and John Connally, Governor of Texas and his wife. Following the assassination attempt the limousine sped rapidly out of Dealey Plaza and rushed the president to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Initial status reports were sketchy but continued to be shared with a stunned and hushed student body. Finally, sometime later, America got the sad news that the President was dead. President Kennedy had been killed by an assassin’s bullet. JFK, that young, handsome, WWII war hero was dead. That radio broadcast sucked much of the oxygen out of our classroom. That just couldn’t have happened. Sure, we all knew that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, but that was almost a century earlier. There was the Civil War going on back then. It couldn’t happen in 1963, right?
The events of that day led to a loss of interest in things that ordinarily were important to me. I don’t remember a thing about the game that night. I can’t remember who we played. It was a home game but our opponents that night have been forgotten. I don’t remember anything about deer hunting for opening day. That next day, Saturday, created a challenge to my youngest brother Dave. He was just 3 months passed his third birthday and the Saturday morning television cartoons were preempted for coverage of the assassination and the arrest of a suspect in the assassination of the president. Somehow things had changed overnight … and would never be the same. I think we all lost more than our president that day. My generation, the Baby Boomers, lost our innocence that day; and in the events that immediately followed November 22nd we also lost our simplistic and naive notion of the world around us. The world was suddenly a darker place.
The arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin got extended televised coverage. He was arrested on Friday and taken to Dallas Police Headquarters for interrogation and incarceration in the city jail. On Sunday morning, this Wausaukee Ranger wasn’t out in in the woods pursuing the wily whitetail buck. Instead, I was glued to our black and white TV set as Oswald was being escorted, in handcuffs, down a basement hallway to a waiting vehicle for transfer to the county jail. As cameras were rolling and broadcasting live to the American audience, Jack Ruby steps into the path of Oswald and shoots him with a handgun. Oswald gets transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where like President Kennedy, he is pronounced dead. This wasn’t a made for TV creation… we saw it live and in person. JFK’s killer was shot and killed right before our very eyes.
December 7 1941, November 22 1963, and September 11 2001. Three days of historical significance in the life our country; three days that changed the arc of history. Those same three days touched the lives of three generations of the Messar family. And yes Walter Cronkite, we were there.
Author - Marty Messar '67
Marty Messar graduated from Wausaukee High School with the Class of 1967. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology at UW Stevens Point (1971) and a Master of Science in Zoology from UW Milwaukee (1977). Marty's epic teaching career began in the fall of 1975 and continued for 36 years in Luck, Wisconsin. His teaching repertoire included Human Anatomy & Physiology, Introduction to Chemistry, Chemistry, Biology, Ecology, Zoology, and Botany. In 2003, Marty was honored with a Herb Kohl Education Foundation Fellowship Award.
The Luck Girls Varsity Basketball team was "lucky" to have Marty as Head Coach for 39 years with an overall coaching record of 430-400. Marty received the honor of being selected to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013...he was inducted on the same night as the all-time leading scorer in Wisconsin boys’ basketball history, who just so happens to be another Wausaukee Ranger Alum, Anthony Pieper.
Marty married Sue Olson in 1972. He and Sue have three children: Aryn Messar, Heidi Messar Hartle, and Jay Messar. Marty and Sue split their time between Luck, WI and the sunny shores of Chequamegon Bay.