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People remember, tell about historical disasters to cope, experts say

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SALT LAKE CITY — Friday marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The moment is burned into the memories of millions, and even many of those who were very young at the time can remember exactly where they were the instant they learned the news.

From John F. Kennedy's death to the Challenger Explosion in 1986 to the terrorist attacks on September 11, every generation has their moment that changed its course.

"Generations are shaped by the cultural events of their time," said Westminster social scientist Mark Rubinfeld. "When there are defining moments such as an assassination or such as an attack, that's part of the shaping process that happens."

It doesn't matter what you were doing — if you were alive on November 22, 1963, you know exactly where you were.

"I was 15 years old and it was nighttime over there and we were all sitting around watching our favorite television show," said Carol Cook, who was a teenager in London.

It was a moment that changed an entire generation. As the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death is remembered, many recall their stories.

"JFK was in the middle of doing a lot of incredible things and so there is a lot of speculation of ‘the what if,' " said Westminster College social scientist Julie Stewart.

Similarly, those who lived through other historical moments remember their stories. The Pearl Harbor attack is described as the "Silent Generation", the Kennedy Assassination defined the "Baby Boomers," the Challenger disaster in 1986 defined "Generation X" and the September 11 terrorist attacks are associated with those commonly called "Generation Y" or the Millennials.

Many people know someone who had a first hand account of exactly what they were doing when each of these major historical events happened. They can probably even tell you what they were smelling at the time.

Experts say that our desire to tell people where we were, and what we were doing is a healing mechanism.

"I think it's a way of us working through the grief that we felt at the time, it's a way for us to forge a connection with people," Stewart said. "The more you talk about something; somehow it takes away the raw power and emotion from it.

Experiencing something together as a generation is a common link. We find solace in conversation when something unexpected happens

"Part of it goes back to actual brain chemistry and then it tends to be reinforced socially as people talk about what happened and kind of process it together," Stewart said.

Where were you when a major, historical event happened? How did it change you? Tweet us with #MomentsKSL and we will add it to the story.


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Andrew Wittenberg and Natalie Wardel


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