‘This Doesn’t Happen in America’: 50 Years After Kennedy Assassination, Readers’ Emotions Still Raw
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy as they arrive at Love Field in Dallas in 1963. (National Archives photograph)
FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, seen through the foreground convertible's windshield, President John F. Kennedy's hand reaches toward his head within seconds of being fatally shot as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy holds his forearm as the motorcade proceeds along Elm Street past the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Gov. John Connally was also shot. (AP Photo/James W. "Ike" Altgens)
FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 photo from the White House via the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston, Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president as Jacqueline Kennedy stands at his side in the cabin of the presidential plane on the ground at Love Field in Dallas. Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a Kennedy appointee to the Federal court, left, administers the oath. In background, from left are, Associate Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff, holding microphone; Jack Valenti, administrative assistant to Johnson; Rep. Albert Thomas, D-Texas.; Lady Bird Johnson; and Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas. (AP Photo/White House, Cecil Stoughton, via the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 file photo, 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's casket in Washington, three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy, center, and daughter Caroline Kennedy are accompanied by the late president's brothers Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 file photo, Arlington House sits atop a hill overlooking the eternal flame at the grave site of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - This Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 photo of an Associated Press teletype news bulletin from Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 shows news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The document is in the AP Corporate Archives in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - This Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 photo of an Associated Press teletype news bulletin from Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 shows early news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The document kept is in the AP Corporate Archives in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - This Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 photo of an Associated Press teletype news bulletin from Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 shows early news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, in the AP Corporate Archives in New York. The document is timed at 12:40 p.m. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin of President John F. Kennedy, is shown leaving the White House in procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, en route to Arlington National Cemetery, November 25, 1963. (AP Photo)
They were standing in their kitchen baking cookies. They had just gotten engaged. They were celebrating the birth of their first child.
They were in second grade. They were in college. They were serving in the armed forces.
They were in Germany and Turkey and Australia and London. They were in one of a dozen different states, from Maine to Florida to Oregon.
They were living their lives full of optimism for the future of an America basking in the glow of Camelot.
They were living their lives not knowing America was teetering on the brink of a decade of dissent.
They were living their lives, and then, on Nov. 22, 1963, came the news, on the radio, on TV, in a series of news bulletins: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot and killed by an assassin in Dallas.
When the Valley News asked its readers to reflect on that day 50 years ago, the responses poured in. The shock and the heartbreak are still palpable, the memories still painful, the details still fresh.
They have forgotten nothing.
DALLAS, NOV. 22 (AP) — PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT TODAY JUST AS HIS MOTORCADE LEFT DOWNTOWN DALLAS. MRS. KENNEDY JUMPED UP AND GRABBED MR. KENNEDY. SHE CRIED, “OH, NO!” THE MOTORCADE SPED ON. 12:40 P.M. (Central Standard Time)
I was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Austin, Texas. After a week of getting everything ready on base for the arrival of President Kennedy, who was due to arrive that afternoon, I was in my barracks room, listening to the radio. A news flash said that Kennedy had been shot. I got up and looked out into the hallway in disbelief. Several others were doing the same. We all went down to the day room. It was full, everyone was staring at the TV, not wanting to believe what they were seeing. My thoughts at the time were that this kind of thing just does not happen in the United States. For the next few days, everyone you spoke to still could not believe it.
I was home sick from fifth grade. I was on the living room sofa, fretting about missing a day of schoolwork. My brother was bopping up and down in his wooden playpen while my mother was alternately chatting on the phone with friends, ironing my dad’s dress shirts and watching soap operas on the one channel that our television received.
Walter Cronkite unexpectedly appeared on the screen. President Kennedy had been shot and he was dead. I was 10 and I instantly knew that my world had changed. I would not be going to school tomorrow.
My mother walked over to the big picture window in our brand-new split level home. Across the barren, treeless 1960s-style development, other stay-at-home mothers were standing in front of their big picture windows too, silent, simply looking out at each other. They knew too.
President Kennedy came to the University of Maine on Oct. 19, 1963, and he was greeted by thousands. Here was a president all of us could relate to. Politics seemed to be the last thing on our minds. He was young, handsome with a beautiful family in the White House.
On Nov. 22, shortly after lunch, I was preparing for a Spanish exam in my fraternity house when the news came in. I clearly recall that we were stunned into total silence thinking it couldn’t be true. He was here just a month ago. This doesn’t happen in America.
Once the truth began to set in, people all over campus were glued to television sets, many in tears, in total shock. We watched as Jackie, in her blood-spattered clothing, stood beside Lyndon Johnson as he was sworn in as president, and we saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas police headquarters.
Happy days were over and for most of us. The age of innocence was left behind. Civil unrest and Vietnam were just around the corner.
Late afternoon, in a room on the top floor of a bed and breakfast in London, my husband, our 8-year-old daughter and I were planning our next day’s activities.
A knock at the door. Our hostess, usually smiling, but today strangely grim.
“On the telly! Something about your president! Something bad! Come quickly!”
In the small, dark, crowded room, we learned bit by bit through the night of the horror that had taken place in Dallas. Hatred, in the form of a single man with a gun, had triumphed.
The next morning we went to our embassy. The streets seemed strangely quiet. Does anyone over here know? I thought. Does anyone over here care? I wanted home so badly. Perhaps we’ll see some compatriots, we hoped.
We did not, at first. Instead, we saw a line that seemed to extend at least a quarter of a mile, hundreds and hundreds, it seemed, each waiting quietly, patiently, to sign a book of condolences for the American president suddenly struck down.
We took our place at the end of the line. But not for long. We were recognized immediately. Who could miss our child in her American clothes? Gently we were moved ahead in the line.
“So sorry. Dreadful! Here, luf, a toy for the little girl.”
So many with tears, as if an entire world was weeping with us.
On Nov. 22, 1963, the lady who would become my wife and I were working in Turkey. That evening, local time, we decided to become engaged.
Our joy was tempered the next day on learning of the assassination. When we married the following summer, we had our engagement date engraved in the wedding rings as “November 23,” so as not to conflict with our dashed hopes for the Kennedy presidency.
I was in fifth grade in Montrose, N.Y., watching a Thanksgiving play in the school auditorium when the superintendent mounted the stage and announced that President Kennedy had been killed. I heard gasps and someone cried out, but most of us sat in stunned silence.
At home, I huddled beside my mother as we watched the news and saw Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline kneel beside President Kennedy’s casket. The pose was familiar: my mother and I had knelt, just so, beside my father’s casket on the day of his funeral five months earlier.
My 44-year-old father fought cancer for several years. He was in my thoughts as I watched President Kennedy’s funeral procession. My mother noted the similarities between the two men: born only a year apart, both served during World War II. Both had military funerals and were buried in national cemeteries: President Kennedy at Arlington, my father on Long Island.
My father didn’t acquire wealth, power, or national status, but he doted on his family and was greatly loved. As did President Kennedy, my father left a wife and young children, and so, in November 1963, the nation’s grief mirrored my own.
Gioia Grasso Cattabriga
I was in London at a trade show representing an American power tool company and its Dutch subsidiary.
It was the end of the day and I was sitting in the “back room” of a British competitor having a drink and snooping for competitive intelligence.
One of their people came in and said, “Your president’s been shot.” It had just happened and we did not then know that Kennedy was dead.
Later I was joined by my wife as I left the show hall and we stopped at a pub to watch the “telly” for the latest news. While we stood watching, several patrons came up to us saying, each in his own way, “Sorry about your president.”
We wondered how those folks could identify us as American. Perhaps it was the tears in our eyes.
The morning of Nov. 22, 1963, found me in my Manhattan office regaling my fellow employees with descriptions of my firstborn, who had arrived the afternoon before. Life began to settle down after a while until the news came through of the assassination. Shock descended on all of us, and then everyone reached for a telephone. For the first time in anyone’s life, no dial tone was available, as everybody everywhere was trying to call someone. It was at least an hour and a half before calls could be made. What news that came through was shared immediately among a very subdued group. The city looked normal that evening as people began to leave offices and return to their homes and learn what they could on the television.
Monday morning found me driving into New York City to pick up my wife and child, and I was immediately struck by the silence around me. There were no taxis or cars on the streets, no shops were open, no one was on the sidewalks. It was as if the city had been totally deserted. Of course, the entire population was at the funeral, as I would have been had I not the responsibility of collecting my family.
The brief term of culture and elegance was over. The memories last until this day, but nothing was the same ever again.
Joshua “Bushrod” Powers
DALLAS, TEX., NOV. 22 (AP) — REP. ALBERT THOMAS, D-TEX., SAID TODAY HE WAS INFORMED PRESIDENT KENNEDY … WAS STILL ALIVE BUT WAS “IN VERY CRITICAL” CONDITION.
It was so sad because President Kennedy was so young, had a young family, and he had that twinkle in his eye, a zest for politics and life.
I was in school when they announced the assassination and we all were in disbelief and were immediately dismissed. Riding on the bus, children were crying. That is the only sound I remember. It was a long, sad ride home. I had to walk by the Catholic church on my street and I saw a sight I had never seen before. It was strangely beautiful, but sad. There were black cloth drapes gathered above the church door, and the two columns on either side were wrapped in black cloth. Even as a child I knew this was unusual. This set the tone for the next few days.
I had just come back from my honeymoon to my job as a secretary at Harvard Business School. I had seen the president, my president, when he spoke at my high school. This is where I learned the meaning of charisma. He spoke a language that a 17-year-old girl could understand: a born leader with a wonderful sense of humor and a touch of shyness. I would have followed him anywhere.
On that terrible day another secretary, Karen, came to tell me he had been shot. My office faced the stairwell and soon the stairs were crowded with professors rushing out to their car radios. Karen returned with the news of his death. “They’re playing The Star-Spangled Banner, she said.
I was looking forward to having children. How could I describe to them the thrill of having your own ideals spoken back to you like a promise?
I’m sitting with other fifth- and sixth-graders around the table in our school library for a Friday afternoon history enrichment class. The principal, Mr. Curley, comes into the room and tells us President Kennedy has been shot. A few minutes later he returns. The president is dead. We think first that he must be joking. Later we are scared. A bigger kid starts a rumor: The Russians are on the way now to take over our country. When we return to our regular afternoon class, I tell my classmates what I have heard. The teacher gets angry. Although she knows the terrible news, she has chosen not to tell the class.
Early Sunday afternoon, my father takes my sister, brothers and me downtown to the movies. On the black-and-white TV in the Monoplane snack shop next to the theater, we watch Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.
This is the private memory — deeper and more disturbing. It could have happened any time between the president’s assassination and his funeral, which we also watched on TV. My father is sitting on the stairs beside the telephone table, crying and eating dates. It’s the only time I can remember seeing my father cry.
I had just graduated from high school in 1963 and turned 18 in August. I had a job at the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was on Campbell Street in Lebanon. On Nov. 22, the girl in the next office came over and told me the president had been shot. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Shortly after, we got word to close the office.
I remember walking home and hoping the president was just wounded. When I got home, my mother was watching TV. She was crying and very upset. We watched the news for the rest of the day and heard that the president had died. I could not believe that an assassination could happen in my lifetime and in the U.S. This event made me realize that life was not the protecting, comforting and secure existence that I experienced growing up in small town Lebanon. When Kennedy ran for office, it was the first election I felt an interest in. Watching the TV coverage of the funeral was so sad, especially seeing the Kennedy children. How can anyone forget John-John’s salute?
It was a slow night at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, so I told the sergeant on duty with me that I was going to watch a movie and not to bother me. Having recently been promoted to first lieutenant, I thought I was getting comfortable with Army life. Little did I know what this night was to bring.
Around 9 p.m., the sergeant came down the aisle and tapped me on my shoulder. “Lieutenant you need to come with me now.”
“What? And miss the end of the movie?”
“Yes, right now!”
This sounded serious, and after we exited the movie theater, the sergeant said we received a TWX (military-speak for a telegram) from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that was labeled “eyes only” for the officer of the day, which was me. As we all know, 1963 was very much in the middle of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis had happened the prior year. We had more than 30,000 hard-core troops stationed in the Frankfurt area, including the division headquarters for the 3rd Armored Division. It was a serious time.
Is this it? I thought. Are we going to war? I went up to the privacy of the adjutant’s office and opened the TWX. It said to refer to a certain Army regulation and stand by for further instructions. I searched through the many books of regulations and found the right one. It was titled “Command Instructions in the Event of the Assassination of the President of the United States.”
I sank in my seat, being now the only one in the 1,000-bed hospital complex aware that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
Throughout the night the TWXs kept coming, which essentially said that I was to locate the commanding officer or the chaplain and call an assembly of all personnel in the morning, at which time a message from McNamara was to be read. We were not to call an alert and we were to conduct business as usual. In summary, the morning message said that we are a democracy and that there has been an orderly change in command.
For weeks and months thereafter, when I was in uniform off base, the Germans would approach me and offer their condolences.
My senior year in high school, I was a Rotary exchange student to Terang, Victoria, Australia. Around 4 a.m. on Nov. 23, (we were a day ahead) my host parents woke me up to tell me that President Kennedy had been assassinated. There was very little news at first. The foreign press was speculating about a coup or a conspiracy, especially when Oswald was killed.
It was a scary time for me. Few places in my small town had a TV and only with limited reception. Newspapers were the main source of information, each with speculation over what was happening. I purchased a small shortwave radio to get news from Voice of America, which did give information and updates. I was able to listen to the funeral. My schoolmates and hosts all were very supportive. I was the U.S. representative, so I received sympathy and condolences from many people. As a 17-year-old, it was difficult to understand, let alone explain, U.S. politics. I felt fearful for what was happening in my country. When I returned to the U.S., the turmoil and change continued throughout the ’60s.
I was with three or four other freshmen in an art class at Wilbraham Academy in Wilbraham, Mass. We’d been allowed out of the classroom and given an assignment to draw outdoors, unsupervised. The group I was with had gone into the woods above the campus where there are two reservoirs, the Upper Res and the Lower Res. We were sitting in tall, wispy rust-colored grass on the southwest edge of the Lower Res, goofing around, drawing, gabbing and smoking cigarettes. I smelled dog poo but no one else did. Turns out I had sat in it and got some on the brown herringbone tweed jacket my father had bought me at Rogers Peet before I left to go to school and of which I was inordinately proud.
I walked down to the Main Campus alone to change my jacket before the next class. I remember noticing that the flag at the center of the lawn across the street from the main residence hall was at half-staff. I walked up the four flights to my dorm room and ran into a classmate and mentioned the flag. He said the president had been shot. I said something dismissive, at which point he effectively stood at attention, squared himself toward me and said, “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has been shot.”
I went into my room, which was across the hall from our hall monitor, Dick Fuld, a good guy and future CEO of Lehman Brothers. I turned on the green desktop radio I’d brought from home.
The rest of that day and much of the weekend is a blur. Most of the student body gathered in a common area that housed the snack bar, the mail room and a lounge with a linoleum floor and a black-and-white TV. I remember being among a group watching the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald and having a conflicted reaction to the full-throated cheer that erupted in response.
Nothing has ever been the same. We went home for Thanksgiving a few days later, and later in the school year, during the winter, we came back after a break and found a notice on a bulletin board outside the dining hall that read: “Any boy found wearing a Beatles-style haircut will be subject to 100 hours of detention.”
I marvel at how unconnected and isolated we were. I was a freshman at Dartmouth, taking an early afternoon nap in our dorm room in Topliff Hall when some guy pounded on the door and shouted, “Telephone!” The pay phone, one of maybe five in a dorm of about 200 guys, was in a hall booth just around the corner from our door.
It was my girlfriend, calling from her college in Boston (where news traveled a bit faster). Soon after, my roommate showed up. By then I had the radio on to WDCR, the college student station.
“What’s up?” he said.
“Kennedy’s been shot! May be dead.”
“Oh,” he said, stunned. “I saw the flag on the Green’s been lowered …”
In the hours and days following we all were glued to radios, dorm hall telephones, and the occasional TVs in fraternities, student organizations, and finally on a big black-and-white screen in the new Hopkins Center.
In these days of instant news and communication I sometimes wonder how we survived. No cell phones, no texting, no personal computers, no Internet, few TVs, etc., etc. We really were stuck up here in the Great North Woods.
Stanley W. Brown
DALLAS, TEX., NOV. 22 (AP) — PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS GIVEN BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS TODAY AT PARKLAND HOSPITAL IN AN EFFORT TO SAVE HIS LIFE …
Otter Valley High School in Brandon, Vt., was having a fall dance before the upcoming Thanksgiving break. As a young student there, I was really looking forward to it! Toward the end of the day, the announcement was made in my geometry class. My classmates and I went into shock. How could this vibrant, young president be dead? The night before, my family and I had been following his trip to Dallas with much interest, as we had lived in Texas in 1962.
All school activities were canceled. As I got off the bus at my home on Route 7, there was such a sense of sadness as I entered our side door. My parents were watching a special edition of the CBS News with Walter Cronkite. My dad, a poultry farmer, had come in from his chores. I had only seen him cry twice: first when his father died suddenly, and second when my brother enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War.
Throughout the continuing coverage of the unfolding events, it seemed my father could not stop crying. He was raised a Catholic and was also a World War II veteran, serving in the Pacific Theater. My parents, especially my dad, was so proud that a Catholic had been elected president of our country.
Never again were my parents as enthusiastic about another president.
As a postscript, shortly after Kennedy’s death, my mom became pregnant with the 11th of their 12 children. My parents named him John.
Janet Schofield Coxon
I was a college junior in the Midwest. In my dorm room after lunch, I was preparing for a 1 p.m. class when the local AM radio announced that President Kennedy’s motorcade had been fired upon. A few minutes later, we heard that the president had been shot in the head and was in a Dallas hospital.
With a heavy heart, I went to a very subdued class on a grieving campus. At 1:40, the professor asked one of the students to turn up his transistor radio. And then we all heard that the president was dead.
For the next three days we sat glued to the TV, sobbing and anxious, watching incredulously as Jack Ruby gunned down the arrested Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV, and then cried through the televised state funeral.
Somehow we got through Thanksgiving, but our innocence was gone forever.
It was the saddest week of my young life. A gun wielded by a madman had snuffed out the life of our vital young president. Part of me, and my generation, also died that day.
I worked at The First National Bank in White River Junction and was home having lunch. I had the radio on when I heard the news. I just could not believe it. I was shocked that this could happen in the United States of America.
Exactly one month before, my mother died unexpectedly. I was mourning her death and how our family lives would be changed forever. I was now thinking how Jackie and her two young children would be grieving for her husband and their father and how their lives would be changed forever.
Not was I only grieving for my mother, but President Kennedy also.
I was a senior in high school. After the principal made the announcement, we were dismissed. On the bus ride home, I saw people, some alone, others in groups, standing in the streets crying. I was crying too. I felt like I’d lost a very special family member.
For four days, my whole family stayed glued to the television. We kept a vigil in front of the set, even eating on trays so we wouldn’t miss anything. Through tears, we watched the plane carrying President Kennedy’s body land at Andrews Air Force Base and Mrs. Kennedy walk to the hearse in her blood-spattered suit. We saw Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline kneel before the casket in the Capitol rotunda, and we watched as John Jr. saluted his father’s casket during the procession to the cemetery. We were watching the live broadcast on Sunday morning when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
We felt such a deep sense of grief and shock, both as individuals and as a nation. It was all surreal and yet we were witnessing history, something I will never forget.
Mary B. Davis
I was living in Alexandria, Va., when Kennedy was killed. My husband and I were packed up to go north to see his parents, and I was waiting with our kids for him to come home so we could go. I heard the news on the radio and, weeping, started to unpack. He was a reporter for United Press International and didn’t show up for about four days.
I was almost 14 years old in the seventh grade. I was in Mrs. Flynn’s class and remember her gathering us all together to make the announcement. Jerry, a classmate, laughed out loud at the news. Having put 50 years behind me, I know now it was just a young boy’s spontaneous response to stress. It was a long time before anyone in our class spoke to Jerry. Kennedy was that well-loved by all young people.
One of the worst moments for me was when Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald on national TV live, because even as a 14-year-old, I realized we were never going to know who killed the president.
But who cares? Let’s remember Kennedy’s smile and optimism, and the Beatles and the Summer of Love, and Bobby and Martin and Vietnam. Let’s try to remember that war is not the answer, and maybe the rich can share with the poor and the poor can work a little harder to better themselves in a country and a world where bettering oneself is not just a possibility but a certainty.
Matt F. Cardillo
I was standing in my kitchen in Portville, N.Y., baking cookies, listening to the radio, when a news bulletin announced that the president had been shot.
Initial reports gave no indication of the seriousness of the situation, and I ran for the TV, hoping for the best. Our TV never shut off for the next week, with the exception of a few hours of sleep. We watched with horror as his death was announced, as Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, then killed by Jack Ruby, and finally through the highly emotional funeral parade and service. Do I believe in a conspiracy theory? I want to believe that the event occurred just as it has gone down in history. But there is a prickly question in my mind that wonders, what if?
I know that no event before or since, with the exception of 9/11, has ever been as riveting, or will remain in my mind forever, like the events of that week.
Thanksgiving has never been the same — a constant reminder of that day.
By the way, the cookies never got baked.
Marlis Aaron Powers
I was a senior at Harvard, and I was driving my VW to Yale with my date. It would be a great weekend — ﬁnd our friends, watch the varsity soccer game that afternoon, then the Harvard-Yale football game on Saturday. When we pulled into the parking lot we saw a friend, but something was wrong. She ran toward the car looking horriﬁed and slapped her hands urgently on the window. Tears were running down her face. We rolled down the window, and everything changed in an instant. “President Kennedy’s been shot,” she said.
Nobody paid much attention to the soccer game. People were clustered around little portable radios, in shock. Shortly the news came through: Kennedy had died. It seemed impossible. For the first time ever, the old football classic was postponed. We drove home in silence.
I felt like a kid who had lost his parents. I remember hearing people talk about the attack on Pearl Harbor — the shock, the horror, the feeling of being somehow betrayed. Now I understood. This was the Pearl Harbor of our generation.
Conspiracy? We love larger reasons for things, but the evidence is overwhelming: This was the act of a single, unhappy man.
Arthur E. Norton
For me it was a pivotal moment of understanding that the bigger world was not a safe or predictable place.
I was in second grade in Richmond, Va., when Kennedy was shot. The bus driver informed us on the ride home. The kids on the bus cheered — which led to mass confusion on my part. Why would people cheer when anyone was killed? Never mind a president, and a great one at that!
The feelings of sorrow that I associate with that time have as much to do with my horror at the reactions of my peers as they do with the murder itself.
In 1963, my husband and I and our two children were living in Henrico County, just outside the city of Richmond, Va. On the afternoon of Nov. 22, I was in the car with my 5-year-old son, driving the semi-rural roads toward a local 5 and 10 to buy supplies for my daughter’s seventh birthday party. The news came over the car radio. Kennedy had been shot.
The appalled shock that I felt must have taken my mind off driving, because I apparently ignored a stop sign. Almost immediately, a Virginia state trooper pulled me over. Towering above me in his immaculate uniform, he indicated my infraction. Through the half-opened window I gasped, “Have you heard? President Kennedy has been shot.” He did not say a word, but, as he wrote the traffic ticket, I saw just the trace of a smile curl one corner of his lips.
After picking up the party goods, which now seemed oddly inappropriate, I drove home in time to meet my daughter when the school bus dropped her off. Over milk and cookies I asked her if she had heard that the president had been shot. “Yes”, she said, “The children on the bus were clapping and cheering.”
The following year we moved back to New England.
DALLAS, TEX., NOV. 22 (AP) — PRESIDENT WAS GIVEN THE LAST HOLY RITES OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TODAY …
I was awakened by my mother bearing an envelope — my early-decision admission to Antioch College. Yippee! After lunch, I took a bus downtown to my part-time job on F Street, Washington, D.C.’s shopping district. Hired by a neighbor, I worked at Raleigh’s, typing information and checking credit references. When I got off the bus, I noticed people listening to radios, and I thought, “Something might have happened that I don’t know about,” but I continued to work. After a while, someone came into the room and told us the president had been shot. We were distraught.
President Kennedy was iconic for me and my friends. As a junior high student, I had stuffed envelopes at his election headquarters. Like millions of others, I had watched his inauguration on that freezing January day, hoping Robert Frost wouldn’t catch his death of cold. In D.C., politics was omnipresent and exciting. I felt I lived in the center of the world. Soon after the announcement at work, the store closed. The neighbor and I boarded the bus home. People were in shock, crying. I believe that The Washington Post Extra, which I still have, was sold by someone who hopped on the bus.
Many of us thought that Kennedy’s death had come from a southerner unhappy with his position on civil rights. During my first term at college, someone gave a presentation about the suspicious aspects of the assassination. Citing Mark Lane, he reeled off a list of questions. I wish I could say that the many investigations declaring there was only one man involved have convinced me, but over my lifetime so many lies have been revealed that nothing would surprise me.
My senior year in high school in Great Falls, Mont., had gotten off to a special start. In late September, my band had performed for President Kennedy in our football stadium, where the largest crowd in Montana history cheered that familiar icon. I was up in the stands, but managed to have a good view and get some pictures of the president shaking hands with folks just below me.
On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the last period of the day — band practice, ironically — speakers crackled and the principal came on, announcing that the president had been shot in Dallas and that school was over early. I went home, where my mom and I watched the tragedy confirmed on TV, then on to my after-school supermarket job. None of us said much, working in a sort of daze, I think. A cashier couldn’t stop crying. After an hour, we realized that there were no cars outside on what should have been a very busy Friday night street, and then there were no customers. The store was empty and oddly silent. We finally just closed and went home in the dark, and to the stark, gray, uncertain days ahead.
I was 8 years old and in fourth grade. I ran home, near Norwich University, to be with my mother because I knew she was alone.
My father was coming to visit. My sister was training to be a nurse at Dartmouth College. He never had his car radio on. When he went to the building where my sister was he noticed a young nurse crying and she told him that the president was dead.
Charles R. Norton Jr.
I was in a laundromat in a city in West Germany. My husband was in the U.S. Army Band, stationed in Wurtzburg, and we were living in a small apartment over a gasthaus in a small town near that city. Our first baby, born in the hospital on base, was 20 days old, and I had taken the trolley into the city to do laundry.
I remember seeing a sudden news report come on the black-and-white television screen above the washers and dryers. President Kenedy had been shot! I was only 19 years old and yet I experienced the news with shock and despair. I felt our country would never be the same again, and I felt instant concern about the country’s immediate fate without the leadership of this man.
He had come to my hometown area when I was in high school as a senator campaigning for the presidency and I’d shaken his hand as he made his way out of a building after addressing the crowd. He looked right through me, not acknowledging me or anyone directly. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to have connected with a hero, as I perceived him. I didn’t follow politics closely but John F. Kennedy and his family were often in the public eye and I had become aware of his extraordinary charisma and a certain power within him.
Thirty of us were working quietly at our desks in Mrs. Lagerquist’s fourth-grade classroom when the door burst open to reveal the brusque figure of our principal, Mr. Goodness. He called our teacher into the hallway.
After a few moments, Mrs. Lagerquist returned to the front of the class and told us to say a silent prayer. We looked each other incredulously. This request was truly inexplicable. After all, this was a public school, Manasquan Elementary School in Dix Hills, N.Y. Until now, we had never been directed “to pray” for anything. Whatever could this mean?
Our teacher, normally so affable and approachable, refused to answer any questions. Her only response was to ask our parents when we got home. An hour or so later, after bounding off the school bus, I was greeted at the front door by my somber mother relating the chilling, almost incomprehensible news that the president had been shot and killed.
I was working in Washington, D.C., at the ITT Corp. government relations office on 16th and K Street. I had returned early from lunch and was one of the few people in the office. My desk was located next a large window with a direct view of the White House across Lafayette Park.
The Teletype started. I went over to read the message. It said, “The President has been shot in Dallas.” I immediately called my wife in Arlington and told her to turn on the TV.
I recall approximately 20 minutes later looking over at the White House and seeing the flag being lowered to half-staff. I said to myself, the president is dead. It was several minutes before this information was transmitted over the Teletype machine.
When Kennedy was elected we were all surprised to find his birthday, May 29, was the same as my younger brother’s. That year we got a Magic 8-Ball and we asked it all kinds of questions about the new president. One was whether or not he would be re-elected. No matter how many times we asked it always gave a negative response.
When the shots rang out in Dallas, we knew why the 8-Ball said what it did.
I do believe there was a conspiracy to kill him, but I think it was a different than what has often been postulated. I think LBJ had a hand in it because it happened in Dallas and it was the only way he could achieve his blind ambition to be president. I do not think Oswald and Ruby acted on their own. A lot of cover-up there that has to this day never been made known.
The bright November sunshine on the slate roof of St. Hugh of Lincoln is fixed forever in my memory. Miss Fitzgerald, my fifth-grade teacher, has just told me and the other 49 kids that we are going to kneel down and say a prayer for President Kennedy. I hear her, but I am already lost in thought and staring out the third-floor window of the classroom, hoping that her words “President Kennedy has been shot!” mean he is only wounded. I was just packing up as the school day drew close to the 2:15 p.m. end and noticed another teacher in the hallway signaling our 23-year-old teacher to come out into the hall.
Now we’re praying, but all I can see is the sunshine on the slate, the same sunshine from that Sunday back in 1960, just before the election, when, after the 11 a.m. Mass my parents drove with their four kids to see Kennedy motorcade past, a rendezvous that resulted in my dad and me having a brief moment of direct contact with the man.
A few minutes later, out in the hallway, I learn that my hero and inspiration is dead, and my heart breaks for the first time.
F. X. Flinn
I was 13 years old and on the way home from school when our school bus driver told us that President Kennedy has been shot. When I ran into our house my mother was in the living room watching the TV and crying. I saw Walter Cronkite in tears telling us that the president was dead. It was unreal. I remember seeing Lyndon Johnson being sworn in with Jackie, covered in blood, by his side. I remember seeing Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV. It was an incredible weekend. The assassination happened on a Friday and my family did not budge from the TV all weekend. We watched the funeral procession and John Jr. salute when his father’s hearse went by. I can still see the riderless horse.
I think the country was in love with the president and his family. It was very personal for all of us. He was not just the president of the United States but he was very much a family man with two very young children, and a very pretty wife. It was Camelot for three years.
I do not believe there was a conspiracy. The Warren Commission did a very thorough job. Oswald was working alone. They found all the evidence they needed in the building where he shot from.
DALLAS — TWO PRIESTS WHO WERE WITH KENNEDY SAY HE IS DEAD OF BULLET WOUNDS.
I had finished an auditing engagement and was driving home on the Southern State Parkway in Nassau County, N.Y., listening to the radio news when the announcement came on. We were all cruising along at about 50-55 mph. There was a perceptible and immediate slowdown of the traffic, some drivers even pulling off the highway to the grassy shoulder, obviously in a very emotional state.
Regardless of political persuasion, it was evident from the behavior of those drivers that everyone was deeply hurt and saddened by the events taking place. I was particularly affected because I had had a chance to meet him, shake his hand and exchange greetings. It was Columbus Day of the year he was elected. I was in New York City finishing my MBA at NYU with time to kill, so I went up to Central Park, sat alone in the viewing stand, studying. I was well-dressed, so the police probably thought I belonged there. Suddenly, John F. Kennedy came bounding across Fifth Avenue with his campaign entourage headed directly toward me. I was trying to quit smoking and was using a cigarette holder. He said, “Are you trying to look like FDR?”
After many years of skepticism concerning the conspiracy theory, I now believe it was a solitary act by Lee Harvey Oswald and I accept the findings of the Warren Commission.
On Monday, Nov. 18, 1963, my husband began his job as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. We would go to India in January after a few weeks’ orientation in Washington, D.C. President Kennedy had drawn us in, the young and the hopeful.
Five days later, our world turned. We will never forget that Friday. My husband was in Washington. I was in New York packing. He joined me later that night and on Sunday we drove back to D.C. On the radio, as we passed by Princeton, N.J., we heard Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.
We arrived at our hotel a few hours later. We must do something we said. Let’s go to the Capitol. People are walking past his bier in the rotunda.
The night is cold. We walk there. We join a group at the foot of the Capitol steps. Someone tells us this line goes 13 blocks east and then 13 blocks back to the Capitol. It is 10 p.m. We get in line. We snake along dark streets. We shuffle in the cold. Others join and no one leaves. Small bonfires appear. Breath freezes in the air. Hours pass.
The line finally turns back. The sky lightens. It is dawn. The Capitol appears before us. We walk up the steps into the rotunda. In silence, we pass by his coffin lying in state. We go out into the day and we step into a different world. For the first time in our lives, we have been witnesses to true violence. It is immediate and shakes us to the core.
We go back to our hotel, thinking we will watch the funeral procession on television as it makes its way to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. But we are already there. We can hear it outside. We go out to the street corner and we see it all. Jackie, Bobby, Ted, foreign heads of state, senators, congressmen, the rolling caisson drawn by a saddled black horse, the rider’s boots turned backward. He is dead. The band plays For Those in Peril on the Sea. We take pictures, black and white. We will never forget that we were there.
I was in the 10th grade at Miami Carol City Senior High School in Miami, Fla. The day was no different than any other. Then the announcement came over the intercom. As we listened to what had happened that day in Dallas, we began to cry and hold each other tight.
When my father came to pick me up after school he wanted to know why our flag was at half-staff. “You haven’t heard yet, papa? Some man shot and killed President Kennedy in a motorcade in Dallas.” School was closed the rest of the week.
When we were in Washington, D.C., a few years before this, we saw him in an open car with Prince Rainier, of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s husband. He was the most loved president ever.
I was working for the state of New Hampshire Department of Transportation on Nov. 22, 1963. We had communications by Teletype. The State Police forwarded to all offices of the state a picture of President Kennedy made on the Teletype by using letters.
I have this framed.
DALLAS — PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED AT 1 P.M. (CST)
It was a clear, crisp, autumn day in Cranston, R.I. I was a student in eighth grade. A lot was going on — first basketball scrimmage right after school, my mother’s 38th birthday, which meant my family was going out to the best restaurant in town.
At 1 p.m., I was in English class listening to my classmates read their weekly compositions. Our classroom door flew open and my social studies teacher, whose name happened to be Richard Nixon, announced that the president had been shot. He quickly left without any further information.
Mrs. Campbell, our English teacher, tried to calm a stunned class by telling us the president always travels with the best doctors and plenty of protection. She assured us that everything would be all right.
Moments later, Mr. Nixon returned to tell us that the president was dead. The voice of our principal came over the intercom confirming the president’s death. We were instructed to immediately return to our homeroom lockers, collect our things and leave the building.
When I got home, my mother was sitting in front of the TV sobbing. My father, a staunch Republican, was trying to console her.
There was no birthday celebration in our home that evening. It would be another 12 years, her 50th, that my mom would be willing to celebrate again.
I was 5 years old. I remember my father, who was a city motorcycle police officer at the time, coming home from work early. I was hanging by my arms from a tree limb in the front yard, swinging back and forth. I was surprised to see my father home at that time of day. He got off of his motorcycle and collapsed in the front yard, sobbing. My mother ran out of the house and there they were, the two of them, crying in the front yard.
I asked my mother why they were so sad and she told me, “Our president’s been shot.” My only reference to a president at that age was George Washington or Abe Lincoln, whose silhouettes we traced on black paper in school. I had no reference for violence of that magnitude. Getting shot at was part of playing cowboys and Indians with kids from the neighborhood. It wasn’t real. Seeing the evening news, which included many images of the Kennedy children, was a preview to a loss of innocence. The idea that I might lose my parents terrified me.
It is my earliest memory of understanding that the world was not a safe place.
Carrie Caouette-De Lallo
I was a young U.S. Foreign Service officer serving at the American Embassy in Vienna, Austria, my first overseas assignment. My official appointment as a Foreign Service officer was signed by President Kennedy and I considered myself as a member of his “New Frontier.”
News that the president had been shot stunned me and other office colleagues, both Austrian and American, who were sharing an evening meal together in the Vienna Woods on the outskirts of the city. I recall that in the distressing hours that followed, the only reliable news sources were via the embassy itself and were based on official telegrams from the State Department and so-called “wireless files” originating from the U.S. Information Service in Washington.
It seemed that Austrians universally reacted as we did, with profound shock and sadness, at the assassination of our young and extraordinarily promising president, who had only recently visited Vienna for face-to-face talks with Khrushchev.
In the main entrance lobby of the American Embassy, a condolence book was soon opened on a table with a framed photograph of the president draped in black ribbon and flanked by an American flag and two U.S. Marine guards in “dress blues.”
During the following days, lines of people stretched out from the embassy and far along the street — thousands of Austrian citizens from all walks of life who came to the embassy, along with many others, to sign the book and express their remorse and condolences.
Along with the other embassy officers, I took my turn in the lobby, welcoming and thanking people, some of whom wept openly, for their expressions of good will toward Americans and the United States. Those are days I shall never forget.
My wife and I were newly married 20-year-old students at Reed College in Oregon when we listened to the hope conveyed by our new president in his inaugural address. Two years later, sitting on the steps of our bungalow, it was impossible to understand how these senseless bullets could have stolen our dreams.
White River Junction
My brother had watched TV all night when Kennedy was elected. Mom wore Jackie style “sack” dresses. In 1963, things changed, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was in fifth grade. The music teacher entered our room unexpectedly. Mrs. Von Dredon, a formidable woman, turned. The music teacher held up a transistor radio (the first individualized media devise). In the stillness we learned President Kennedy had been shot. I do not know if they said he was dead yet, or just that it was likely.
I was frozen. Our country was without its leader. We practiced getting under our desks if there was a communist nuclear attack. My father was in civil defense, so I knew that was useless.
Did I know about the Cuban Missile Crisis? I knew Kennedy was strong. Who would protect us? Learning kicked in. There was a vice president, for just such occurrence. I breathed again.
I was sitting in my eighth-grade classroom, the row next to the windows, third seat from the back, when the assistant principal came on the PA and said, “There is something that we think you should hear,” and the radio broadcast of the shooting came on. At that point, the only news was that President Kennedy had been shot, but there was uncertainty about his condition. As we went out to the buses, I remember someone asking me if he could live if he were shot in the head. I said that I doubted it. By the time I got home, it was confirmed that he was dead.
The hope and promise represented by the youthful president was gone.
The following week was a blur. The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald and the funeral of the president only added to the shock and fear that we felt. Was the country in danger? What was next? The late November darkness only added to the despair. I think that living in Massachusetts somehow made the event more personal.
As much as the disbelief that one person, acting alone, could pull off the crime of the century existed, I have come to accept that is exactly what happened based upon reading and watching many documentaries and other presentations. I will never forget that day.
Mike Van Dyke
I was a 22-year-old graduate student sitting in an English class at Northwestern University when word came that the president had been shot. Fittingly, it was a cold rainy November day in Evanston, Ill., and after leaving classrooms and offices, everyone gathered under black umbrellas clustered around transistor radios to hear more static-filled coverage of that terrible event.
In a decade which would regularly bring us news of student revolt, anti-war protest, big-city riots and more assassinations, this was the first and most shocking headline.
This was news with a capital N for all of us, with memorable images to come: a brave widow, a riderless horse, a small boy saluting.
Today, after generations of violence and polarization, I shake my head as I recall the depth and breadth of mourning following that iconic moment: For a few precious weeks, old and young, Republicans and Democrats, black and white and brown all felt the impact of a national loss from which we have never quite recovered.
Dennis Damon Moore
Inside today’s Sunday Valley News: A generation lost its innocence in a flash. Page E1. Ernie Kohlsaat can be reached at 603-727-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.