JFK's assassination: Readers remember a day that changed history
I was a high school senior in Milwaukee, Wisconsin sitting in my International Affairs class on Friday afternoon when the announcement that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas and had died came over the intercom. I was so shocked I could not react at first. Some girls immediately began crying loudly, but I couldn't cry. Our senior class play was scheduled for that evening and the administration eventually decided to go forward with the performance of "Bye Bye Birdie." I had planned to attend, so I did. It was a good diversion from thinking about the incomprehensible tragedy of the events of that day. I was watching television with my family when we saw Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald. It all seemed like a bad dream. On the day of President Kennedy's funeral, I finally understood Walt Whitman's grief for President Abraham Lincoln expressed in his poem, 'O Captain! My Captain!' I found my copy of the poem and read it again. 'But O heart! Heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.' I cried and cried."
— Patricia Doyle, San Gabriel, Calif.
I was on my way home from parent-teacher conferences at our children's school when I heard on the car radio that President and Mrs. Kennedy had just arrived at Love Field, where they would join the three-car motorcade taking take them to the Trade Mart in downtown Dallas.. About an hour later my husband, who had been listening to the radio in the garage, came rushing in with the news that someone had shot the president. He said it so calmly it was not until I turned on the TV that I realized the horror of what had happened. I said a prayer for Jackie and the children who would grow up without their father.
— Marilyn Jensen, La Habra, CA
I was a child of 7 yrs., and a second-grade student in the elementary school of my hometown of Momence, Illinois. Our teacher was a wonderful lady, with a great heart, and love of teaching, Mrs. Ruge. Our class had just returned from lunch, re-entering our classroom, and finding Mrs. Ruge in a nearly speechless state. She told us that the office staff had just heard by radio that President Kennedy had been shot, but didn't know any more than that, and we would wait to hear, since she was sure that Mr. Saunders, our principal, would let us know as soon as they knew more. At that moment, Mr. Saunders came on the PA system, and, like Walter Cronkite was telling the nation the tragic news in a choked up voice, he, too, was fighting back tears as he told us that President Kennedy had passed away. I remember that school was then dismissed."
— William (Bill) Bukowski, Momence, Ill.
I was in 4th grade at the time. There was a buzzer on the wall of our classroom. This was used to summon the teacher to the office for whatever reason. It was just a normal day at school, until the buzzer went off. Our teacher was gone a little longer than normal for a office call. She returned balling her eyes out. She then said "Someone has killed President Kennedy" Being our ages, there were mixed reactions. Some of us cried, others were silent, and some even laughed. I always said I never forget that day and I haven't."
— Pat Dozier, Houston, Texas
I was just 13 years old and was a crossing guard at my school. The mailman told me of the tragedy. Even at that age I was aware of the impact the assassination would cause."
— Nancy M. Campbell, Chicago
I remember November 22, 1963 so clearly. I was 13 and in Mrs Gray's 8th grade english class when the school principal announced on the pa system that President Kennedy had been shot while in Dallas. The class went silent and Mrs. Gray asked us all to pray that President Kennedy would be ok. As I prayed, I remember thinking it was probably a non fatal injury. The thought also entered my mind that the President of the United States would have access to the best doctors in Dallas. I assured myself that he would be fine.
A short time later the principal returned to the pa and stated President Kennedy had died. I couldn't believe what had happened. An assassination of a President was something we only read about in history class. The bus ride home, unlike the usual pandemonium on a fully packed public school bus, was very somber and mostly silent. When I came into the house, my mother was crying as she watched Walter Cronkite on the news. My father worked the afternoon shift and got home around 11:30pm. I remember how sad he was and recall never seeing him like that before. Over the following week we all discussed how many live would be changed forever. Thank you for this opportunity."
— Michael Garcia, Massillon, Ohio
November 22, 1963
I was in the first grade in New Jersey that day. We were not told about the event in school. My father, who had been away on a business trip, picked me up from school that day and he told me as I climbed into the car that the President was shot and killed. I think I asked him if he was sure and he said he was. He then told me he had awakened my mom earlier when he came home from shopping and told her what happened. She replied, "you woke me up to tell me that?" It was a story we have told many a time over the years. I guess she was very tired after a week alone caring for three little ones.
I remember going outside when I got home and can remember the stillness in the neighborhood. Not a soul was around save for the paperboy and he had a radio to his ear listening for details. It occurred to me at that point that maybe I should be inside watching the TV to see what happened next. I did not experience that kind of situation until 9/11 when it seemed everything stopped and there was little to no traffic.
I also remember the non stop coverage and that the cameras panned up the White House driveway for hours with nothing happening. It is not like it is today with one reporter after the other filling you in with details on camera. Information was given us from the news desk as that image outside the White House never changed. As kids, we kept asking our parents when something was going to happen but they couldn't tell us anything and we went to bed that night not knowing much except the president was dead.
Being small children, I believe we spent the weekend (it happened on a Friday) playing and did not witness Oswald's being shot. I think we were off for the funeral and remember the various heads of state leading the funeral procession, chief among them being Charles DeGaulle. I remember the solemn music and the horse with the boots facing in reverse. It seems that we kids did not dwell on it too much afterwards, perhaps because with Oswald's death, we thought the case was closed at the time."
— Bob Hubbard, Westwood, N.J.
I was a flight attendant on a layover in Washington D.C. on Nov 22 1963 having worked a TWA flight from Los Angeles to Dulles ,,Nov. 21st. One of the other flight attendants on the trip, had never been to D.C. and I said I would go sightseeing with her to the main attractions that day. We started out early in the morning and our first stop was the White House. We took the tour and were chatting with a couple of marines guards on the way out and one of them said why don't you girls come back for lunch and we will set up the state dining room! I said where were the Kennedy's and he replied they are in Dallas! That was the first I had heard of the Dallas trip. We continued the sightseeing by going to the Washington Monument then to the Lincoln Memorial. We spent some time walking around Arlington National Cemetery then decided to go to the Iwo Jima statue. We weren't exactly sure where it was so I was looking at a map when a large dump truck came by and the two men in it asked if they could help. One said get in and we will drive you there. We no sooner got in the truck when they said did you hear what happened to the President? I was expecting a punchline of. a joke! They said he had been shot at in Dallas. We were stunned! They were grave diggers at the cemetery and they left us off at the Iwo Jima statue,There was a large crowd across the street around a TV that was in the lobby of an apartment building. We joined them just at the moment Walter Cronkite announced the President had died! We decided we better get back to the hotel. Streets were blocked and there were no taxis or buses so we walked for what seemed like forever! People were just standing around in shock.not wanting to believe it! We were on some street when I realized we could see the White House and I took a picture of it with the flag at half staff . I had taken one earlier with the flag at full staff! When we got back to the hotel, our TWA Capt. said just wait for further instructions as our flight back to Lax that evening was delayed. We all gathered in one room to watch the rapidly changing news when we got a call asking us to go to the airport to protect our flight. We left in the crew bus and the road to Dulles went right by Hickory Hill, the residence of Robert Kennedy. Just as we were passing it ,a helicopter took off from the lawn with Robert Kennedy in it on his way to Andrews Airforce base to meet Airforce One and his brother's coffin.. Our flight to Lax was very quiet and somber. I like everyone, watched the incredible scenes on TV throughout the weekend. I am originally from Belmont ,Massachusetts and the Kennedy's were always in the news while I was growing up. I had even had both John and Robert on board a late night flight from New York to Boston in 1958 when John was running for senator and I must say they were very charming. I retired from TWA in 1985 and that layover in Washington D.C on Nov 22 1963 remains one of the most poignant and memorable experiences in my life.
— Judie Whitney, Northridge, CA
On Thursday, November 22, 1963 I was employed at General Electric Company's Defense Program Operation in Washington D.C. My boss told me to go to the Pentagon and bid on a contract for G.E. I got on a bus that goes over the l4th Street Bride to the Pentagon. As we were crossing the bridge from D.C. the driver stopped the bus and announced: "The President has been shot - the Pentagon is closed. This bus is returning to D.C . Either get off the bus or go back to D.C."
I left the bus and took a local bus home to Alexandria, Virginia. I got off at Main Street. I was surprised at the solemn, stunned faces of the passersby. I knew the dreadful news had spread. When I arrived home my fiancé was waiting for me. He was at a total loss for words. We held each other for comfort and he then turned on the television. I called my office to tell my boss I was home and he said "don't come in tomorrow, the office will be closed." My fiancé and I watched television the entire afternoon into the night I was not sure what was going to happen to our country but I knew our lives had changed. I would remember November 22, l963 - the day Kennedy was shot as long as I live."
— Arpine Kehayan Dod, New York
November 23, 1963
I was in third grade in San Bernardino. The class was in the middle of math exercises when our teacher was called outside the classroom. When she came back in, you could see that ahe was moved to tears. she told us that President Kennedy had been asssinated and that school was being dismissed for that day. When iIgot home, my older sister already had the TV on and for the next 3 days, my entire family weatched all of the coverage. My parents were huge Kennedy fans and that had a big impact on me.
— Steven Haleman, Trona, CA
I was in school in the 7th grade when our teacher left out of the classroom and then immediately returned crying stating that President Kennedy had been killed in Dallas, Texas. Our entire class of African American students broke out in tears--I felt scared and so sad for I had followed the story and pictures of JFK since he became president. I listened to his news conferences and speeches and searched magazines and newspapers at the library to stay abreast of him and his family. His death was like one in my own family.
I remembered my father talk about the death of FDR but this death was more personally felt by my family than any other non-relative. JFK was part of my reason to attend an 'integrated' school the next year where I was one of four black student in a school of over 1,000 whites. I have continued to read about the Kennedys all of my life and nothing that has been ever said has ever affected my love and respect for this President, Mrs. Kennedy and their two children. I deeply admire what he did as president--no one else has come close to his intellectual but caring leadership of our country. I deeply feel the pain that his family must have lived with through the years in his death and the other tragedies."
— Fannie Smith, Athens, Ga.
I was a senior in high school sitting in a trigonometry class when the announcement came over the school's PA system. Everyone was absolutely stunned. Watching the funeral precession in Washington with the caisson carrying the President's body and the rider-less horse is a memory that will never fade away. This was the only time I ever saw my father, an incredibly stoic man, openly weep. JFK was such a vibrant, much loved man by most and was a significant change from the previous administration. His decision for the US to make the moon shot, produced so many significant improvements in technology and showed us as well as the world the incredible strength of our great nation. Thank God that JFK was in the White House during the missile crisis. Despite the efforts of our military, he negotiated the world out of what could have been the end of civilization."
— Wesley Noel, Encinitas, Calif.
I was a 22 year radio/television journalism student at San Jose State University. (then San Jose State College) I was walking up the stairs to the journalism room when one of our professors met me and said in an excited voice, 'The president has been shot. Get a tape recorder and get reaction comments.'
One of the first things journalism students are taught is the alert system for the various wire services. Ten bells is a UPI 'Flash' and it has the highest priority. It is rarely used. We had both the AP and UPI wire services and both machines were ringing. I was stunned as I read the words, 'Flash, Kennedy seriously wounded, perhaps fatally by assassins bullet.' I picked up a tape recorder and went out on campus.
Many had yet to hear the news. I was able to get some comments as word of the shooting spread. Then, awhile later, came the shocking report that the president had died. The reaction on campus was one of heartbreak. Many students, both men and women, were weeping. And strangely, unlike earlier when I got comments, many of them were literally speechless. 'Not now,' or just a blank stare was a common reaction among the devastated students. It was a long and sad day."
— Ken Allan, Diamond Bar, Calif.
November 24, 1963
I was in kindergarten, just five years old, and had arrived for the afternoon session about an hour earlier when a lady from the office came down to talk with our teacher. They were both upset, and we were told that we would be going back home soon, barely there an hour. My parents called and instructed that I would walk home with a 4th grade family friend, who stopped me just outside of the school and explained what had happened: I was devastated, as we all were.
JFK was on the TV all of the time; our parents had taken our family to see him return to Hyannis Port upon his return from the Democratic convention; we used to watch AF One fly over at the beach on Friday afternoons in the summer as the Kennedy family made its final approach to the Cape's Otis AFB. To us, two towns over from Hyannis, he was local. We all gathered by the TV that evening and watched the news, eating mac and cheese. Two days later, that Sunday as we prepared for Sunday dinner (often in the afternoon back then, and with some form of cardiac beef), I sat in front of the TV and watched -- at five years old -- Ruby plug Oswald: Another man's life ended, on live TV. I now teach history, and curse FOX."
— Dana K. Smith, Falmouth, Mass.
I was 13 years old in 7th grade Cooking class. I can still remember the door opening to our classroom and the Vice Principal coming in and saying, ' THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN SHOT AND KILLED!' I am 62 now, but those words and the next few days are as sharp and painful as they were that day. I still start to tear up when I hear 'Hail to the chief' played. JFK was our (young people's) president! He is still missed!"
— Monica Shapiro, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
I was born in 1958 in Hollywood, CA. We were watching the Match Game with Art James on our large box -black & white RCA television (with a swivel stand). A flat wire led out the window to our rooftop antenna. It was a sunny Friday morning and both my parents were home. Then at once Chet Huntley came on a special report that someone had shot the president. My Father always watched CBS news so we switched and Walter Cronkite confirmed the same. My parents got very scared and upset; my sister (16 mos younger) and I were too. Then very shortly later, Cronkite reveals that the president passed. We ALL wept. I used to call him 'Jackie baby' every time I saw him on TV. He was a beloved figure by all at a time where the public was shielded by any 'personal' antics of public figures. And certainly the youngest and best looking president ever. The air of uncertainty lingered for many years after that. Nothing was ever the same."
— Anthony Triana, North Hollywood
I was a freshman in high school. We had just come in from our PE class. We were dressing to rush to our next class. Then suddenly we heard the radio broadcast over the the PA system. There was a newscaster stating that John F Kennedy being shot. I remember feeling shear panic and sadness. My best friend was beside me and we hugged each other and started to cry. This shooting was the first time I remember such a tragic event being broadcast day after day on TV. My family and and I were glued to the TV. There was no internet or social media at that time. It was just our TV with all the major network reporters breaking down the events and showing us the first family mourning the tragedy. When I was 19 and a sophomore at UCLA, I worked on the campaign to get Robert Kennedy elected. I hoped his election would bring back another Kennedy into the white house. I went from door to door. Handed out pamphlets and made phone calls. I was so excited to think we could get another Kennedy in the White House. I was at the Ambassador Hotel the night of Robert Kennedy's primary election. That night I witnessed first hand the death of another Kennedy. I could not believe tragedy could strike the Kennedy family twice. I would have loved to have seen President Kennedy could have accomplished had he lived!"
— Joan Podrow, Lake Forest, Calif.
November 25, 1963
I was twelve years old in 1963 and in the 7th grade at St. John's Byzantine Catholic School in Munhall, PA. Sitting in class that Friday we were listening to the nun who taught us when the principal came to the door. During the conversation between the two, I bent own to tie my shoe and was talking to my classmate behind me; it was then that the Sister had announced that the President had been shot. The class was stunned, and my first thought was that he was shot in the arm and wounded. For the rest of the afternoon we knelt in prayer until we were told that the President of the United States was dead. It was total disbelief for me as my mind could not accept what had happened. School was dismissed early that day, a solemn requiem mass was conducted in the evening, and for the next four days until the president's funeral on Monday, we watched the tragedy and the solemn pageantry of that week in November."
— Gregory M. Havrilcsak, Flushing, Mich.
In June of 1963, my mother said to me, in a very demonstrative tone, unlike her usually ~ 'Get in the car son, I want to show you something.' Driving to the local shopping center (in Garden Grove, CA), and seeing a large crowd had gathered. As she led me by the hand into it, she picked me up, all 5'2 of her, above her head, so I would see this sight, and there he was, Campaigning for Re-Election, perhaps 30 feet in front of me. By then, JFK had taken us through many Triumphs and near Tragedies, including the Brink of Nuclear War, a very Real Reality then. Having seen many famous people in person including Elvis Presley, this moment stands out as the most memorable in my life with regard to seeing 'Famous People'. And my parents were young, in their 30's, the Classic California 'New Generation' Kennedy spoke so Eloquently of, and everyone felt it, A Very Positive New Era. A feeling in presence of Greatness, even for a little California kid. Playing outside some months later, near home at a neighbor boy's house, a chilly Fall November day, very much like today, nearly 50 years ago. My mother once again calling for me, again in a very urgent voice, to come home, come inside, and I ran home. Of course like all of us then, the Television and Walter Cronkite told us all each night, the News of the Day. I remember him vividly, he told us that day as I remember thinking, why is he on in the day?...I remember him shaken as I had never seen him as he spoke. The Days that Followed were so Very Surreal, and even for a little boy, feeling that things would Never be Quite the Same, and Growing Up a little Too Fast that day, part of us all then, feeling never So Innocent Again.
— Fred Hill, Santa Barbara, CA
I recall that day so well. I was in the third grade and was playing outside at school during our morning recess as the news spread around the campus. John Kennedy was no distant, seemingly inconsequential political figure to me. Unlike perhaps most my age, I had always sensed that there was something really special about him. I remember racing home to watch his televised press conferences, probably not understanding much of what was discussed, but nonetheless riveted by the stately charm, charisma, and gravitas that defined his style. Throughout the years that followed, I voraciously read virtually everything I could find regarding the assassination, including the Warren Commission report itself and the many publications criticizing its findings. That interest continues today, and I possess a veritable library of books on the subject. I suppose my great interest has been prompted by a lifelong need to make some sense of a horrific tragedy that caused me to lose my hero. I instinctively knew even as a child that the world would never be the same and it has made good sense since then to try to understand how as well as why."
— Craig Veals, Los Angeles
I was a young 25 year old single woman still putting myself through college and working full time for Space Technology Laboratories in Southern California. It was mid-morning and somewhere in the office, someone had a radio playing music. Suddenly, a worker came running through the departments yelling that President Kennedy had been shot. I jumped up and immediately ran to my boss to inform him. We all gathered around the radio and a short time later heard the terrible news that he had died. I think I was in shock and did not function for the remainder of the day or the entire week end. I admired President Kennedy so much and I voted for him at my first election since in those days you were required to be 21 to vote. I had just turned 22 for that election. I didn't know much about politics in those days but I was star struck with the Kennedys. At the time of the campaign I was working at U.S. Steel in Los Angeles and Richard Nixon came to speak to our company. We were strongly informed by upper management that we were expected to go and listen to his campaign speech. I had Kennedy stickers all over my car and didn't give a hoot about Nixon! I listened but voted for Kennedy! I was heartbroken and devastated at his death and could not pull myself away from the TV the entire week end. I cried until I had no tears left. I had to go to work on Monday even though I wanted to watch the funeral since everything on TV was running in real time (in black and white). I rushed home so I could watch what was left. It was a terrible day for all of us. Everyone was in disbelief and sick with grief. I will never forget it. I am now 75 years old and I remember that day and that week end as if it were yesterday. He never got to prove himself because his time was so short in office. God rest his soul and that of Jackie and John, Jr. "
— Lyda Cooper, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
November 25, 1963
On November 22, 1963 I was a 15 year old Catholic girl in Fort Worth, Texas. My family had been so happy and excited that the president and first lady were coming to our area.
I had first seen then Senator Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson on a campaign tour in Ft. Worth before the election in 1960. They came close by my Catholic school. So exciting to a little school girl!! The whole school stood outside to see the motorcade. After that I stood on a corner in downtown Fort Worth handing out Kennedy Johnson pins and little PT109 pins to people passing by.... I was 13 years old and so proud to be helping campaign for John Kennedy.
On that lovely day in November I was now in high school. My school stood very high on a hill looking over Jacksboro Highway. The Kennedys were driving in a motorcade from downtown Fort Worth to Carswell Air Force Base to take the flight to Dallas. I could see the cars from the library window making its way down the highway.
Then not very long after that two hours maybe.... over the speaker in school was the report that the president had been shot. Aside from the shock and heartbreak came a very real fear. At first of course it was not known who or what had murdered Kennedy. were we under an attack? Fort Worth would have been one of the first to be bombed. Carswell Air Force base was home of the Strategic Air Command.
My mother quickly picked me up at school. The following days were so shockingly sad. I guess it had to be a first to see someone killed on TV when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Every night I would write everything that had happened. After the funeral I took my pages folded them up and sealed them in an envelope. When Robert Kennedy was killed I pulled the envelope out and opened it for the first time. I showed it to my family to read. They had not known I had written down my feelings during that tragic time.
That was a day that affected me deeply and has followed me throughout my life. I have made it a priority that my sons know about the Kennedys and most importantly about that day in Dallas that broke our hearts and scarred our souls.
Now I am a 65 year old with the same sorrow that shrouded my family on that horrific day. Still yearning for an explanation."
— Jeri Tyl Magee, San Antonio, Texas
I was a small child of four and my brother was only two the day that President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. My mother had the television on and was watching with sadness as tears ran down her face. Being a religious person she immediately pulled out a chair and placed a candle on it and had us kneel next to her to pray for our slain President. Being that we were so young she did her best to make us understand that it was the saddest of days because the President of our great country had been gunned down while the entire country and world watched in shock. I'll never forget our mother's face as we recited prayer after prayer for our beloved JFK, President of the United States of America. We too were so very sad because in our little hearts we knew that this event was powerful. To this day, it is one memory that will forever be etched in our minds."
— Kathryn, Los Alamos, N.M.
I was 20 years old, working at the Bank Of America in Beverly Hills. It started as a normal Friday and changed our lives forever. I was on the teller line, and glanced across the lobby when I caught the eye of our manager on the phone, his face became ashen, and when he hung the receiver up, he put his hands to his head and sobbed. Within 1 minute the bank was in turmoil, and everyone was crying. There was no television in the bank, no cell phones, our custodian managed to get a portable radio, and those who could were huddled around, listening for updates and bulletins. I and fellow tellers, had people come to our windows who knew nothing of what had happened.
Because it was a Friday, the bank was opened until 6pm, and I had to work until the closing. Every customer I had was sobbing, everytime a customer would walk up to my window, it was the same thing, where they were when they heard, and we both would start crying. I could not wait to get out of the bank, home to my family, turn my little black and white television on, and that is where I stayed in my bed for three days, watching over, and over again that I was bearing witness to a tragedy beyond my comprehension. Today at 70 I still think of that day, where I was and what I was doing, and the sadness of our country."
— Nancy Altshule, Beverly Hills
November 26, 1963
I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade on November 22, 1963. I was sitting in the sun waiting for my recess to be over when we were called back to class early from recess. Our teacher turned on the TV in our classroom and we began to watch what was unfolding in real time. Some children began to cry, others just sat silently.
When I came home from school, I asked my mother if I could write a letter to Mrs. Kennedy. She helped me with the envelope, but I began to write my letter of condolence. I sent Mrs. Kennedy my heart felt expression of sympathy as an 8 year would have the capacity to do, I wrote the Lord's Prayer letting her know how sorry I was for what had happened to her.
Some time later, I don't recollect when, I received a card in the mail addressed to me. Inside the envelope was a printed message acknowledging that Mrs. Kennedy had received my message and that she greatly appreciated my thoughtfulness.
There are not too many items I have kept for 50 years, but this card along with the envelope are framed and hanging in my living room. I can honestly say that I have a piece of personal history in my possession.
Five years ago, I went to my local newspaper, The Lodi News Sentinel, and told my story. They printed my story along with a photo of my framed card from Mrs. Kennedy."
— Gena Katnich Brentt, Lodi, Calif.
I vividly remember the day President Kennedy was shot.I was working for a beer distributor in Saratoga Springs,NY and upon my return to our warehouse, a fellow employee, Dick Nelson, came running to my truck. As I was backing up, I thought He yelled Presley was shot and when I stopped I asked him to repeat and he did and I was shocked when he said Kennedy was shot not Elvis as I thought I heard at first. Camelot was a brief moment in history.but never forgotten.
— John La Due, Stuart, FL
There are some things that you will remember for the rest of your life. It was like yesterday, and that day wil permanently be a part of my life. During the Cuban Milssle Crisis my father slept on a runway, waiting to receive his orders. He was at a NATO base when Kennedy was shot. I missed his perspective as Kennedy knew about war and so did my dad.
At 2:20 in the afternoon in a small town in upstate New York, Dr Frank Fillipone who was the Principal of my Junior High Scool announced that our President had been shot. The school buses left at 2:35. What was normally a buzz of conversation on the bus, was so quiet. I only lived 10 minutes from the new junior high.
When I was dropped off, my Mom was rakng leaves on our side lawn. She had not heard the news. After telling her what had happened we went inside and tuned in our Zenith TV with rabbit ears. My Mom loved Walter Cronkite. When she turned on the TV, Walter was choking up. John Fitgerald Kennedy was dead. President Kennedy was a young hero to many of us. History may judge him differently as there will be political revisionist out there, no matter what President we discuss. Yet, Kennedy captured the enthusiasm of a nation, no matter what anyone says. He was a War Hero, he stood up to the evils of the Soviet Empire and seemed enlightened when I was young.
Many years have passed since that day. I served and spent over 20 years working with the military. Living in Germany, I have stood where Kennedy and Reagan stood, with either the words of taking down the Wall or telling the Germans that 'eich bien eine Berliner.' My Dad called from Plattsbugh AFB that evening to talk with my brother and me. He tried hard to get through for several hours. He understood the impac having been a WWII bet and Korea.
Despite al the conspiracy theories, books, and pure nonsense about the Mafia / CIA/ FBI etc... not one person, even on their death bed, hsa ever come forward and admitted they were part of a conspiracy. We lost our hope on November 22, 1963."
— Bob Knox, West Hills
November 27, 1963
As a politically naive teenager in the first two years of college, I managed to ride the side of his limo when he appeared in Miami during his presidential campaign and shake his hand. The experience was fleeting, but I was a happy camper, totally enthralled with a good looking candidate.
At the present time *I find myself trying to remember whether I actually had a chance to vote for him or whether I influenced my parents to do since I was possibly too young to vote at the time. However, someone in my family certain voted for him. The White House residents and activities became the fun thing to watch.
I was employed in 1963 at a leading Miami law firm bearing the name of Smathers, and I had married in June of that year. Our TVs were still black and white. We were all devastated during working hours to learn of his death. There were no TVs to watch, so I could not wait to get home. I remember crying non-stop for what now seems days and days. His funeral was one befitting a man of his station in life - a leader- a wonderful, elegant, tribute. We loved Camelot, its romance, its mystique, its image. We mourned his loss like crazy. I, immediately upon learning of Kennedy's assassination, blamed Johnson.
Time has softened that viewpoint, although the conspiracy thing still has me within its grasp. For God's sake, he moved backward and to the left. Oswald couldn't arrange that. The assassination still moves me to tears for loss of the glamour or image, or other word for which I am groping. That's all I can do; after all, I didn't know John's position on any issue and didn't care.
It was a wonderful time, but I am now more knowledgeable about political issues. Perhaps John was as moderate as I think I recall,but Bobby and Ted, I soon came to believe were trouble from which our country was miraculously spared."
— Patricia Kolski, Miami, Fla.
I was a college freshman at Kansas State University. About noon on Nov. 22, 1963, I happened to be at the Military Science building at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I noticed one of the instructors slumped at his desk, crying, as I was going out of the building. Someone was placing the flag outside was at half-staff, but I didn't know why. I walked the five blocks to my apartment that I shared with five other roommates. By the time I got there, the news was that JFK had been shot. I couldn't believe it and neither could my roommates. We sat listening to the news reports on the radio, stunned, as the details of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald's capture in a theater were detailed.
JFK was the hope for our generation. The vote was only for those 21 and over at the time, so most college students couldn't vote for him, but we could cheer him on. His presidential address was put to music by the Kingston Trio, 'The New Frontier.' His vision about keeping the US stance in the world in spite of the Cold War, bipartisanship with Congress and overall popularity were all draws to people in their late teens at the time. His speeches were unmatched in intelligence, clarity and luminosity.
We watched the funeral on a black-and-white TV with our landlord. It was a somber, silent vigil with everyone in the room feeling a sadness and some wept in the room. I will never forget when the funeral was on the first lady and Caroline and John, I felt nothing but sorrow for what Jacqueline had gone through. We will never forget JFK. In spite of his flaws, he was a leader the country will always remember. If only this talented, gifted speaker and leader had lived to a ripe old age, but that was not to be."
— Neal McChristy, Pittsburg, Kan.
I was in my high school class in Camiling, Tarlac, Philippines the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 22, 1963. I was completely stunned hearing about it on local radio after having lunch at home. But it would only be the next day's newspapers capitalized screaming headlines and details that confirmed his sudden, most untimely death to my be-numbed young mind. I'd say JFK was the most popular American president then in the Philippines, from the time he was elected in office until years later after that blackest of days in US modern history. Much later I can remember reading newspaper accounts of how Americans would ask each other 'where were you when JFK was shot?' and each and everyone would know how to answer the question in crystal clear detail and the devastation all felt at the news. I too can say the same even tho I'm now 65 yrs old and it happened nearly 50 yrs ago. Our family didn't own a tv set that time and so we all followed the dire developments in Dallas, Texas and later the state funeral proceedings in Washington, DC in the local newspapers and radio broadcasts. Our own country's President Diosdado Macapagal was among the many world leaders and dignitaries who attended JFK's funeral. I remember thinking what will happen to the United States and the world with JFK gone? I was afraid the America I so admired under his leadership will be changed forever and not for the better but rather rudderless. I had followed the Cuban missile crisis with trepidation over a possible nuclear war and so was very glad he won that stare-down problem with Khrushchev. And he was so statesmanlike, not boastful nor gloating even, in acknowledging the Russian premier's backdown. I too wrote to Mrs Jacqueline B Kennedy extending my personal condolences. Months later I received a printed letter in reply signed (or perhaps actually printed because there must have been several thousands of similar letters and it'd be an impossible task to sign all replies while she was yet in mourning) by Mrs Kennedy. I was so happy getting that letter from her and so it became one of my most important possessions, a relic touched by Camelot mystique. But, and I really don't know how, years on I found out that treasured memento went missing. To me, its loss felt something like a sense of being cut adrift from a personal (if fancifully tenuous) connection with the Kennedy's. All my adult life I followed the activities of JFK's family, their ups and downs and in-betweens. I never lost my admiration and respect for America's (only) 'royals.' How I loved looking at black & white then colored photos of the Kennedy kids gamboling inside the White House. And now Caroline, the last surviving member, has just assumed the US ambassadorship in Japan. More success to her there and maybe to a higher political office down the road."
— Felipe JL Cabrera, Manila, Philippines
Awakening to a typical upstate New York late fall morning, dressing, breakfast and a drop off at Intermediate school.
The normal homeroom, recess, math class schedule, typical day. Suddenly, everything changed. We were herded from class back to homeroom. Like sheep, teachers silent, no directions, no small talk, just cold silence. There we were seemingly abandoned for what seemed like hours. Then our teachers, pale faces, somber looks, slowly guided all of us into a large eerily dark meeting room. Except for a small black and white television in the corner blasting words, nothing was happening. We were seated on the floor, teachers, some parents and unknown figures lined the walls. Looking up at the TV, I saw icon Walter Cronkite speaking from his news desk. Ironically, 12 years later he was to personally hand me my college diploma at graduation. Everyone was hushed, fearful of out ignorance, and wondering what was up. As we watched, Mr. Cronkite was handed a note. He paused and then proceeded to speak.
“At 1:00 o’clock Dallas time, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was pronounced dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet.”
There were no explanations, no consoling, not any help. Was this really happening? We continued to listen for an eternity, some teachers crying, children sobbing. In those times, there were no cell phones, no calls home, no fast pickups, no busses home. We all were ushered out, out into the cold, bleak day, sent home.
My 1.5 mile journey seemed surreal. The overcast, cold day turned silent except for the crunching leaves under my feet. The 25 minute walk seemed to take hours. The streets were silent. As I reached the top of my street, I started running towards my house. As I pushed open our heavy front door, I shouted, “Mom.” No answer. “Mom.” I could not see her. Worried, I looked everywhere until I witnessed a sight that changed my world forever.
There was my rock, my safe harbor, always cheerful Mother sitting on our back porch sobbing. She jumped up, grabbed me and hugged me tight. I can’t remember if any words were spoken other than I think I said, “I’m sorry, Mom.” At that moment, we shared the grief, the grief of a nation. Time seemed to stop and the end came to the innocence of our country and a generation. The rest, unfortunately, is history.
— Cliff Lloyd, Fresno, CA
November 28, 1963
I was in the first grade in WV and remember an announcement being made over the speaker that President Kennedy had been shot in downtown Dallas. I remember thinking that "downtown" meant the town where I lived.
Shortly after the announcement, our class went outside for recess. When we came back inside, the radio reporting was still being played over the speaker system, so I knew then that something bad had happened. When we went home from school, my mother had placed 2 chairs in front of our TV. She told my sister and me to sit in those chairs because this was history being made before our eyes.
I remember President Kennedy's assassination very vividly even though I was very young. It still has an effect on me today. As I grew up, I read many books about the assassination and the President's life. I feel that his death changed the course of American history especially with the Vietnam War and the fallout from that conflict."
— Mike Rawlings, Cincinnati, Ohio
I was 15 and a sophomore at Hamilton High in Los Angeles. I heard the news of Kennedy being shot from a passing friend while walking to my next class. By the time I arrived at Mr. Unhrue's classroom everyone was all abuzz with the news. Mr. Unhrue had gotten a radio and was just turning it on when I sat down at my desk. We heard the first reports and then, after about 15 minutes, the news that the President was dead. Everyone was shocked and many cried. I still feel incredible sadness about that day, that weekend. Fifty years later it still hurts. For me it was the loss of innocence. For the country I think it was the end of the post World War II period. The end of the optimism and confidence of that era, the beginning of the cynicism that we still live with today.
— Mark Benjamin, Palos Verdes Estates. CA
I was all of seventy-two days old on November 22, 1963. And yet growing up, I felt a very personal connection with President Kennedy that has lasted to this day. He became my elementary school idol, and the subject of many term papers from junior high school straight though college. Having been born at the end of Camelot, I suppose I wanted to learn more about that celebrated era. Like many others of my generation, I viewed Kennedy as a heroic American figure who seemed to be at once both historic and perpetually modern at the same time. The true embodiment of what would later be called the Greatest Generation.
Whenever I think of presidential leadership, I still think of John F. Kennedy. When I remember the excitement of the space program, and the Peace Corps, and getting along with the Russians, I think of JFK. When I see our proud veterans of the Vietnam War at parades and marches, I can't help but wonder: 'What if?' Whenever we find ourselves embroiled today in potentially-deadly confrontations, whether involving a rogue government somewhere doing something stupid, or the latest vile acts of terrorism, I think of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how we managed to keep level heads and hearts, and avert nuclear disaster. I've often wondered how JFK would have handled 9/11. Whenever I hear sound bites from the White House press conferences of the last few administrations, I can't help but think of Kennedy's self-deprecating charm and wit. And his intellect. He had a masterful way of using words to the greatest of effect.
Hindsight is certainly 20/20, and the mystique of Camelot will forever lend itself to historical debate and scrutiny. But I can't help but agree with the assessment that we lost something really special that day in Dallas. That drive down the slope on Elm Street really did break the back of the American Century. We've been slightly wayward ever since. How great it will be to one day elect a rightful heir to JFK who will find a way to deliver on the promise of uniting all of humanity. In the twenty-first century, that really needs to be our goal, and our leaders really could stand to learn a thing or two from the past. As an inspiring orator once said: 'Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.'
Amen. All good wishes to you and you family, Caroline."
— Rob Cerro, New York
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