On Nov. 22, 1963 …
“I was a senior at Sunset High School. I joked around with my friend Mike Kennedy before heading to auto shop. Mike had to stop at his locker, so I proceeded to class without him. A student burst in and yelled “Kennedy’s been shot.” My thoughts immediately went to my buddy. As I grabbed the work bench to steady myself, Mike ran in and said, ‘Have you heard? The president’s been shot.’
“I had an immediate feeling of relief that I hadn’t lost a friend; it quickly turned to guilt and remorse for the loss of our nation’s leader.”
— Jerry Keen
“I was in my junior chemistry class at Atwater High School in California. My father was a B-52 navigator, and it was my 11th school. We heard that cars with Texas license plates in Southern California were being attacked. Our car had a Texas license since we were Texas natives. It was hard enough accepting that someone in our home state had killed the president.”
— Glynda Hamilton
“I was in Mrs. Stokoe’s fifth-grade class at New River School in Norwalk, Calif. One of my classmates was from Texas and thought for sure that the whole state would be in trouble. I can still hear her declare through her tears, ‘If they throw Texas out of the union, I’m moving back to Texas!”
— Debbie Evans
“I was a senior at Cleveland High School in Seattle. I had a transistor radio with the ear jack running up my sleeve. The announcement came over my clandestine radio of Kennedy’s death. Although it would blow my cover and I’d likely get in trouble for listening to a radio in class, the news was too big to keep to myself. I went forward and whispered the news to the teacher. After the initial shock, she believed me, announced it to the class and notified the school office. Everyone was so stunned and moved that no one ever thought again about the source.”
— Laura (Rice) Jackson
“As a college Young Democrat in 1959, I shook hands with John Kennedy when he spoke at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.
“On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a student teacher at Mitchell High School. The intercom interrupted my English class with the radio broadcast. Stunned, the students and I sat still. Ignoring the class bell, I invited the high-schoolers to speak their thoughts. Hushed tones, soft-spoken voices, and tears are what I remember about this moment.”
— Mary Canton Armantrout
“I was in the bath tub. I was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base, and my family was living in Sacramento. When I heard the news, I grabbed a towel and called my unit and asked if we were on alert. When the president is assassinated, all kinds of stuff runs through your head, especially if you’re in the military.”
— Roy Billings
“I was only 5, and Nov. 22 was my mom’s birthday. I came home from kindergarten, and it was upsetting to me to see her crying like that on her birthday.”
— Tom Runkle
“I lived in Dallas when I was 4 years old. My mother said we were going to see the motorcade, but we didn’t go because I’d been sick.
“She was a nurse at Baylor Hospital and worked on the swing shift. She said there were several premature births that night, attributed to stress and shock.”
— Janet Larson
“I was a freshman at the Air Force Academy. At lunch, the commandant announced that the president had been shot and had been transported to a hospital.
“He put my class at ease for the rest of the day and invited all cadets to attend the academy chapel. For the very first time, the entire wing was silent. Then 2,400 cadets rose as one and filed out. President Kennedy had visited the academy only the previous June for the 1963 graduation. It would turn out to be his last.”
— Michael Lumbard
“An office aide came in and whispered to our teacher, who left the room. When she came back, she was crying. I’d never seen an adult cry before; it was scary. With tears flowing, she told us that President Kennedy had been shot and that school was closing.
“Even at 12 years old, I loved President Kennedy and Jackie; they were beautiful and magical and I couldn’t understand why anyone would shoot him. A store on Main Street had color TVs in the window and the adults were three and four deep in front. It seemed like everyone was touching each other. I worked my way to the front of the crowd and I remember hands on my shoulders and on my head as I passed through.
“Everywhere I walked, I saw adults standing together, touching, crying, mourning, praying. It seemed like everyone in my little town came out onto the streets to grieve together.”
— Linda Hayden
On Veterans Day, “President Kennedy was laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I watched him walk back to his limousine. I glanced to my left and saw a man up in a tree. When I saw his eyes, I froze. I’ve never seen such burning, naked hatred as was in his eyes as he watched the president. The president then got into his limousine. I ran to a spot down the road he had to pass. I grinned and waved wildly. He laughed and waved at me. Oh, bliss.
“On Nov. 22, 1963, I was eating breakfast in Spokane. The phone rang. I can still see the lady of the house standing there and saying, ‘The president was shot?’ That shocking moment will be with me forever. I have always wondered about the man in the tree.”
— Corrine F. Kysar
“I was in the Air Force, stationed in Detroit on recruiting duty. I was visiting our recruiting station in Ann Arbor. We were walking back from lunch and as we walked past a used-car dealer, a man stepped out of his office and called, ‘Our president is dead.’
“When we got to his office, we saw the TV. I remember driving to Detroit with tears running down my cheeks, trying to stay on the road.”
— Jim Souder
“I was an eighth-grader at Lewis Junior High. Shortly after band class started, we were sent home. We spent all weekend glued to the TV. Being a drummer, I was enthralled with the marching cadence that was played throughout the weekend. I memorized it! Before we started Dale Beacock’s band class on Tuesday, I began playing the funeral cadence. Another drummer joined me. Soon everybody was watching us.”
— Larry Lewton
“I was in a hospital room in Detroit. I was 16 and had injured my knee playing soccer. I was groggy from the anesthesia and in a lot of pain. The patient in the next bed had the TV on and I heard the announcer say ‘President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.’ The news alone was very upsetting, but combined with the surgery, the pain and the medication, I was on an emotional roller coaster. I asked repeatedly that the TV be turned off. He wanted to hear all the news and there wasn’t anything else to watch.
“A happier memory occurred in 1961. My father drove to Florida to look for work and I kept him company. We were visiting friends and learned JFK and Jackie were at their home in Palm Beach. We were waiting outside when their motorcade drove out. There was a small crowd and we all began cheering. President Kennedy leaned out the limousine window and gave us all a big smile and wave. That really made my day!”
— James Lanz
“It was the evening news bulletin in London. Black-and-white BBC news: reports of the shooting. Then the desk phone interrupted the newscaster. “Excuse me,” he said to the nation as he picked up the receiver. “Oh. … Thank you, yes, I will.” Turning back to the nation: “We regret to announce that President Kennedy is dead.” Cameras cut immediately. My parents gasped, my mother burst into tears: the first Catholic president was dead.”
— Claire Smith
“I was working at a bank in Lawrence, Kan. Down in the basement, I posted checks to peoples’ accounts. A teller ran down the stairs and yelled to come up and listen to the radio. ‘The president’s been shot!’ I didn’t really believe it until I got to the lobby. No one was in line. People were huddled together, and the only sound was the radio. Tears were running down peoples’ faces, including mine.
“The bank closed. A friend and I went to a coffee shop for lunch, but all I could manage was a hot chocolate. The waitress was sobbing.”
— Liz Burnside
“I was in Tacoma, in a church practicing the organ for a friend’s wedding. This church was next door to a school. After 45 minutes of practice, teenage girls began to walk into church. They were crying. I had no idea what could be wrong, but I couldn’t practice anymore, so I left and drove back to Mom’s house. Mom had heard the news.
“It must’ve been a painful decision, but the wedding was held on schedule.”
— Carol Boyer
“I lived in San Antonio, Texas, where my husband Bob was in the Army. On Nov. 21, everyone at work was very excited. President and Mrs. Kennedy were coming to San Antonio and would drive right by our building. Our supervisors told us we could go outside and see them.
“The next day, there were pictures up on our bulletin board taken the day before. About 1 p.m., an announcement came over the loudspeaker, President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We were so upset. We just saw him the day before. A few minutes later came more news. The president had been killed.
“That weekend was so devastating. I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed on live TV. On Monday morning, I wasn’t sure if I had to go into work. We didn’t have a phone so I walked to the corner to use the pay phone. The streets were empty. It was so eerie and very, very sad.”
— Carole Reule
“I was in Dallas for a meeting with Apollo suppliers, the program to put a man on the moon. I went to my room and turned on the TV news and heard a voice-over reporting the shooting. My meeting was close to the airport, and I went there immediately. I waited outside in view of Air Force One, near the gate where I saw the judge enter to swear in LBJ.
“I returned for another meeting and went to Dealey Plaza to see the memorial near the road. Since there was no parking, several cars stopped at the curb and handed me flowers and asked me to place them. I did.”
— Larry Catt
“We were traveling from the American military base schools, where we taught in Mannheim, Germany, and stopped for dinner. We noticed the somber crowd gathering to listen to the radio. A man came to our table asking in German if we had heard the horrible news about our president. After our shocked response, ‘Nein!’, the owner turned the radio to the American station.
“We wished to return to the base. The owner quickly packed an ‘autobahn’ lunch for us, insisting that we not pay. He and the others offered much sympathy and instructed us to drive carefully.”
— Donna Quesnell
“I was in fifth grade in Deerfield, Ill. My parents had been involved locally in politics and I organized friends when I was in second grade to walk around our neighborhood with a wagon full of Kennedy materials, going house to house.
“On Nov. 22, I came by a friend’s house after lunch. The news had just struck and her grandmother cried out and crumpled. My first reaction was that her dramatic action was kind of funny. The next moment I drew back in horror at the news and felt so ashamed at my childish reaction. This woman’s acute sorrow made me connect with the grief.”
— Tracy Reilly Kelly
“I was a high school senior in a small town in Utah. Many of us went home for lunch; I turned on the car radio when the news came over. My sister and friend and I just sat there stunned. In afternoon classes, most of the teachers had radios or TVs on. One classmate, Helen, just sat there and cried silently. I used some of the president’s words (‘Ask not …’) in the speech I gave at graduation.”
— Sandie Hollister
“I was a second-grader in West Virginia. Our teacher, usually very stern, came into the room in tears. ‘The president has been shot!’ she exclaimed. ‘He’s dead. It’s terrible, just terrible!’ Her fear was contagious and we all erupted in tears. We were too young to understand what it all meant, but it was certain something life-changing had taken place.
“Our TV was on the blink and we had no audio, but I remember being glued to the screen watching the funeral procession. I was fascinated by the horse with the empty boots facing backward.”
— Cheryl Moulton
“I was attending Blessed Sacrament Elementary in Seattle. Having a Catholic in the White House had been quite exciting for the school.
“The loudspeaker came on with a news broadcast. No announcement from the principal, Sister Agatha. Just the newsman. We were all confused at first but then realization began to dawn. It seemed as if we were one body as we all fell to our knees onto the cold linoleum floor. Sister Mary Catherine began leading us in the rosary, tears streaming down her face.
“At recess, none of us felt like playing, so we walked to the church. We could hardly get through the doors. A mass of people were there, crying and praying.
“Whenever I think back to those days, they all seem very dark, as if everything happened at night.”
— Connie Rogers
“I was a college freshman with a fascination with politics and politicians. I had little regard for the Kennedys; I thought they were phonies as spoofed by Vaughn Meader’s ‘First Family’ album. I thought Lyndon Johnson would have been a more effective president, having the experience and political savvy that Kennedy lacked. Despite his trophy wife and the Camelot hype, JFK was a philanderer. Kennedy’s foreign policy was disastrous, with the Bay of Pigs, Diem assassination and suspicion that the Cuban Missile Crisis was cooked up to boost Kennedy’s sagging popularity. His civil rights initiatives were mostly blocked by Senate Democrats.
“Kennedy’s assassination was a shock, but not unexpected; I had recently discovered the phenomenon that starting in 1840, every president elected in a year ending in zero had died in office. So Lyndon Johnson became president after all, and we know how that turned out.”
— Tom Smith
“I was an Air Force lieutenant stationed in France. We heard the awful news on Armed Forces radio. After a while, there was a knock at the door. It was the mayor of the nearby French village, with his medals and formal clothing, there to express his condolences. Several other mayors and officials also dropped by; all expressed great admiration for our fallen president. I was sad but honored to be a part of this gathering, knowing how deeply felt was the regard of others.
“In 1960, I was a member of the Young Democrats at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I still remember my 1947 Plymouth decorated with campaign material. I was surprised to receive a thank-you letter from Senator Kennedy a couple of months later. It is proudly displayed in my den.”
— Ron Pastor
“I was in a freshman biology lab at Chico State College. A student came in with the news. There was a radio in the lab, and we all gathered quietly to listen to the updates and finally the announcement that the president had died. Another couple of students and I left the lab building, which was very close to the main administrative building, and went to the flag pole in front to make sure that the flag had been lowered to half staff. It had.”
— Bruce Armstrong
“I was a new second lieutenant at Fort Lewis. We were in Yakima for a training exercise and we were all told to return to base immediately. We sat down and they told us what was going on. We picked up ammunition; for two or three days, we did nothing but wait.”
— Royce Pollard
“My husband drove a gravel truck. I was with him at work one day when the truck got stuck. We walked to a house so we could phone for help. The woman who answered the door said, ‘Come in and see what’s happening.’ She had the television on. I started crying.”
— Trudy Banks
“My dad was in the Air Force in Wiesbaden, Germany. We were the only American family in town. When the Germans found out, they came to our house, crying, ‘Kennedy ist tot!'” (Years later,) “I went back to Germany and patrolled the Berlin Wall.”
— Bob Knight
“I grew up in Dallas and was 7 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. They let us out of school early and I remember thinking that my parents would be happy because they did not like the president. Totally surprised when I got home and my mother was in tears.”
— Jodell Hinojosa
“On the day JFK was assassinated, I happened to be home from school, as I was sick that day (I was 10 years old); I was laying on the couch watching TV, when the first reports started coming across. My Dad was out in the garage, working on one of our cars; I tried telling him what was going on, but he initially dismissed it as a story I was making up to get him to come inside. As the details were finalized that day, I kept running back out to the garage to update my Dad; he finally decided to come in and see what was happening.”
— John Vinje