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‘President Kennedy has been shot’ – Memories of JFK’s Assassination 50 Years Later

10/8/2013 • HistoryNet

Pres. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie arriving at Love Field, on campaign tour with VP Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson (right). Art Rickerby, Time & Life Pictures Getty Images
Pres. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie arriving at Love Field, on campaign tour with VP Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson (right). Art Rickerby, Time & Life Pictures Getty Images

It was an early Friday afternoon with the crispness of fall overtaking much of the nation, the end of the work week before the Thanksgiving holiday. For those near a TV tuned to CBS, 11 minutes into the soap opera As the World Turns “CBS Bulletin” flashed on the screen and newsman Walter Cronkite announced: “Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at the president’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that president Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting….Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called ‘Oh no!’…United Press says that the wounds to President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal.”

Shocked viewers then saw a Nescafé commercial before a second bulletin reported that a Secret Service agent had shouted from the president’s car, “He’s dead!” CBS then returned to the soap opera and another commercial before the next bulletin. Finally, at 1:30 in New York, Cronkite was at a news desk, with staffers ripping copy off a Teletype machine in the background as the news trickled in. For millions, those initial moments, their reactions and thoughts, were imprinted in their minds with a clarity that few events had before or would afterward. Most would feel profound shock, disbelief, anger and grief, and that afternoon became a generational touchstone, for many a memory so visceral and intense that it resonates still, as the vivid recollections that follow attest.

United Press International Teletype bulletin from Dallas, 12:34 p.m. Heritage Auctions, HA.com
United Press International Teletype bulletin from Dallas, 12:34 p.m. Heritage Auctions, HA.com

When I heard the news of President Kennedy’s death, I remember feeling like one does when walking on the beach, barefoot, on the lip of the surf, and the sand drops away from under your feet when the wave recedes. I felt less sure of myself because my president was dead.
—Maya Angelou is an author, poet, educator and a longtime civil rights activist.

* * *

Mr. Gibson, my high school physics teacher, was demonstrating wave theory with the use of a long metallic slinky stretched across the classroom, when the principal announced over the PA system: “I’m sorry to inform you that President Kennedy has been shot.”

As much as I wanted to understand wave theory, my mind went blank. Mr. Gibson didn’t stop talking—in retrospect, I can’t imagine how he kept going—but I and the rest of my classmates didn’t hear a word he said …

John F. Kennedy wasn’t just our president. He was also the young, vital, humorous, energetic emblem of a new America—and of a future we expected to inhabit within a few years. It was inconceivable that he would be killed, because it was inconceivable that that future would so suddenly and so violently be ripped away.
—Robert B. Reich, labor secretary from 1993-97, is an economist and public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley

* * *

Walter Cronkite struggles to collect himself as he informs the CBS News audience that the president is dead. CBS Photo Archive, Getty Images.On November 22, 1963, I was a high school junior in Midland Park, N.J. I was in class when we first heard the president had been shot. School was dismissed early. I lived in the adjacent town, so I went over to my girlfriend Beth’s home. We were both in absolute shock and dismay. I remember wondering what was going to happen to the country. The big concern on our minds was, What would Russia do? Would they take advantage of the moment? It was the height of the Cold War and everything was very uncertain.
—Richard W. Schneider, Rear Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve (Ret.), is president of Norwich University.

* * *

I was there when my father got the phone call. He hung up and walked to the middle of the room as if undecided whether to sit down at the table or wait where he was. He shifted from one foot to the other, a bitter expression on his face. He was very nervous. It was a difficult situation because we were adversaries, and what do you do when your adversary is assassinated? But he tried to show our respect for the president. He wrote his condolences and he visited the embassy and my mother wrote her condolences to Jacqueline Kennedy.

When father learned that Oswald had lived in the Soviet Union, he called the head of the KGB and asked, “What do you know about Oswald?”
—Sergei Khrushchev teaches at Brown University and is the author of several books on his father, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

* * *

Commuters reading of Kennedy's assassination. Photo by Carl Mydans, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images. Click to Enlarge.
Commuters reading of Kennedy's assassination. Photo by Carl Mydans, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images. Click to Enlarge.
I recall vividly that time because I had gone to a local hairdresser to have my hair shampooed and curled. The news came on over the radio. We didn’t have a TV in that establishment. We were all stunned beyond belief, those of us in that building, and the tears began to flow. The moans and the screams. And I remember someone saying, “What are we going to do?

What are we going to do?” And they were referring to Negroes, as we were called at that time, and that our friend was gone and what would happen to us after that.

And that was it. Tears and sobs and wondering why and wondering what was going to happen next. And pained because the young people in some of the high schools were shouting and cheering and laughing, and on the radio stations in Jackson (Mississippi), people were singing songs—“Dixie,” over and over and over. And that was just like rubbing salt into a wound. It is very painful to think about it even now.
—Myrlie Evers, widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, is chair of the board of directors of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute and a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Alcorn State University in Mississippi

The words above are excerpts of individual comments taken from the American History Commemorative Issue JFK: Life and Death of a President, which includes many previously unpublished recollections of that day in November from a broad spectrum of individuals including astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, former President Jimmy Carter, historian Harold Holzer, and others. Click on the link to learn more.

November 22, 1963, remains etched in the memories of Americans who experienced it. We invite you to share your memories in the comments section below. Comments may not appear immediately.—World History Group

14 Responses to ‘President Kennedy has been shot’ – Memories of JFK’s Assassination 50 Years Later

  1. Greg Lalire says:

    I had turned 11 in October. I was in the sixth grade at Boulevard Elementary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The last bell of the day had rung, and a few other six-graders and I were playing touch football in the schoolyard. Maybe we had been let out early. I can’t remember. What the other players knew at the time, I don’t know. I do know I was unaware of anything significant having occurred that day. A fifth-grade boy came running out of the school and mentioned that Kennedy had been shot. I was stunned. I couldn’t say a word, but some other kid asked if he was dead. The game ended soon after that. Perhaps the others were stunned, too. I walked home with my head down. That explained why I hadn’t seen the school janitor all day. He had been shot and was probably dead. I didn’t know his first name, but like everyone else I called him “Mr. Kennedy.” When I got home, my mother was weeping in front of our family television set, and on the screen were black and white images of other people crying or looking deadly serious in Dallas, Texas. “Kennedy is dead,” my mother blurted out. “I know,” I said, and I became misty-eyed myself, even if the bad news was about our country’s president, not my school’s janitor.

  2. William Pearson says:

    My story is embarrassing. November 22,1963, was R.O.T.C. Friday drill for all males at my college. We were standing in formation, when the Army Colonel called us to ATTENTION, and he said,\ THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF HAS BEEN SHOT……\ We looked around to see if anyone knew who it was? Then he yelled, THE COMMANDER IS DEAD????DISMISSED!
    I ran because I had a date to the dance that evening…..as I ran to the dorm…..I saw people crying…..everything was cancelled, for a week.
    Then Jack Ruby killed Oswald….it was a ugly memory that stays in your long term memory.

  3. Karen Bailey says:

    I was in the 7th grade in music class. All of a sudden teachers gathered at the door to the classroom and were all crying. The teachers would not tell us what had happened and we were frightened. I only found out that the President was dead after I went home that afternoon. I remember so vividly the day of Kennedy’s funeral. It was a cold, overcast day. I took a break from the TV to go outside. Everything was so still and quite except I could hear the funeral procession. At that time I kept thinking we could hear the sounds from D.C. as we didn’t live that far away, but now I realize that for the first time, every television in my neighborhood was tuned in on the funeral procession.

  4. Gerald D. Swick says:

    I was in Mrs. Elsie Shepherd’s fifth-grade class at Norwood Junior High School in the little town of Stonewood, West Virginia. We were at afternoon recess, most of the class playing a ball game in a vacant area by the side of the school, on a day that was nippy but not too cold to be outdoors. I was standing close to the teacher when another student, who had been off to one side listening to a transistor radio, came to her with the news that the president had been shot. At first, she didn’t seem to believe him, but he gave her the radio. She listened for few minutes then called everyone back into the building. I still see her waving us all back in and then marching toward the door, a scarf tied over her head and her face set in a dark scowl.

    The principal connected the school’s PA system to a radio, and we sat in our desk-chairs listening. Finally, the radio newsman said the president had died. I can remember those scenes clearly but have absolutely no recollection of the rest of that day – neither whether we resumed classes or school dismissed early, nor what was said or done when I got home. I do remember that in the days that followed, the news coverage seemed – and perhaps was – constant, which I had never seen before.

    Two days later, I was playing at friend’s house when his mother came running through the room shouting, “They’ve shot Oswald!” She turned on the TV and the three of us sat watching Jack Ruby step forward and shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. I wondered even then how someone could have gotten past all the police to get close enough to do that. My friend’s mother said, “Shooting was too good for him. They should have put him in a cage and taken him all over the country with sign around his neck saying, ‘I shot the president.'”

  5. Joseph J. Messina says:

    I was a junior at New Utrecht High School which is in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn, NY. That year, the school started \ period at started around 7 A.M. and ended at 2 P.M.
    As I was leaving the 79 Street entrance & descending the outside staircase, I heard someone to my left say that the President had been shot. With that, I hurried on home, which was about 14 blocks away and turned on our small black & white TV. Normally on Friday afternoons I would have an egg cream with my friends at \Chookies Luncheonette\ down the block from the school on New Utrecht Avenue, but not on this day.
    I stayed glued to the TV that whole weekend. It was really very hard for a 17 year old to comprehend…..how sad!

  6. Tommy Di Notte says:

    Yes , I remember you that day. It was sad, I was at my uncle’s curtain rod shop not far from you. Do you remember that ?

  7. Marty Jones says:

    I was five and have little memory of anything that happened in 1963, but my parents have often reminded me of the \out-of-mouth-of-babes\ type moment that I was part of that day.

    My dad phoned the house from work.

    \Marty! Let me speak to Mommy…\ he said.

    \She just went outside,\ I replied.

    \Find her and tell her that Daddy called from the office, and to turn on the television. Tell her that the president was shot.\

    I found my mom in the yard talking to a neighbor. I was too young to know what a president was, so didn’t quite understand the message I was supposed to be relaying. It came out wrong like this:

    \We got a phone call. Daddy was shot.\

    (My mom tells me she immediately understood I was confused, as she and the neighbor had been discussing the very thing)

  8. Bob Bradley says:

    I was in the 3rd grade at St Anne’s School, Garwood, NJ. We were watching a French lesson on public TV. One of the nuns ran into the classroom obviously upset and said the president’s been shot. The channel was turned to a regular channel. The first thing I remember seeing was the President’s car parked at Parkland Hosp. The camera was showing the interior. It seemed that the whole class started to cry. We were excused to go to the Boy’s and Girl’s rooms to compose ourselves. For the next several days, I was glued to the TV. I didn’t think anything would ever come close to burning into my memory as that moment. Then 9-11 happened

  9. Clyde Sikorski says:

    On Nov. 22, 1963 I was a Junior in high school. Towards the end of one of my morning classes our teacher told us about the historical oddity that every president elected in a year ending with zero, starting with William Henry Harrison, had either died of natural causes or had been assassinated while in office. She ended listing the presidents just as the bell sounded. As we all stood to leave she said,Let’s hope nothing happens to our Mr. Kennedy. It was an interesting bit of trivia, but was quickly forgotten as the day wore on.

    While in geometry class around 1:30 pm the vice-principal entered the room, approached our teacher at her desk, whispered something to her, and immediately left the room, leaving her to break the news to us. As best as I can remember, she spoke of President Kennedy being shot through the window of his car, and for some reason I pictured him being shot through the window of a railroad car.

    Naturally, the school let out early, and my pals and I drove around for awhile listening to news of the horrible events in Dallas on the car radio, wanting desperately to do something about the tragedy.

    I spent the rest of that day and the next two days in front of the television. To this day I can hear the endless, mournful drum roll and hoof beats of President Kennedy’s funeral cortege.

  10. Tracy Rudolph says:

    I saw the Kennedys come by in Motorcade in Downtown Houston the afternoon before Dallas..We saw the Secret Servicemen looking up in our building and my boss said”Look how easy it would be for someone to throw a grenade in that car”..They spent the night at the Rice Hotel two blocks down our street..When we heard the next day of the assassination it was unbelievable and as I drove to lunch I heard Walter Cronkite say that the President had died at Parkland Hospital..We listened to the news all weekend in a state of shock and depression…

  11. Mike Halvorsen says:

    I was 10 years old, and home from school (IIRC I had Scarlet Fever). I was watching morning game shows on TV while Mom and Grandma sat in the kitchen shelling walnuts and talking in Polish to
    each other. Suddenly CBS News kicked in with the first reports out of Dallas. I remember running into the kitchen yelling,\Mom! Mom! Somebody shot the President!\ Thus began three days of mourning in our house.

  12. John Chesire says:

    Going up the stairway to my high school chemistry class, another student passed by and said, “Somebody just shot the President.” Thinking it a bad joke I responded, “Yeah, probably Goldwater.”

    Upon reaching my classroom I instantly realized it was not a joke. I found a stunned classroom with the teacher in tears and others sobbing. A radio was turned on as we all listened to the incredibly tragic news. It remains a terrible and vivid memory to this day for me.

  13. Conrad Gaunt says:

    I was a college junior at San Francisco State when we heard the news. I was in a world history class, there was a knock on the door (very unusual in college), and the professor stepped out. When he returned, he looked so shaken, I thought maybe his wife or one of his children had died. He simply said that under the circumstances, he couldn’t continue, and he dismissed the class. We filed out still not knowing what had happened. We saw people crying and some had transistor radios, Someone said that the President had been shot in Dallas. A few minutes later, a voice came over a loudspeaker (I didn’t know the college had one) and announced that President Kennedy had died. To say that we were shaken is way too mild. Kennedy was OUR President, our young President, the first President born in the 20th century. I just went numb and stumbled through the weekend in a sort of daze. In some ways, I have never quite gotten over this tragedy.

  14. Reggie Labrum says:

    I remember from what my Grandmother said on that fateful day she was First ever female county Accessor in Utah and we live in the northeastern Utah Duchesne at that time the sheriff and county offices shared the shame building anyway she was working in the accessors office and the Duchesne County Sheriff came in that he heard from a excerpt from local country radio station KNEU 1250 am from am 1160 KSL in salt lake that it was confirmed President Kennedy has been shot and confirmed dead there was a huge shock and stunned silence that day afternoon in the office

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