Remembering John F. Kennedy
Fifty years ago this week an entire nation mourned. The sorrow that gripped this country transcended age, race, gender and political affiliation.
Nov. 22, 1963 — the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated — became a seminal moment in this nation’s history and anyone old enough to remember can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing.
From his death on Friday through his burial on Monday, the networks broadcast nonstop coverage, captivating the country.
Fifty years ago communities throughout Plumas County mourned. (See the adjacent story.) Even now, five decades later, remembering that time brings people to tears. The tragedy was heartbreaking on many levels.
Feather Publishing asked its readers to recall their own memories and here is what they shared:
I was 6 years old, my family and I were living in Southern California. I was in first grade and I remember my teacher telling the class about the death of President Kennedy. Later that day when I came home, I remember my mother watching the television and crying. It was my first introduction to current events and national tragedies.
Plumas County Supervisor
In November 1963 I was a sixth-grade student at Golden West Elementary School, a school right on the outskirts of Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, Calif. All of the kids in that school were children of a parent or parents in the Air Force.
My own father was an oral surgeon at the David Grant Medical Center at Travis. Back then, we had just endured the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many in the military had believed that we had been on the brink of nuclear war with the Russians and so now, just 11 months after the crisis resolved, nerves were still raw and emotions were still on edge.
On that November morning I was in a World Geography class. Sometime during mid-morning, the vice principal came into the classroom and whispered something into the teacher, Mr. Berteoux’s, ear. I don’t think I will ever forget the pale and stunned look he had. He told us that he had to step into the hall. We all knew that something really bad had happened, but did not know what. The classroom was eerily silent.
Mr. Berteoux returned with a portable radio still looking pale and distant. He told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas … then he turned away from the class, too emotionally upset to continue. He searched the radio for a live news broadcast.
Very shortly after he found the broadcast, the announcer informed the audience that the president had died at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. There were audible gasps among the sixth-graders and many, including me, put their heads down on the desk and wept silently.
We were all dismissed to the playground where circles of us gathered in stunned silence. Soon after, the vice principal told us all to return to classrooms where we were told we were dismissed for the day.
Social Services Director
I had recently turned 20 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated, and was in the middle of an interview with a bank for what was to become my first full-time job when the news broke.
There was no public address system or television in the building and I don’t recall anyone announcing what had happened, but in an instant, everyone seemed to know and the entire bank fell silent. No one knew quite what to say to one another. We were all in disbelief.
Within a few minutes, customers left the building, and I believe the bank was closed. By then, many of the staff members were crying softly. The rest of that day is hazy in my memory, but I can still recall the bewilderment on the faces of those around me as we all searched for some understanding.
I can think of no time in the ensuing years, with the possible exception of the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft, when this nation has been so united in mourning. What should never have happened did, and no one able to remember that time will ever forget it.
Feather River College
Nov. 22, 1963, one day after my son Rian’s (nicknamed Duke) seventh birthday, I was living in Greenville on Round Valley Road with my husband, Kurt, and four children; my children were napping, and I was reading. A friend called me and said, “Did you hear about President Kennedy?” I said, “OK, what’s the joke?” preparing for a laugh.
She said to me, this is no joke, President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas and it’s feared he’s dead; she was, by then, in tears. This was about 10 minutes before the announcement confirming his death. It was such a shock that I cried out immediately, hung up the phone, turned on the TV and went to talk with my oldest sons because they had heard my cry.
There was little conversation after that; what could we say? I crocheted an afghan during that time before the funeral, while my children played Monopoly on our large coffee table and watched the TV as intently as did my husband, Kurt, and I. I later donated the afghan to the Indian Valley Hospital Long-Term Care Facility.
I can still feel the tears well up when I think of all the heartache the Kennedy family has had to endure in the name of public service; God bless them all.
I was in second grade at St. Frances Cabrini school in San Jose. The school principal was our teacher.
We were proud we had a Catholic president.
Sister Gabriel was called to the office, which was unusual. She returned several minutes later. Her complexion was as pale as her habit. She said we needed to say a prayer for the president because he had been shot.
A short time later, we walked across the schoolyard to the church and prayed for President Kennedy. We later learned he had died.
There was no more school work that day. When I got home there was nothing on any of our four channels except news from Dallas. We heard Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. Mom made an exception and we watched the news while eating dinner. We could not get enough information.
Later in the evening we learned Officer Tibbet had been shot and they had a man in custody who worked in the Texas Book Depository where the shots that killed the president came from.
Lesser information was made available about Governor Connelly, who was also shot.
I will never forget that day or that weekend.
I was 10 years old when JFK was assassinated. I was living in Keddie. It’s a day everyone seems to remember, even at that young age. I was in the fifth grade at Quincy Elementary School.
Our teacher, Mrs. Austin, came in the room and told us that JFK had been shot and killed. A hush came over the classroom. Everyone was silent. Seems we all knew that America had lost a great man.
I remember watching the funeral procession on the one or two channels that we got in Keddie at the time. It was a very sad time for all Americans. Being a Vietnam vet, I often wonder if the war would have lasted so long and how America would be today had he lived and served two terms as our president. I’m sure things would be a lot better today.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was 13 years old and an eighth-grade student at Quincy Junior-Senior High School. It was a typically gray and overcast day for that time of year.
I remember hearing just before lunch that President Kennedy had been shot and my first reaction was that he was the president and he would be OK because we had no other information at that time. When I returned to my fifth-period class we all learned that he had been killed.
It’s a feeling that you never forget and don’t want anyone to ever have to go through again. That began probably the most gloomy weekend of my life to this day. I still have a copy of the Nov. 23, 1963, Sacramento Bee.
I was in high school, and on that particular day, the student body was assembled in the large gym for some kind of event. The principal went up to the microphone and said, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but President Kennedy has been shot and we have just learned that he is dead.”
There were gasps and some people started crying. I was stunned, like I was in some kind of slow motion movie. We were told to go back to our homerooms. When we got there, our teacher was crying, and he was a man. I saw one of my best friends, who had been obsessed with President Kennedy, and she was sobbing.
When I got home, the TV was on and it seemed that it was on for weeks after that, as all of the details unfolded and there was just massive grieving that just went on and on. I know now that I was just a young teenager at the time and that my life was so focused on small things.
This horrific event woke me up. It was like nothing would ever be the same again. I have never forgotten that day, the feeling of witnessing something so sad, and so chaotic.
I remember how magical this man seemed, good-looking, young, and with a beautiful family — it all stopped that day and in my teenage mind, I wondered how we could all go on.
I was 6 in Southern California, a first-grader at St. Joachim’s Catholic school. My sister April was 20 at the time attending St. Joseph’s college with the intention of becoming a nun. I remember coming into the living room having just woken up with sleep still in my eyes. Something was very strange.
The drapes were drawn, leaving the majority of the light on my family’s faces a mere reflection from the black-and-white Philco television at one end of the room. My sister was sobbing. I hadn’t remembered ever seeing my sister cry.
My parents’ reaction paled in comparison but was equally as mysterious, silently staring at the television in disbelief. My sister seemed inconsolable but that didn’t stop me from trying.
When I asked what was wrong, snuggling up to my big sister and primary caregiver, she told me, in a wavering voice interspersed with sobs, “Oh darling, President Kennedy has been shot.”
I didn’t really understand all of what that meant but it began to soak in as we all sat together for most of the day in silence and tears watching the aftermath unfold.
My sister was completely connected with the Kennedys and their whole saga. She identified with the Kennedys. She modeled Jackie’s style, sewing clothes for herself and wearing hats. For her, the world literally rocked. And for a time, I think she questioned whether we would ever, any of us, recover balance.
April didn’t go on to become a nun. She moved to San Francisco and eventually became a teacher, now retired at age 70 in Crescent City, Calif. I know for her every year this day is marked with extreme sadness and a sense of loss.
Mari Erin Roth
I was the sixth-grader Safety Patrol “officer” out of class early to “guard” the primary kids’ door during their lunch time. There were two Tucson School District maintenance men working on the furnace who were listening to the radio just a few feet from where I was standing. I heard the one that was on his back as he was fixing the furnace say, “Oh my God, the old man got shot.”
Seconds later they told me to go tell my principal that our president got shot and was presumed to be dead. I told them that I couldn’t leave my post. They insisted that they would “guard” the door until I got back and that my principal would want to know.
From the look on Mrs. McGraw’s face when I told her, I think they were wrong. That news was the last thing she ever wanted to hear.
From my 11-year-old perspective and ever since, I’ve always thought that man saying that “the old man got shot” was indeed strange as everybody seemed to think of President Kennedy as young, as he was the youngest ever to be elected U.S. president.
An hour or so later Mrs. McGraw asked me to arrange for me and my fellow Safety Patrol crew members to prepare to lower our school flag half-mast, which we did at an all-school impromptu ceremony just before we were all released early to go home. Our innocent lives would never be the same.