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Remembering JFK’s assassination: 50 years later

November 22, 2013

 Fifty years ago, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Most of the students in our classrooms today had not yet been born, but the shock and emotional impact of that shooting remains with those of us who were alive at the time. In many ways, the impact is comparable to how our students felt on September 11, 2001, when they saw those planes hitting the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the ground in Shanksville, PA.

Students in several political-science classes and students majoring in political science, public administration/government service, and history were asked to contact their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends who were alive in 1963 to ask the following question: “Where were you and what were you doing when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot?” Faculty and staff in the History and political science department were asked this question as well. Some of their responses follow:

  • I called my grandparents and I first asked my grandma if she remembered what she was doing and she told me she just graduated high school but didn't remember what she was doing at the time. My grandpa on the other hand said he remembered what he was doing like it was yesterday. He was in the sixth grade and said his teacher, who was crying, told them to all sit down, and she told them that the President had been shot. He remembers some kids also crying and that he too felt sad. He remembered how much everyone liked JFK and watching on the black and white TV the president in his casket being marched down the street. He said he was sad because during his time it was very unheard of to assassinate the President.
  • I called my grandparents and I asked them if they remember what they were doing when they heard President Kennedy was assassinated and both said, “Like it was yesterday.” My grandmother was watching a soap opera with my great grandmother and the announcement interrupted and they both cried. She said it was four or five months after she got married to my grandfather and he was out hunting in the Frankstown mountains. While my pappy was out in the woods with his father, someone came through the woods and screamed "THE PRESIDENT'S BEEN SHOT" and they all rushed home to see the news. My grandmother said he was such a great president, more like a hero to the nation, so it was very sad.
  • I have asked this question many times to my grandparents because this is interesting. Their reply is always that they were in the navy and were stationed. My grandmother has told me that this tragic incident was just as bad as September 11th. She said it was scarier because they did not know what was going on or even what will happen since the president was killed. They were shocked, just like September 11th was a massive shock to everyone. She also pointed out that everyone was in sheer panic because the president was just killed. It’s always interesting to talk about history with grandparents because they lived through so much more than us. We can learn and live through their mistakes and how to handle a severe incident like John F. Kennedy being killed or September 11th.
  • I originally was going to ask my Nanny (aka my Grandma) about where she was and what she was doing when JFK was assassinated, but my Uncle Jim had a very interesting story. He was living in Texas at the time of JFK's assassination and was only 10 years old. He could not remember if he was in the 3rd or 4th grade but he stated that he was in school on this day. Since JFK was in Dallas, my uncle said every classroom had a 19-inch black-and-white TV with the little rabbit-ear antennas on them. His school was located in Elgin, Texas which is only about 30 miles away from where JFK was. He remembers watching the parade on TV. He said the parade was heading out of Dallas towards Austin when the teacher suddenly shut off the TV. Since he was only 10 years old, he remembers thinking maybe they were going outside to play now. He did not realize what was going on, but 30 minutes after the teacher turned off the TV, the principal came over the speaker saying all of the students were going home. I personally found this to be a very touching story because he was essentially watching our President at the time he was getting assassinated. I am glad that I got the opportunity to hear this story from my Uncle Jim.
  • Edward S (Friend's Father) - Dad was 19 and stationed at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas. He got back to the command post after his lunch hour and noticed that they were going on lockdown procedure and that all the officers had their side arms on them. He asked one of his seniors, "What's up, sir?" and he replied "The president has just been shot." Dad guessed that it was only about an hour after it happened
  • Ken - I was stationed at the US Naval Magazine on Guam, which was an ammunition storage area. I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. and told we were on Condition 2 - a higher state of readiness (Condition 1 means war). We had to deliver ammunition to Naval piers for ships, and bombs were sent to Naval Air Station, Agana, and to Anderson US Air Force Base.
  • Mom - My husband had a doctor's appointment in Johnstown, PA and I drove him there. Not being able to find a parking spot I dropped him off and drove around and around until he came back out. He got in the car and said, "Guess what? Kennedy was shot". We came home to find our teenage daughter home from school, early, crying and crying, saying, "Kennedy died!"
  • Prof. W - I was 4 years old so my memory really shouldn't be trusted. Nonetheless, I recall my dad came home from school early. Apparently, the administration had abruptly ended classes once the news of the assassination spread. My father's early arrival impressed me since he never left school early. I don't remember his specific reaction to the assassination, but I suspect that he was upset since we didn't have our customary play time that day and he and my mother talked alone a lot. Perhaps that's why I remember it.
  • Prof. R - It was Friday afternoon, at 1:45 p.m. when a student burst into my class room at the Andrews High School in Bristol, R.I. and cried -- the President is dead, and the class sat in shock as we absorbed those words.
  • Prof. M - I was in elementary school, a Catholic grade school. Our teacher, a nun, was called out into the hallway. She told us to be quiet and read. When she came back, she was upset. She told us to close our books and listen. She had some very bad news. She told us that President Kennedy had been shot and she did not know how bad it was. We prayed. She told us to pack up our books and we were sent home. We were scared, confused, and sad. When I got home, the TV was on. My mom was home and my dad came home early. They were sad and confused too, but I also remember how mad they were! How could this happen to our President? The rest is a blur. My grandmother died the next day. Then the whole family was together. So many emotions. The adults talking. The kids trying to figure out what was going on. We were at the cemetery burying my grandmother when Jack Ruby shot Oswald on TV so we didn't see it when it happened.