Paul Turner: Readers share the moment they learned of JFK’s death
The ranks are thinning.
But there is still no shortage of Americans who remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news 50 years ago.
The Slice column asked S-R readers of a certain age to recall the awful moment on Nov. 22, 1963, when they learned that President John F. Kennedy had been murdered in Dallas.
Here is a small sampling of the responses.
“I was a student at the Sacred Heart School of Nursing,” said Pam Meyer. “When the news came out about the president being shot I was getting ready to go to anatomy class.”
That class was dismissed, and Meyer went to the hospital chapel to pray for the president and his family.
Marti Stangle was just 5 years old. “I had never seen my dad cry before.”
Tanya Charles was in grade school in Big Sandy, Mont., painting a plaster of Paris turkey for Thanksgiving when the principal announced that the president had been shot. “I still have the turkey.”
Mack Stanhope, in the midst of his second tour of military duty in South Korea, got the word from a prostitute. She said, “Your president has been shot.”
Carol Lindburg was in high school in Missoula. “We were terribly shaken.”
Some recall their own stunned disbelief. Others remember the way those around them reacted.
Joseph Cadwallader was working at a Kaiser plant outside New Orleans when the news broke. “The room was flooded with laughter, men congratulating one another with exclamations, ‘We got that son of a bitch’ and ‘That Kennedy bastard’s dead!’ ”
He also remembers seeing one World War II veteran, a man who had lost half of an ear in combat, bow his head and lose his struggle to hold back tears.
Odessa’s Lova Lobe was at her job at an apparel manufacturing complex in Kansas. “The plant closed immediately and we all left for home in shock.”
Bill Mahaney had just left a library at Ohio State University when someone told him the president had been shot. “I thought he was kidding.”
Shirley Schoenleber was in Iran. Her husband was listening to the BBC and she heard a radio newsman refer to “President Johnson.”
Cal Fankhauser was splicing film at KHQ-TV when the NBC network bulletins began to appear.
Gary W. Smith was in a classroom at Cal Tech, wondering why the instructor was late.
Gary Polser was in the Air Force, stationed in Japan. “We were put on a high state of readiness.”
Several other readers who were in the military at the time said many in the armed forces wondered if this was the start of World War III.
Bob Woods was a fifth-grader who lived in Dallas. He had seen the president’s motorcade from his dad’s office building. He heard the horrible news while being driven back to school. “My buddies, of course, wanted to know whether I had seen the assassination and seemed a little disappointed that I had not.”
Joe Speranzi was in a classroom at Gonzaga Prep when the principal made an announcement. “When I came home, my mom was sitting in front of the TV set crying.”
Marilyn Kile was in English class at Glover Junior High when an announcement came over the intercom.
Ron Hardin was in a social studies class at Glover. “The classroom became very quiet.”
Karen Buck was in a chemistry class at Lewis and Clark High School.
Judy McKeehan was in her home room at Mead High School.
Rickey Harber remembers making baffled eye contact with a classmate at his Memphis, Tenn., high school. The news was difficult to comprehend.
One young man in Jackie McCowen-Rose’s art class at the University of Cincinnati laughed and said “Good!”
Patricia Holland was in a lab at Washington State University. “My teacher was in her office and suddenly ran toward me with an ashen face.”
Les Norton was on Spokane’s Lower South Hill, looking for an apartment. “Someone on the sidewalk knocked on our car window and told us.”
The cataclysmic news overshadowed Lisa Conger’s 11th birthday. A real estate agent talking to Conger’s dad about selling the family’s house in Pacific Palisades, Calif., gave her a $5 bill “and said something about trying to balance some of the sadness with something good.”
Spokane’s Nancy Reeves was working in Dallas in 1963 and had gone outside her office building to watch the waving president’s motorcade pass. “Each of us were quite sure he was looking only at us.”
Not long after she went back to work, someone ran into the lobby near her office and shared the astonishing news.
Rosalie Roberts, a substitute teacher in Spokane Valley, also saw the motorcade that day. When someone later reported that the president had been shot, she said that was not something to joke about.
Sandpoint’s Lynn Pietz, then a college student in Texas, had seen the president earlier that day at a rally in nearby Fort Worth. That afternoon, she noticed people gathered around cars, listening to news reports on the radio.
Rodney Aho was in the seventh grade in Davenport. “I was in chorus class and some older girls came into the room crying.”
Connie Jassman was a 19-year-old office worker in Colville. “There was a radio on a shelf above my head playing music.”
Then the music stopped.
Judy Nessen was taking a history test at Lewis and Clark when the teacher, who had left the room for a moment, walked back in looking “visibly upset.”
Mary Cayer was home from school with a case of the mumps. “The TV was on for company.”
Coeur d’Alene’s William McCarty was in Rome. “An old Italian woman sitting alone at a nearby table was hunched over a portable radio. I remember how very high the radio’s antenna was. She motioned to us.”
Laurie Kulp, a third-grader in Chewelah in 1963, remembers being scolded by another student for laughing and joking with a friend in the hall. “We hadn’t heard yet.”
Like they say, everyone remembers.
Thanks to all the readers who shared memories. Here’s one more.
“I was at Franklin Elementary School,” said Sue Chapin. “It was lunchtime. Miss Tully, our principal, used a microphone to announce to everyone in the room that doubled as the gym/cafeteria that ‘President Kennedy was assassinated.’
“I remember not knowing what ‘assassinated’ meant. I knew it was something bad because teachers were crying.”