Where were you? Readers share memories surrounding JFK’s death
November 21, 2013
Steamboat Springs — "I was a snow ranger at Berthoud Pass, splicing cables for the weather instruments at the time. I came off the mountain and into the snow ranger’s shack at the pass and was hooking up the wind recorder when the news came over the radio.
"My boss, snow ranger Dick Stillman, said: “That’s one of the Kennedy boys.” And then I paid attention. I drove down the mountain and stopped to watch it on TV at a coffee shop in Empire. I was devastated. Then I drove home to (his wife) Milly in Fort Collins."
— Art Judson
“I was a flight attendant for TWA on a routine nonstop flight from LAX to what was then called Idelwild airport, later renamed JFK International airport. We were about an hour into the flight, had rolled the cocktail/coffee cart down the aisle and were getting ready to serve lunch to a full load of passengers on our Boeing 707 which held about 130 people in those days.
“The Captain came on the intercom and we could tell something was wrong just from the way he was speaking. He announced that the President had been shot in Dallas and was taken to the hospital, a shock wave came through the cabin like nothing I have ever experienced, people were sobbing and others kept saying he would be okay, trying to calm others. The normal routine had stopped as no one seemed to care about anything else. About ten minutes later the Captain came back on and announced that the President was dead, he said it just like that and we had a plane load of very sad and angry people on our hands.
“I think I must have been in some form of shock as were my fellow stews (as we were called back then). I can’t remember serving meals, cleaning up and carrying on but apparently we did go through with some form of meal service, got everyone to New York and said our goodbyes. Then we sat in the first class lounge and had a good cry and the Captain and crew joined us for an update on what had happened that terrible day.”
— Judy Jones
“Not unlike you Tom, in 5th grade class, right after recess and lunch. Mostly, I remember the nuns crying; then wondering why the two brightest girls in class were also crying. Four TV channels in Chicago at that time and for the next what, 96 hours, only JFK related information and funeral on TV. I vividly remember watching his body returning from Dallas to Dulles International.
“Never imagined decades later, I would sit with Mrs. Kennedy at an airport in Rhode Island and have a nice 20 minute chat.”
— Steve Gadbois
“I prefer to remember a special nite in June, 1963. Our Senior Prom was to be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, reserved a year in advance. When a big fundraiser was booked, the hotel wanted to kick our prom to a smaller room. President Kennedy intervened on our behalf and our reservation was honored. When we arrived that night, Secret Service agents lined the halls. Such a big deal for all of us! During the evening, President Kennedy, with Governor Pat Brown and comedian Jack Benney, came to our prom and spent a great deal of time talking and joking with our class. We climbed on chairs and tables, long dresses bunched in our hands, to catch a good view and hang on his words. We were all enchanted, thrilled, and have enjoyed sharing memories and photos all these years.
“Still brings a smile to my face, and this memory helps me over the sadness of the events later that year.”
— Barbara Taylor
“November 22, 1963 was a beautiful fall day in Summit, New Jersey. I was waiting at the front of the line of Miss Burn’s 3rd grade classroom waiting to be released for the weekend. It was 230pm on what seemed like a normal Friday afternoon. None of us, including Miss Burns knew what had happened in Dallas, Texas 60 minutes earlier. Just before we were about to be released from our classroom into our weekend, Jim, the Lincoln School janitor walked up to Miss Burn’s and whispered to her that the President had been shot and was dead. Since I was first in line, I overheard those whispered words. I still remember that moment as vividly today as it was 50 years ago. I remember Jim’s lips whispering those words into Miss Burn’s ear. Time stood still. Every November 22, I see myself standing in line of Miss Burn’s 3rd grade classroom listening to those whispered words.”
— Stuart Roberts
“I was a senior, sitting in 7th period English class. Mrs. Viik was reading to the class when the PA system came to life with the terrible news. We were all crying, even the guys…it seemed like a devastating blow had been dealt to our country. Coincidentally, November 22, 1963 was my birthday, but when I returned home, the cake was forgotten, and there was no celebration that year. (FYI, 9/11/2001 was our 19th wedding anniversary.)”
— Jeanne Whiddon
“I had just turned 17 in October and was in my senior year at Middleton (Wis.) High School. Miss Rawls typing class had just started when the news of Kennedy's assassination came over the P.A. system. We sat and stared at the square speaker for the remainder of the hour. The room was totally silent, our hands resting on the keyboards. We were released from school after that period and went home.
“I had to work that night, at Piggly Wiggly supermarket, Friday was typically the busiest night at the grocery store. But that night was the quietest one ever. Not many customers and the few that came through said almost nothing. No jokes, no banter back and forth, no flirting with the cashiers just a few tears and the vacant look in their eyes. The only sounds, that night, were the ringing of the cash registers and the little radio in the Produce Dept. turned to the news. No one had imagined this could happen, no one had been alive when McKinley had been shot in 1901. An eerie stillness is what I remember.”
— John Marshall
“I went to a Catholic school and the first Catholic President was a big deal. We followed the campaign and election very closely. I was in the 6th grade and I remember someone coming in the class room and telling Sister Concepta JFK had been shot. We spent the rest of the day watching Walter Cronkite and saying a rosary.
“Another memory: Oral Polio vaccine had just been made available and was being administered at the local public high school. There was a long line that spilled out of the hall way and down the stairs. We were standing on the stairs when a man came in and shouted that Oswald had been shot.”
— Claudia DeCosta
“As a staff member to the President's Appalachian Regional Commission, I was on a plane with four other staff members and the Commission Chair: Undersecretary of Commerce, Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., flying from Atlanta, GA to Cumberland, MD as the end of a trip taking the draft report to the various Appalachian States for final approval before presenting the report to the President. We had met with the Governors in each of the States for the final sign-off, and this was the last stop.
“As we approached Maryland, an ashen-faced Co-pilot came out of the pilot's cabin, approached Roosevelt (sitting in the aisle seat), and leaned down and whispered into his ear. Roosevelt's face went ashen white.. the color drained out.. and he nodded his head to the Co-Pilot who returned to the pilot's cabin and made the announcement of President Kennedy's being shot over the pa system. (I was sitting in the window seat immediately behind Roosevelt.) The co-pilot also put one of the broadcast stations on the PA system so we all stayed abreast of the commercial radio coverage.
“We landed in Cumberland, MD (Washington National was immediately closed) and we waited in Cumberland for more than an hour before we got clearance to embark to National. The meeting with Maryland never occurred …. The en-route PA Gov's staff was turned around and returned to Harrisburg.
“That evening in DC, from an apartment overlooking the Southeast Expressway, a fellow staffer and myself watched the " 'Presidential' entourage, including a hearse" pass by with no fanfare or sirens… but a few flashing lights in the lead.
“President Johnson had already taken the official helicopter back to the White House… (reflecting the immediate change in command…… recall he was sworn-in on Air Force 1 before it left Dallas).
“Post Note, Fall-out: President Johnson did not move immediately with the findings of PARC – and its implementing legislation. He decided it was best to first address the national issue of poverty… "The War on Poverty" in his 1964 State of the Union (less than 60 days after the assassination), contained a number of the innovative ideas'/programs developed during the "Appalachian Commission" effort to be applied nationally rather than being "tested/focused" on a more geographically limited basis. Several of the Commission staff were quickly shifted to the development of the "War on Poverty.” "The Appalachian Regional Development Act" was passed by Congress in 1965 with a program focus primarily on infra-structure and natural resource development.”
— Donald A. Crane
Second grade. Reeves Elementary. Price, Utah. Principal Jones came into the room, interrupting class with the news. The news first was that the President had been shot. Our teacher was visibly shocked. We were all very young. I don’t remember anyone crying. But class was stopped as we waited in silence for the more news. I thought the president would be okay but it was not to be. I could be wrong but I think we (the elementary school) had all been moved into the auditorium when the news came the president had died. Mrs. Jones told us. We were sent home. The news was on when I came in the door. It stayed on throughout the evening as my parents watched the coverage of events, the news still on through dinner, the news still on, my parents watching, as I fell asleep in my bed.
That is it from the perspective of a seven year old child. I have had to grow into my grief. Something precious must have been taken from me that day that I was simply too young to comprehend. I never miss anything about President Kennedy, whether it be documentary or docudrama. Watching certain speeches of President Kennedy replayed always leaves me great sense of pride in being an American but it is always followed by a sense of terrible loss. No matter how many years go by, the song, Abraham, Martin and John, written by Dick Holler, sung by Dion, always make me cry.
— Verleen Tucker
Steamboat Today readers can share their memories of where they were when they heard of President John F. Kennedy’s death by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story will be updated with reader memories.