It’s a vague question, but virtually every American age 56 or so or older will know exactly what you want to know when you ask it this week:
Where were you?
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, remains the seminal moment in the lives of millions. Whether they heard it on television, from a loved one or over the public address system in school, the moment they learned that the president had been shot while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas is an indelible memory.
As the nation prepares to commemorate a day that still brings tears to people’s eyes a half-century later, we invited readers to share their stories.
Whether by email or on Facebook, hundreds answered the question. Reading them, it is impossible to not be struck by how many people vividly remember minute details of that day: precisely where they were, what someone was wearing, the emotion on the face or in the voice of the person sharing the news. Many people remember it as the first time – maybe the only time – they saw a loved one cry.
“My parents and siblings were as devastated as I was,” wrote Cheryl Johnson, a student at Kenmore West High School at the time. “It took a long time to move on with life the way it was. To this day I ask why this happened. I will never forget him and still ask why.”
What follows is a sampling of some of the responses.
I was in first grade and heard about JFK’s assassination just like anyone else at the time, through the news. I was in school then. The principal let everyone in school home for the day. Our teachers were crying (they were all older and female in 1963), our janitor lowered the flag to half-staff. The rest of the week was no school at all, and I remember watching the funeral on TV.
– Michael Vaughn
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I was a 9-year-old fourth-grader in Miss Shriver’s class at the Glendale School in the Town of Tonawanda. I remember it being a Friday afternoon, just before dismissal for the day – probably about 3 p.m. – with all the excitement of a week of school completed and a couple of weekend days to come.
As we were getting ready to board the school buses for the trip home, Miss Shriver received a call on the classroom telephone at the front of the room. I remember the sadness of her face as she told the class that the president had been shot. I was old enough to be shocked but clearly didn’t understand what this really meant.
– Gary J. Jastrzab
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I was home from school because it was parent-teacher conference day at my Wisconsin elementary school. As a second-grader, I was hanging out with my baby sitter, enjoying a carefree day. Because in those days there was nothing on daytime television for kids, I had spent the day coloring, playing with dolls and practicing my piano lesson.
The first sign that anything was wrong was when I saw my mother walking from the garage to the house sobbing. I immediately assumed she was distraught over my teacher, Mrs. Unser’s, report of my behavior and ran and hid under my bed. A few minutes later, I heard the baby sitter crying and went to the kitchen to find out what was going on.
“Someone killed President Kennedy,” my mother said, choking back her tears. “We need to pray for Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline, Little Jack and our country.”
She got up and placed a rosary over the framed photo of JFK that hung in our kitchen and then started to recite the “Hail Mary.”
– Sharon Linstedt
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I had just gotten off the bus which took me home from kindergarten, my Disney-themed metal lunchbox in hand. Upon entering our home, I found my mother in front of our black-and-white television, her eyes welled up with tears that couldn’t seem to come out. She turned to look at me and with a voice choked with emotion announced to me, “They killed the president.” I later pieced together a timeline that had me learn of his passing within fewer than five minutes after Walter Cronkite delivered the news to the nation.
I remember nothing else of that day.
– Chris Reich
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I was a student at Bennett High School. During the class change from sixth to seventh period, we heard a radio broadcast come on the PA system for a few seconds saying “He was shot and is being rushed to the hospital.” We didn’t know who they were talking about.
Then about halfway through the seventh period, our principal, Lloyd Miller, came on the PA and asked all the students to stand up. He then told us about the president being shot. My memory isn’t clear, but I think he asked us to say a silent prayer. He then dismissed school early. I remember how quiet it was in the hallways as we all left and walked down the stairs to Main Street.
– Allan Harris
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I will never forget the horror of those few days. When I saw the devastation of life being taken so fast and with so little judgment, I began to worry about firearms in the wrong hands. In those days, 50 years ago, we watched three prominent men, all fathers of very young children, being destroyed because someone didn’t like them. Free speech is one thing, but free expression of violence this way should be controlled. The shame is that we are still fighting this battle; the difference now is that it is the children being destroyed, still with little judgment and not because someone didn’t like them but because someone just wanted to. God help America and our freedoms.
Excuse the raw emotion – but it hasn’t gone away for this old lady (74, now).
– Kathleen Ray
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I was in downtown Buffalo, going to each department store located on Main Street seeking work for the Christmas holidays. It was the lunch hour, and Main Street would normally have been noisy and busy with people. I was coming out of Hengerer’s near Lafayette Square when I realized that there was complete silence on the street. Cars were stopped in the street or pulled over to the curb and people were crowded around them listening to the car radios. I asked someone what had happened. I learned then that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I remember a feeling of nausea coming over me and I leaned against a car to steady myself. After a while, traffic began moving again, but still everything was quiet. People spoke in whispers as they proceeded on their business. I boarded a bus and went home to Massachusetts Street where I turned on the television to hear Walter Cronkite announce the death of the president.
– Chris Majewski
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It was the worst, tear-filled weekend of my life. The words “The president has been shot in Dallas” suddenly blared over the music from a speaker in my dental operatory at my office in Alexandria, Va., across the Potomac from D.C. My patient abruptly sat up in her chair and I, a 28-year-old dentist, jerked up in disbelief as well. After completing treating my patient and soon learning the president had died, I canceled my remaining schedule and went home to learn the details on TV.
“Camelot” and the handsome husband and his lovely lady were real to me. I barely ate or slept. On Sunday, my wife and I drove to D.C. and stood directly across the street from the White House among a throng of people viewing the casket and riderless black horse with a backward empty boot in one stirrup, signifying our lost commander in chief. The casket was to lie in state at the Rotunda in Congress.
Shortly afterward, as we were readying to leave, there was a discernible ripple in the crowd. It was then we first learned that Oswald had been shot. Later at home and riveted to TV news, more and more unfolded to our growing consternation and depression. May none of us, ever again, experience another weekend like that, 50 years ago.
– Leonard Gross
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As a third-grader at St. John de LaSalle School in 1963, Friday afternoons usually meant group word games, educational bingo or holiday play rehearsal for me. I don’t recall which fun event we were involved in, but I can still see the principal, Sister Leo Joseph, at the classroom door, interrupting to call our teacher into the hall. A minute or two later, Sister came back into the room to tell us the president had been shot. She walked back out. She didn’t indicate he was dead.
I was an 8-year-old class clown so it was my responsibility to break the ice. I stood up and pretended I was making a speech, made a gun noise with my mouth, clutched my chest and fell to the floor. Most of the other kids laughed.
Once home from school, I learned what happened because all TV programming was pre-empted for continuous news coverage of the scene in Dallas. All six stations, including the three Canadian ones, were reporting the shooting.
I still remember the large-type, bold banner headline in the afternoon Niagara Falls Gazette. It was the first time I ever saw the word “ASSASSINATED.” I had to look it up.
I still consider Nov. 22, 1963, as not only a pivotal day in my life and spirit, but the single, most important turning point in modern-day America. More than any other event such as Watergate, Vietnam, Woodstock or Kent State, JFK’s death was the day hope began to fade. Anything that seemed to bolster optimism in a greater national good – the Peace Corps, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, the race to the moon, even basic trust in leadership – all fell victim that day.
It was the day 8-year-olds put “assassinated” in their vocabularies.
– Thad Komorowski
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I was a young rocket scientist working at an aerospace company in Sacramento, Calif. I was driving to the University of California at Davis taking classes to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
When the news came on the car radio of Kennedy’s death, I immediately pulled off the freeway, crying. I then went on to UC Davis and tried to have my classes dropped for the day. Surprisingly, I did not succeed.
Several years later, I came to Buffalo to work on the Lunar Excursion Module at Bell Aerospace – a program he championed before his death.
– Charles J. Schorr
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My now-wife and I were in the same sixth-grade class in West Falls Elementary. The teacher was called out of the room and, when he returned, tearfully announced the assassination. Most of us were shocked to see our big, authoritative male teacher crying, so the room was mostly silent except for the class “toughy” – who would now properly be referred to as a “bully” – who began to laugh. My wife and I both remember the teacher in anger picking this kid up and pressing him against the wall.
– Bruce Kloc
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I can remember the details of that fateful day so vividly. I, along with three of my younger siblings, were students at St. Josaphat’s School in Cheektowaga. I recall sitting in Sister Mary Inviolate’s third-grade classroom, when suddenly the PA system went on.
That was unusual in the afternoon, because it was used only for morning announcements and dismissal.
We heard the uncharacteristically broken voice of our principal, Sister Mary Antonelle, telling us to get on our knees and pray because our beloved president had been shot. You could hear the concerned fear in the voice of the usually stoic woman.
An hour later we were dismissed to go home, unaware of the president’s updated status. I was a “walker,” because we lived seven-tenths of mile from the school. My classroom was on the second floor, so we were dismissed first, in order to collect our younger siblings in the schoolyard. I’ll never forget the scene as the front doors of the school opened wide that afternoon. In the front schoolyard, standing at least 10 deep, was a sea of parents and grandparents, tear-stained and weeping, waiting to break the news that, indeed, President John F. Kennedy had died.
The entire scene was so overwhelming. I usually had to shepherd my sister and two brothers safely homeward, along with a few neighbors. Not that day. My mom loaded my 3-year-old twin sisters into a wagon and walked to the school to enfold us in her reassuring arms and break the terrible news.
– Bonnie Platt
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As a junior at the University of South Florida, I was attending a 20th century literature class where we viewed a 16mm film about the death of Abraham Lincoln and the train ride that carried his body from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill. All along the tracks and at many stops along the way, people mourned the tragic loss of the Great Emancipator. Walt Whitman, who bravely served as a medical corpsman during the Civil War, became my favorite poet. When I exited the darkened classroom, the day was clear and bright and the sun’s glare blurred my vision. Students were scurrying around in a panic, many weeping: “Did you hear what happened? Kennedy was shot!”
Over the years, many comparisons between JFK and Lincoln would be discovered; but these two poems, “Oh Captain, My Captain” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” created a synergy of sadness that still brings tears to my eyes today.
– Fred Tomasello Jr.
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Our school, Holy Name of Jesus School on Bailey Avenue, did not have a cafeteria, so all the children went home for lunch. The children were just coming back from lunch and gathering in the playground; the bell was getting ready to ring, when one of the sisters came out and said that the president had been shot. I think she had been washing dishes in the convent and turned on the radio and heard it. One of the students, Gregory, who lived just across the street from the school, wanted to run home and get a radio, but I remembered that there was a small black-and-white television set in the school, in the storage room. I asked to borrow it and had it brought into my classroom. It was our custom to start the morning and afternoon class sessions with a prayer, and that afternoon my class all prayed for President Kennedy.
I invited the other seventh-grade class in, and we had around 70 students sitting in a classroom set up for 38, they were doubling up in the seats. You could have heard a pin drop in the room; it was silent. I remember just watching the film of the motorcade being shown over and over, then I remember Walter Cronkite announcing that the president had died, and there was utter silence in the room. It was quite somber. We watched the news coverage for the rest of the day.
That Saturday, I remember taking the bus to Mount St. Joseph’s teacher’s college, where I was studying for my master’s degree, and I remember thinking how our lives were all changing and they would never be the same.
– Sister Kathleen Murphy (at the time, her name was Sister Clare Francis)
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I was at Boys Vocational High School in Buffalo when someone walked in where our swimming class was in progress and announced that President Kennedy had been shot. I ran upstairs where other people were to confirm the news, and yes – sadly it was true. Disbelief, shock and sadness took over my emotions. Every Nov. 22, since that day, I go back to Boys Vocational High School and that swimming class.
– D. Gus Collado
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I had just moved from my hometown of Philadelphia to New Jersey and was applying for a New Jersey driver’s license. I happened to be at the state barracks to take, I suppose, a test and get new plates when the news came that JFK had been assassinated. It turned out – looking back on the period – the beginning of violent and trying times.
– Morton J. Merowitz
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The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is very much entwined in the memories of my wedding, Nov. 23, 1963.
The day before, my mother and I were sitting under hair dryers in a salon, unable to hear but suddenly aware something monumental had just occurred. People were crying and hugging each other. Simultaneously, we lifted the heavy bonnets off our heads and were told the news. The tragedy was the topic of conversation at our ceremony, by the priest officiating and at the reception. The Buffalo Trap and Field Club, now extinct, extended our afternoon reception several hours as a previously scheduled dinner dance had been canceled out of respect for the president. As we honeymooned in Quebec we followed the continuing drama of the shooting of Oswald by Ruby. My mother saved all the Buffalo Evening News editions regarding the tragedy, and I have them to this day.
– Carol Thrun Nowicki
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I was in Miss Stein’s sixth-grade class at Herbert Hoover Elementary School. She was in the middle of her lesson when the principal – I think it was Mr. McLaren – announced the tragic news. Miss Stein tried to explain it, but we were too young to understand the full impact. After school was let out, I walked home and tried to wrap my head around it. Little did I know that that weekend would change my life forever, as I heard of the details of Kennedy’s death and then watched his accused killer murdered live on national TV. I’m absolutely sure that the loss of JFK was responsible for shaping my future political philosophy. I still put the loss of both Kennedy and Martin Luther King as two of the deepest and troubling moments in our country’s history. I often wonder what the world would be like today if he had never gone to Dallas.
– Mike Townsend
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I was in second grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel grade school in Niagara Falls. It was around afternoon recess when the principal came over the loudspeaker and told everyone that we were all to go down to the church. Our teacher got us all together and led us down to the church where we were told by the pastor that President Kennedy had been shot and that we were going to pray the rosary for him. At that time, we believed that he was still alive. When we were done, our teacher told us to hurry home. I ran down to my grandmother’s since that is where my mother was going to be. When I got there, my mother and grandmother were both in tears and they had Walter Cronkite on. He soon announced that the president was dead.
I was really upset since Kennedy was the first president I really knew. His death caused me to read quite a bit about his life and subsequently all of the theories behind his assassination. His message, along with that of his brother, Robert, were the reasons why I wanted to get into government. To this day, anytime I hear a reference to “the president” or “Hail to the Chief,” I always think of President Kennedy.
– Anthony Restaino
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I was in sixth grade at St. Aloysius School in Springville. Our principal, Sister Bernice, came into our classroom to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot. When I arrived home from school, my mother told me that Uncle Bus and Aunt Dolores had a new son, David. I recall my mother saying that she had never felt so much sadness and happiness all in one day. Looking back on that afternoon, how true that was. I said goodbye to a president and hello to a cousin.
– Jean Kessler
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I was in third grade. My family had moved that spring to a rural area outside of Binghamton, and we were looking forward to our first holiday season in our new home.
My teacher, Mrs. Grady, was pregnant – nearing her delivery date, as I remember. Her husband was a fifth-grade teacher in the same school building. Mr. Grady was very tall – at least to a third-grader. He was always careful to move slowly to avoid scaring any of the younger students in the building.
It was after lunch and recess, and I can still see Mrs. Grady standing at the chalkboard. Suddenly, Mr. Grady runs into the room with a horrified look on his face that is burned into my memory and yells, “The president’s been shot!!” and grabs his wife for comfort. Classmates started crying, even though we didn’t yet understand the significance of what had just happened. It was because we’d been frightened by Mr. Grady. Within minutes, the principal made a confirming announcement on the PA system, the buses were summoned early, and we all were all sent home.
– Jeff Wilson
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I was in an English class at Kenmore West High School. It was a few minutes into class, at about 2:10 p.m., when our school’s principal, Mr. Raymond Frazier, came on the PA system. This was very unusual since it was the last period of the day and most announcements were in the morning. Mr. Frazier said the words I and most of my classmates will never forget. He said simply that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had died after being shot in a motorcade in Dallas. Minutes later, Mr. Frazier came back on the PA system to announce that classes were being canceled.
My response was much stronger than most of my classmates in Mr. Kohler’s English class that Friday afternoon. Three years before as a seventh-grader, I had seen then-candidate Sen. John Kennedy speak at Memorial Auditorium in one of the largest political rallies in Buffalo’s history. After seeing and hearing Kennedy that September night in 1960, just weeks before the election, I was hooked on Kennedy and politics. So I was devastated at the news that afternoon. As a result, I lashed out at my teacher for what I thought was a very mild and unemotional response to this news. I thought he simply did not care enough. Of course it was his job to keep us calm and talk us through this shocking news. Years later I apologized to Mr. Chuck Kohler. I remember these moments as if they happened yesterday.
– Len Lenihan
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I was a fifth-grader at the Campus School the day Kennedy was killed. It was after lunch and I was in the gymnasium shooting hoops when an announcement was made over the intercom system ordering us back to our classrooms. There, we learned the news and that we’d be going home early.
We were the “duck and cover” generation. We watched as yellow and black signs began to be installed in public buildings directing the locations of fallout shelters. My next-door neighbor had one built in their basement, as he was brigadier general of New York’s National Guard.
For the first time, we had a very public president and the first to have a great deal of television exposure. For a 10-year-old, this news was just as confusing as it was tragic.
We students walked to the Elmwood bus stop, bus pass in hand to begin our rides toward home. The day began to take on a very surreal atmosphere as we walked and rode in silence trying to digest the information asking the question, “What happens next?”
Sitting on the unusually quiet bus, approaching Ferry, I looked out my window to about six women standing on the sidewalk outside the post office openly weeping to one another and that’s when I felt a great deal of fear and anxiety, wishing that this slowly creeping bus I was on would speed me right to my stop at Lexington so I could get home, bypassing my almost daily stop at the Highland Deli.
When I got off the bus, I walked home at an accelerated pace, getting to the house in a blur. I immediately turned on the television, tuning into Walter Cronkite, and the rest is history. The following days played out on the television allowing all of us to bear witness to unsettling history, one that I will never forget.
– F.P.Taylor II
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I was a patient at Buffalo General Hospital having a tonsilectomy. After being brought from the recovery room, my family was there waiting and anxious to share with me the sad news of the murder of President Kennedy. Upon hearing what happened my reply was, “That’s nice.” They soon realized I was still experiencing the effects of the anaesthetic and it would take a few more hours before I could comprehend the full impact of this tragedy. Recuperating at home offered me the opportunity to view the entire weeklong showing of this historic event. Memories of those days will remain with me for life.
Marilyn A. Molloy
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I was in second grade at Holy Ghost Academy in the Adirondack village of Tupper Lake. The school was staffed by Sisters of the Holy Ghost, French nuns who had white habits. It was a fairly new school and did not have a public address system. The nuns would communicate by sending one of the sixth-grade girls around with a note. We were having art when came a knock at the door, and in walked one of the sixth-grade girls. Our teacher, Sister Theresa, read it, initialed it and said, “Children, please put your things away. I have very bad news to tell you.” Donna Woods, who sat to my right in the first row, said to a few of us, “They’re probably going to make us go to school on Saturdays now.” We laughed. So there we sat hands folded on our desks as we watched Sister pace back in forth in the front of the room under portraits of Pope Paul VI and President Kennedy.
Finally she turned to us and said, “Someone has shot President Kennedy.” Everyone gasped. She went on. “They don’t who did it or how badly he’s been hurt.” We started to say the rosary. Then there was another knock on the door, and it was another sister. Our sister went out in the hallway. We finished our prayers and stood there talking when Sister Theresa came back in, and one of my classmates asked how President Kennedy was. “They’ve given him the last rites,” was her answer. We all knew what that meant.
When 2:10 came, it was time to board the buses. As I walked past the cafeteria, the cafeteria ladies were standing there crying. A shiver went through me. Seeing this unnerved me. They were always friendly and cheerful; now they stood there with tissues wiping away tears.
Walking out to the buses, leaves were blowing across the sidewalk, and it was a beautiful sunny day, rather warm for late November in the Adirondacks. The flag was at half-staff, and I knew then that he was dead. When I reached my neighborhood, one of our neighbors, Alcid Roy, was raking his front lawn.
“Alcid, did you hear what happened? Somebody shot President Kennedy.”
He turned to us, took the pipe out of his mouth and with his thick French Canadian accent said, “That is not funny. You should not make jokes like that.”
“No, no. Sister told us at school he got shot in Dallas, Texas.”
Without another word, he dropped his rake and ran up his front steps. All these years later, I can close my eyes and still see that old man in faded green work pants, old brown cardigan sweater and brown fedora running up his front steps.
– Michael Garrelts
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When the news broke, I was home from kindergarten at School 30 because I had the chickenpox. My mother had me resting on the living room couch while she ironed and watched “As The World Turns.”
Caroline Kennedy was also a kindergartner at the time. Our teacher brought in any pictures of the White House kindergarten she found in Life or Look magazines or from The Buffalo Evening News.
Not being able to comprehend the tragedy, I hoped to see Caroline and her little brother John-John on the news or in the newspaper. I was disappointed Saturday morning cartoons were canceled because of the funeral coverage.
– Mary Beth Parrinello
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I was in Miss Miller/Mr. Goetz’s gym class at Hyde Park School in Niagara Falls, when my sixth-grade teacher came down to the gym looking quite upset. I immediately thought something had happened to her husband as he had been sick. She announced to us that our president had been shot and died in Dallas, Texas. It was the first time I saw sixth-grade boys cry.
Many of my classmates had seen JFK when he stopped in Niagara Falls.
We returned to our classroom in complete silence. When our parents picked us up, we were dismissed for the darkest five days in history.
– Rosemary Rajczak Marohn
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I had recently graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School and was at my first real job – a long-distance telephone operator. Our department was stationed at the old telephone building at Main and Morris streets. The switchboards were the old-fashioned cords and plug style.
All of a sudden our boards went CRAZY. As we answered each call light, we heard the news that the president was shot and then later the president was dead.
Housewives at home alone, traveling businessmen … everyone picked up the phone and dialed 0 for operator. Callers were overcome with sadness, and they were afraid. All needed to hear another voice. They wanted to reach loved ones to comfort them or be comforted .
It was a day similar to 9/11; everyone needed to be reassured.
Over and over, we told the frightened callers, “It will be OK” or “Yes, it is terrible.”
Phone operators now became grief counselors. That went on for hours. We did not have time to process our own feelings. We had to be there to help those calling in.
The days that followed were filled with constant TV coverage reshowing the Dallas motorcade,the arrival at the Washington, D.C., airport, the coffin at the Capital, the funeral Mass, the procession to Arlington, the grieving family and the grieving nation. The sadness continued mounting each day with everyone glued to their televisions.
The day of the funeral, our boards were dark.
– Sheila Marie Long
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My sister-in-law had just phoned with the news of JFK’s assassination as I was dressing my 5- and 3-year-old daughters to go out to play. It was a sunny day in Pittsburgh. I remember my disbelief and shock at the news. After the call I took the girls outside and remember thinking, “A really big historical event just took place, and everything seems so normal.”
– LaVerne Hoover
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I was a sophomore in high school. I had just stopped into the ladies room when a girl came running in and said the president has been shot. My first thought was it was a rumor and not real. As I walked to my last class of the day, study hall, there was a lot of commotion in the hallways. I walked into class and looked at my study hall teacher. Her face was blank. After all these years, I remember for a second how my stomach felt sick. The principal announced over the PA system that indeed the president had been shot in Dallas. You could hear a pin drop in that huge room. Seconds later he came on again and said President John F. Kennedy was deceased. His voice was cracking and told everyone they would be releasing us right away. I remember looking at my study hall teacher and she was crying.
As I walked out of that room, my heart was broken, yet I couldn’t cry. I was still in shock as was everyone in that school that day. Kenmore West was a huge high school, and in the hallways no one was talking.
When I met up with my two girlfriends to walk home, I held in my tears as not to be embarrassed. The feeling in my chest was tight. When I reached my house, I ran in the front door and sobbed and sobbed; it was hard to breathe.
– As I cried, my thoughts were for his two little children and the first lady. It was so hard to comprehend why, and the shock that came with it. I loved that he was the first Catholic president, was young, a husband and father. I was a Catholic and was so proud to have him as our president. Before then, I never paid attention to politics, but I took to him right away when he was a candidate.
My parents and siblings were as devastated as I was. It took a long time to move on with life the way it was. To this day I ask why this happened. I will never forget him and still ask why.
– Cheryl Johnson
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I was in my sixth-grade classroom at St. John the Evangelist School (now closed) in South Buffalo. It was afternoon and an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the president had been shot.
In silence I walked with my class to the church to pray for JFK, but while we were kneeling, a man came in off the street and informed Sister that the president had died. At that moment, my prayer for his healing became a prayer for his soul and for his family and for our country. I was changed. Our country was changed. But I have remained to this day a strong believer in the power of prayer.
– Mary Leary
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I was a sophomore at Syracuse University. On Friday, Nov. 22, while I was working at the chemistry library, a grad student came in and told us the president had been shot. This was devastating news, but how could it be true? I went out in the hall to have a cigarette and talk to the grad student to try to confirm if the information was valid. While we were talking, an announcement came over the PA system stating that President Kennedy had died and the university would be closed until further notice.
I was devastated and returned to my sorority house in tears.
We were an unusual group of girls because we were of different religions, races, ethnicity ... you name it. At that time there were only Christian and Jewish sororities. We had looked to Kennedy for inspiration, and now he was gone. There had to be something that we could do besides watch the TV.
I had a car, and five of us decided to drive to Washington. We arrived in Washington and found it to be like a ghost town. Most places were closed, and there was very little traffic. We easily found a hotel we could afford within walking distance of the Capitol, and in fact could see the dome from our window.
The day of the funeral procession, we arose early so we could get a good place along the route. We stood there for hours waiting to see the caisson carrying Kennedy’s body. There was the horse with the boots turned backward and Mrs. Kennedy’s face behind a darkened limo window. We could hear the guns firing the salute at the cemetery in Arlington, and we all cried. JFK had a great impact on my generation. Lots of my friends wanted to join the Peace Corps. Young people were interested in helping others. We cared about what the government was doing. That all died with President Kennedy.
– Judith Hoffman
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I was a senior at Canisius College and, after class, went to my locker for books and other things to take home. A classmate asked: “Did you hear Kennedy was shot?” I responded: “OK, what’s the punchline?” thinking it was some sort of joke. He told me it was no joke. My car radio was broken, so we drove home to South Buffalo in total silence. When I reached my parents’ house, I turned on the TV and heard Walter Cronkite announce that the president was dead. A very sad day for America and the world.
– William Newell
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At the time of President Kennedy’s assassination, I was employed in the Contracts Administration Department of a local company that manufactured electric components for the U.S. military through contracts with the Defense Department. Our staff included an administrator and secretary for each military branch. My supervisor and I were responsible for Department of the Navy documents. Each of us had two security clearances, “Secret” and “Confidential,” working in a small and windowless secured area. Of prime concern was to leave nothing uncovered or unlocked, under caution of immediate firing.
News spread immediately that the president was shot in Dallas. All work stopped, with staff walking and milling about, repeating their same shocking responses from person to person, the repetition as some kind of salve for disbelief. With later news the president had died, a pall came over our small office, as we then silently continued on with our work as best we could. For such a tragic outcome, talk was meaningless. Quiet retreat helps to grip unbelievable tragedy. Touching for me was the fact that President Kennedy had been a U.S. Naval officer, a veteran of our branch. But mostly the irony: Here we were, so diligently guarding mere paper, while our leader, in an open car motorcade, was virtually unguarded.
After work, I returned to the home I shared with my parents and grandmother. I was immediately greeted by my sobbing grandmother saying to me, “They shot our president.” For decades a naturalized U.S. citizen, grandmother was a Polish immigrant who grew up in Warsaw under czarist Russian control. She never imagined a president’s assassination was possible in modern America.
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I was in second grade at St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore. I remember it being announced on the PA sometime in the afternoon. My two brothers and I took the bus home from school and told our mother about the news as soon as we got home. She didn’t watch TV during the day much, so she turned on the television. It was the first time I recall ever seeing my mother cry.
– Mary Lou Plesac
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I was in third grade at St. Mary’s of the Lake in Hamburg. It was announced over the PA system, and we were told to go home. Everything was dark and gloomy for several days. The coverage seemed constant over our black-and-white TV. The only bright spot was the birth of my cousin on Nov. 21, 1963. My aunt spent that time in the hospital watching the coverage from her hospital bed. Lisa was her first child and will turn 50 this week.
– Coleen Hanna
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I was serving as a dental officer on the USS Northampton CC1 (a communication command ship).
We were on weekly maneuvers, and Norfolk, Va., was our home port. We moored around that morning. I had shopping to do at the exchange, and as I arrived there, I noticed many of the women shoppers were crying or had saddened faces. Then over the PA system came the announcement about the president being shot.
My wife was a first-grade teacher at a Catholic school in Norfolk. They announced that the president had been shot, and she and her class prayed for President Kennedy. She did not know that he died until she arrived home from school and saw me crying in front of the television.
We had a reservation at the Officers Club to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, but the Officers Club was closed. So we had a quiet a dinner at home and watched TV all weekend.
– Dr. Robert D. Balcerak
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I was 7 years old, attending Charles A. Lindbergh Elementary School in Kenmore. On a sunny afternoon in late November we were suddenly dismissed from school. No one told us why. Many of us walked to and from school in those days, myself included, and so I began the trek home.
Bob, our Kaufman’s Bakery delivery truck driver, was just sitting there in his truck parked in front of the Weller’s house two doors down from the school.
I asked if he knew why we were dismissed early. He told me President Kennedy had been assassinated. I asked what that meant. The news sank in hard. Although my dad was a Republican, as were most of our neighbors in Kenmore in those days, I liked President Kennedy. I liked the space program. I favored civil rights.
Bob could probably tell I was shaken by the news. Bakery truck employees weren’t supposed to take on passengers. There was only one seat in the truck, but Bob, a friend of my Uncle Jack’s, who also drove for Kaufman’s, said his next stop was our house, and as this was “a unique circumstance,” he offered me a ride home. I sat down on the first step of the truck, head bowed while the news continued to sink in. We drove on in silence until about halfway home when I demonstrated my vast knowledge of history and political science by asking, “Does this mean Nixon will be president now?”
Bob took a deep breath and said, “Lyndon. Baines. Johnson.” I could tell by the way he said it he wasn’t pleased.
As we pulled up to our house, I thanked Bob for the ride, and then ran up the driveway to tell Mom the news before Bob could unload whatever baked goods he’d sell us. As I entered the living room, I saw Mom, Grandma and cousin Lynn seated on the couch watching television. All three were crying. It was one of the very few times I saw my mom cry.
– Dan Schwartz