JFK: Readers' memories part 3

JFK: Readers' memories part 3

As the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination approaches, we asked our readers to share their memories of the fallen president. Here are recollections of those iconic "Where were you?" moments.

I was a second year engineering student at the University of Illinois when John Kennedy made a campaign stop in Champaign. I was a few days short of my 20th birthday and was living in independent housing in Urbana when the then future president made a brief appearance on the steps of the Auditorium at the south end of the Quad at the university. I recall standing along the west sidewalk north of the Auditorium as John Kennedy and his entourage walked briskly by. I remember the future president was sharply dressed in a sport coat and matching accessories. He looked trim and fit. The crowd consisted of students and interested local citizens. I don't recall John Kennedy's words that warm, sunny day in October, 1960 but I will always remember his charismatic aura and the love the large crowd felt for him.

Gary Maxwell



As with millions of others my age or older, this day will live with me always. I had very recently started my first "real" job with USDA-ASCS on West Main Street in Danville. We were just coming back from lunch hour, and someone had a radio on and of course that was the beginning of a 4-5 day news non-stop.

Because our office was a Federal office and we were considered federal workers, our office manager got the word rather quickly to close the office. It was a cold, snowy day here in Danville, and I had a small baby at day care which was my sister. So as soon as we got back home on Chandler Street the television went on and stayed on. That evening I remember talking to my best friend by telephone and we were both crying like we had lost a dear special friend. I remember the day being Friday which led into the long weekend. My husband worked at the VA, and naturally his office was shut down also.

Now, I am much older and I like others of my age have lost many people close to them over the years, but nothing will be quite like that "fateful" day and there seems to be no end to the controversy, with all the more speculation today over the bullet from the front to the new movie that is out. I can only imagine what it must have been like being alive when Abraham Lincoln was shot and no communication for days at a time.

Carol Butler, Danville


My father, Professor Jerry Hirsch, was invited to the White House by JFK because of his work in race relations. This did not happen because of the assassination.

Wesley Hirsch, Urbana


The day started out like an ordinary day. I was 13 years old. Everyone in school had heard that the president would be in Dallas, Texas.

Several teachers in our school brought TV sets into the classrooms. Walter Cronkite announced that President Kennedy had been shot and rushed to Parkland Hospital. We were all stunned and shocked. The school teachers and students were in tears. Our hearts were broken. To think that someone or people would do this to our own president. The teachers escorted the students out of school and onto the ground around the United States flag.

The school called our parents so that they could come pick us up. When I went home my mother asked me do I know what had happened. I said I think so. ... The rest of my siblings came home early also because of what had happened. I lived in a farm town (Paxton) where word (spreads) fast.

I sat there with my family watching TV. Walter Cronkite said it best. Our president John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed. Walter put his glasses down. Then he said Oh my God. He's gone.

Thomas Beland, Champaign


I remember exactly where I was when President Kennedy was shot and the next four days of continuous coverage. I was 10 years old, in 5th grade at Newman Grade School in Mrs. Wolfe's class. It was right after lunch hour and we were told to be quiet and sit in our seats.

Mrs. Wolfe closed the doors to our classroom and made an announcement. Mrs. Wolfe was a very stern teacher and this was the first time I'd ever seen much emotion from her, let alone tears in her eyes, as she told us President Kennedy had been shot. There was a lot of confusion and discussion of how this could happen. After we were allowed to go home, I spent much of the next few days in front of the television. Looking back that was our equivalent of 24-hour TV. Even though I was only 10, I was caught up in the tragedy and the emotion of the events. It began the Kennedy mystique for me as a young person and my interest in politics and national events.

It was always the "what ifs" that haunted you. What if President Kennedy had lived and been able to implement some of his programs, how would the country, the world and my life been different. Then of course, over the next few years watching the tragedies of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy's assassination also had a profound effect.

I believe this event helped shape my future of helping others, being for the underdog and underprivileged, and many years in social service.

Carolyn Casteel, Mahomet


On Nov. 22, 1963, I was attending the University of illinois and had stopped for lunch between classes.

I received a call from Ed Drewitch (Ed had served on PT-109 with JFK). Ed told me JFK had been shot.

"Don't worry," he said. "I saw his strength and stamina when we served together on PT-109. He'll definitely recover!" (Ed, his wife Lillian and I had attended the Inauguration and Inaugural Ball together.)

My relief lasted only a few minutes before I saw Walter Cronkite's announcement that JFK had expired.

I was totally devastated and disillusioned. I, as secretary of Illini for Kennedy, and thousands of others had worked so hard to help him win the presidency, all for naught.

JFK announced his bid for the presidency the day I was with Robert F. Kennedy at the Esso Building in Washington, D.C. We talked about our excitement and dedication to help him become successful.

When JFK came to the U of Il in October, I stood on the platform with him and helped him step down. (Someone took a picture of us and it has a special place in my home.)

Eleanor Roosevelt had been to the U of I a week earlier. She wanted to convince the Stevensonians that JFK was the better choice. I rode with her on her way to the airport. I was wearing a big white pin that said in big red letters, "If I were 21, I'd vote for Kennedy." She loved it and asked me if she could have it. We pinned it on her and she proudly wore it on the plane. She was 70 years old!

Claire Manning, Danville


On Nov. 22, 1963, when I was 35 years of age, four or five of us returned to the American Bar Association at 60th and University Avenue in Chicago, after having had lunch at nearby Kellogg Center.

When we entered the fifth floor from the elevator, the staff were standing at the bank of files listening to a radio. The looks on their faces told us that something bad had happened.

When one of the attorneys, a retired naval lawyer, banged the top of a file with his hand, retreated to his office and closed the door, we had heard the terrible words, "The president has died."

My 5-year-old son brought home a mimeographed picture of the president he had colored with crayon — a class assignment. My tears started to flow again, and did so off and on for three days. It takes very little to bring them on again 50 years later.

F. J. O'Donohue, Danville


I remember well the news, John Kennedy has been shot. My little girl Roseanne and I had walked down the alley on Griggs Street, Urbana, Ill., to a house on Central Street behind what is now Cannan Baptist on Main Street, Urbana.

I stepped in the front door as the first bulletin flashed, President John F Kennedy has been shot. The car sped away down that street as the people began to work on John and help Jackie in the car.

I sat with the Gilberts and watched as the thing unfolded, before our eyes.

Then the news: John F Kennedy has been pronounced dead..

My heart went out to Jackie, and the family.

The words rang in my ears, "Ask not what your country can do for you, But what you can do for your country."

I had my last little girl Rhonda in September of 1964.

I worked my lifetime, not for what my country could do for me, what can I do for my country.

That day was a great loss to america, and the beginning of the things we are seeing now.

JFK is entreating people to work for America, if we could take time to listen to the comrades gone before us,

Vera Avery Capps, Urbana


I was in a first grade class room at Eugene Field school in LeRoy when all of a sudden Ray Hausler, the school custodian came right into the class room without even knocking and said "TURN ON YOUR RADIO THE PRESIDENT HAS JUST BEEN SHOT!" It is still so vivid like it was just yesterday.

Ed Underhill, LeRoy


I remember that I had voted for JFK in my junior high school mock election, just three years prior to the assassination. As for the macabre event itself, I was a 14-year-old sophomore at MacArthur High School in my home town of Decatur, Illinois. In the early afternoon that day, I had just arrived in health class, and the teacher, Mr. Moutray, told us that the president had been shot. At that point, I'm rather sure he hadn't been declared dead. I don't recall whether there was any comment over the P.A. system, or whether we were let out of school early. I doubt the latter, but the former is possible.

Outdoors, the weather was quite damp and chilly. My family and I were in shock. We remained riveted to the news coverage all that evening and the next day as well. I remember feeling that we were in mourning for the nation's lost leader.

On Sunday, we went to the 10:00 a.m. service at our usual Methodist church. We came straight home and had no sooner returned to television coverage when it was announced that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot by Jack Ruby. This added additional shock and mystery to the continuing drama. I can't recall any conversation that may have passed between family members.

I can't remember how many days later it was, yet I do remember watching the somber, stately funeral procession as it took place live. As Theodore White would later remark, for the first time in our history, the nation mourned a leader with the aid of television media.

T. Doug Olive, Champaign


On that Friday, I was living in Columbus, Ohio, 22 yrs old, married, with two children ages 2 and 3. My mother was visiting and gave me the chance to take a nap. When I awoke she said my neighbor had come by to ask about a meeting so I went next door to find out the details. Coming into her house the TV was on and playing at full volume. This neighbor NEVER watched TV in the daytime. I heard the announcer say something about ...."the priests are leaving the hospital." When I asked her what was going on, she said Kennedy has been shot.

It's a wonder I got home in one piece since I ran back at full speed, turned on my TV, telling my mother what was happening. I think the TV stayed on non-stop for the next 4 or so days. My husband's office closed for the funeral. Where he worked they had few holidays and certainly never closed during the week.

My mother was leaving to return to her home on Sunday and we were shutting off the TV before we left for the airport and saw Jack Ruby shooting Oswald. There was no traffic on the roads and the airport was quiet, almost empty, and employees were watching any TV set they could find. For the remainder of those few days and evenings I watched TV, getting up only when I needed to feed the children (almost tossing the food at them) and crocheted an entire afghan.

The memories of that time have remained strong and detailed over the years. I like so many others, was in a state of shock too intense to express emotion. The on-the-spot TV coverage may have been a first and seemed surreal.

Did those days change my life, shape my attitude? I like to think so, for the better, but I'm not sure. It seemed such a short time afterward that Bobby Kennedy, then Martin Luther King, were shot. By that time it was almost "there it's happening again." Something comparable to the never-ending school shootings and war horrors we currently are experiencing.

It seems as though our society accepts all this violence as a norm. That is a sad commentary on our country and ourselves. We have apparently not grown more civilized or been capable of shutting down the violence and teaching our children well.

Carol Perhach, Champaign


I had not been home from the hospital very long after the birth of my first child, a little girl named Peggy Sue. I remember telling her that morning that she was 10 days old, and she returned a little gas smile at me and went to sleep.

My thought was a very simple one: "Oh, now I can take a nap too and maybe catch up a bit on all the sleep I've been missing." The phone rang with my husband calling from his work to tell me to turn on the TV because the president had been shot. At that time, most people thought Kennedy was still alive.

As the day progressed, we came to know the sad news, and it filled me with melancholy because JFK was the first president I had been old enough to vote for,

and he was my hero. I was simply stunned.

I went into the room where my baby was asleep and picked her up from her crib. Then I placed her in our big bed and lay down beside her. I held her as she slept, and then I began to weep. I can't say that I had the foresight to be crying for an America that would be different for her growing up from what it had been for me, but I do know that there was an incredible sense of depression and loss.

I wondered what kind of president Lyndon Johnson would be, and in spite of the sadness for the Kennedy family, my main thoughts were of the loss for my country.

As I started to personalize the events, my thoughts became, "What kind of world will it be for this precious baby girl? What kind of world have we brought you into? How is this day going to affect your future?"

JFK's death affected everyone, but for me as a new mother, I think it renewed my promise to myself and to the baby that I would try to be better person. I'm sure I was not able to hold on to that promise, but perhaps just the effort was a good thing.

I wonder how America and the world might have been different if Kennedy had not been killed. We often venerate someone who is dead, and we don't know how the world would have been different if this person had not died when he did. Kennedy had already made some mistakes in his administration, but there had been an exuberance and idealism about him that inspired the nation. That is what we felt we had lost: our youth.

As for my little girl, she grew up with a sense of history because every year we would tell her the story of her tenth day birthday. This year as she is turning 50, I'm sure the whole family will reflect together on the past 50 years.

Barbara J. Wood, Paxton


I was 12 years old, in 7th grade in Edison Junior High School on Nov. 22, 1963. The intercom announced the President had been shot. The principal advised all students should stay seated and quiet. In silence we waited to the next class, sat looking at each other. The difference between a noisy junior high school and the atmosphere after this news was dramatic. The second hour of this I took out paper and pen and started to write of what was happening, teachers crying in the halls, students unnaturally quiet, wondering how the world would keep turning. My social studies teacher was angry that I was writing and came up and snatched my paper away, saying, "What are you writing? Where is your respect?" I being obedient as usual, didn't speak. I didn't know what she did with my page, assumed I would never see it again. In a month I received a letter bordered in black with the signature Jacqueline Kennedy in the right upper corner. No stamp! Addressed to me! The note thanked me for my sympathetic thoughts. It was my only brush with a famous person.

Gail Rector, Sidney


I came to Champaign with my family in 1953, from Vienna, Austria. I was 10 years old and started third grade at Dr. Howard School and attended Champaign High School. ...

Most people my age can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. My memory is vivid....and those events led me to read and learn as much as I could about the assassination. It culminated in my taking a class a few years ago totally dedicated to JFK's assassination, the events that led up to it and the different theories related to the assassination.

After I finished my freshman year at the University of Illinois in 1962, I started working at the University of Illinois Illini Union information office. I actually worked very closely with the president of the Young Democrats at the university at the time. He had the privilege of traveling to Washington and meeting the president a few weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated. It was definitely a high point for him and we talked about it often. President Kennedy was so charismatic that it was no surprise that many students were dedicated to him and worked toward making his presidency successful.

On the day that JFK was assassinated, we were both working at the Illini Union. We worked in the main information office where the radio was located and kept it on most of the time. He was in another room and all of a sudden I heard him scream. He said that Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas. He flipped on the radio so it could be heard throughout the halls and as people learned what happened they literally stopped in their tracks. We saw people crying sitting on the floor in utter disbelief. Eventually all was quiet as we listened to the horrible details of that day.

Later that day I remember watching Walter Cronkite, of CBS News, officially announce JFK's death. During the next several days it seemed that everyone was intent on watching all the events that unfolded following the assassination, from the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby, to the lengthy funeral procession. It was a part of our country's history that I will never forget.

Mary Nicholas, Champaign


I was sitting in my high school typing class when our teacher made the announcement. In those days teenagers paid more attention to national matters. We cared and we respected our president, especially this young man who had such an ability to inspire us to be the best we could be, to do something for our country.

The entire class cried as did our teacher. It was a Friday. School was dismissed and we all went home to sit with our parents glued to television sets watching news of the assassination the entire weekend.

It seemed all things were possible (of course we were young) when Kennedy was president. As soon as he died, those dreams also perished like air rushing out of a balloon. Kennedy inspired me to serve and I became a teacher for 35 years because of him. Never again, it seems, has our nation respected our leader as we did then.

Linda Hoover, Tuscola


I was in third grade at Thomas Paine School in Urbana. I remember the principal calling over the intercom for the teachers to come to the office. When my teacher came back she was upset but did not tell us what happened. On the bus ride home that day the bus monitor (older student from junior high or high school) stood up and told all the students on the bus what had happened to President Kennedy. I remember the coverage (in black and white) on the small TV for the next few days and how sad my parents were. It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since that day that changed our nation.

Kathryn Zientek, Mahomet


I still remember vividly November 22, 1963. I was 7 years old and in the first grade, living in Danville, Illinois. I remember on that day leaving school and my mom was outside my classroom to pick me up. She never did that, since I always walked home each day. I looked at her and noticed she had been crying. When I asked what was wrong. She said, "President Kennedy was killed today." I remember crying because that was the first time someone had died that I felt like I knew. I looked around our town, and all the flags were at half mast. My mother told me that it was out of respect for the president. I remember the Danville Commercial-News the next day had the headlines in bold letters, KENNEDY KILLED. The next few days were memorable, because I saw Walter Cronkite cry on national TV (black and white) and we as a family always watched the news together, because my dad was a history buff, and he wanted us children to know our history.

I remember clearly the funeral and the long procession with the casket on the cart going through the city, and little John-John saluting the casket. Caroline and I were close in age, which I always liked — that the president's daughter and I were alike. I remember crying for her because she had lost her daddy. I remember when I lost my dad this year that I thought about her.

The next few days were scary (because) I had never seen anyone killed in my life. And to see Lee Harvey Oswald killed by Jack Ruby was traumatic to me. I remember having my mom look under my bed and in my closet for months, because I thought someone would be hiding in my room to kill me, like I had seen on TV. It took me months to trust again that someone was not out to hurt me.

I am now 57 years old, and I think it proves that TV does affect you and what you see. Whenever I hear the name Kennedy I instantly think of John and Robert Kennedy and what I saw on TV.

Jeanine C. Black, St. Joseph

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