Fifty years later, remembering JFK
Certain dates will always hold special significance to Americans – Pearl Harbor Day, 9/11, the day the Challenger exploded and others. The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas – Nov. 22, 1963 – is one of those days that will forever live our memories.
The day John F. Kennedy was shot, I was in first grade. School seemed pretty normal, starting with the pledge of allegiance, and sitting at our desks in alphabetical order. I was attending Elm Park School, and my teacher was Mrs. Jenny Roberts. I don’t know specifics about what happened before, but I do remember someone coming to our classroom door and Mrs. Roberts stepped into the hall to talk to her.
As usual, when the teacher left the room, the class slowly would evolve into whispers that gradually got louder and someone usually threw something at someone else in the classroom. But I remember distinctly seeing Mrs. Roberts coming back into the room, and she was obviously upset, and was crying. She didn’t say anything to the class at that time, but I was pretty sensitive to her reaction to whatever she had been told.
When I got home from school, my sister, who had been campaigning at her school desk during the Kennedy Presidential election, was crying. My mom and dad were also very distressed, and explained that our President had been shot and killed. I asked why anyone would want to kill the president, my parents just said there were bad people in the world.
When I told them our teacher had been crying, but wondered why she didn’t tell us, and my mom explained she probably felt parents needed to explain this in their own way.
The next day at school, the very first thing our teacher asked us when we were settled into the day, was why the flags were all at half-mast. I was pretty shy at the time, and usually didn’t answer questions, but I looked around and didn’t see any other hands raised, so I did, probably for the first time in her class. I had a strong speech impediment, so I think I struggled to just say that the President had died, and this was to honor him. It’s probably the first time I truly had noticed that flags were moved to half staff, but always looked at the flags more closely after that.”
I was the vocational agriculture instructor in Belmond High School at the time. Our classes were on our Friday Pep Meeting schedule. Mr. Suby, Industrial Arts Instructor, came in to my classroom and said “Did you know that President Kennedy has been shot?” At first I just grinned at him and said “Well Nixon will have an easy time being elected next time.” Then the expression on his face told me he was serious.
I was to monitor a study hall next, so I went to the study hall. The school has an intercom and it was turned on all over the school. Everyone just sat very still. Groups of students were under each speaker. Then the commentary was interrupted by the words ‘The President is dead.’ It was Walter Cronkite. Immediately, the students (70-80) were shocked. Several girls began to cry – two rushed out of the room sobbing. The rest of the period was spent listening to the radio commentary – everyone was very quiet. I went into the hall and talked with two other teachers for a few minutes. When I returned the students were as I left them. It just didn’t seem to be true. At the end of study period I was through for the day. I went home and watched television for the rest of the afternoon of commentary on the assassination.
Keith R. Carlson
On Nov. 22, 1963 I was a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army Artillery at Fort Riley, Kan. In March 1963 I had been assigned to Fort Riley after serving 13 months in South Korea on the DMZ near Freedom Bridge with a Field Artillery Unit. My last 8 months of military duty were to be at Fort Riley with my discharge date being Nov. 23. When President Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, I figured everyone in the military would be frozen for a period of time.
“Fortunately, I was only held one extra day and we were able to come home to Iowa on Nov. 24. This is why I will always remember where I was on that fateful day..
It is very hard not to remember 50 years ago on this Nov. 22.
“I was home with two very small daughters. Lisa was 2 at the time and Amy was just one month old. I had just sat down on the sofa to feed Amy and within 10 minutes, my show was interrupted with a special bulletin.
As I was alone, I started making phone calls to family and friends who had probably not heard the news. I fell that this is a memory that will be with me until the day I die. You know the saying, “It feels just like yesterday.”
The day started crisp, cool, with a clear sky. I was a senior social science major at the State College of Iowa (now UNI) planning to teach the third quarter at Mason City. The classes were going well and I was looking forward to a great men’s basketball season with Norm Stewart as coach and a veteran basketball squad. All seemed ‘right with the world.’
One of the courses I was taking was Modern European Governments, a political science class taught by Dr. Erma Phalen and a test was scheduled for that day. At approximately 12:40, I left the library and headed for Sabin Hall fourth floor and my class. When I reached the classroom area, I recall someone mentioning they thought someone, maybe the President had been shot in Dallas. However, going into the classroom, I did not give it much thought as the test was coming up.
Strange was the fact that Dr. Phalen was not in the room, but a proctor came in and administered the testing, handing out the essay questions and blue booklets in which to write answers. There were five questions and the students were to select three of them to write on. Quickly, I selected three questions, made a brief outline on the side of the question sheet and determined I would have about 20 minutes in which to answer each question.
A few minutes into the class, the proctor left the room which I thought was strange, and returned several minutes later. She announced that President Kennedy had been shot and had died, and also that Vice President Johnson had a heart attack or stroke. This would mean Speaker of the House McCormick would be president.
Across the aisle was a student from Nigeria who screamed out “Oh, no.” HE knew what it was to live in a country with repressive regimes and an unstable government. From that point on, I could not focus on the test and my thoughts were on the assassination. There would go my grade point average and hopes of graduating with honors. The following week, after watching much television and all that is connected with the death of a president, Dr. Phalen said that all tests were thrown away and would not be counted and therefore would not affect our final grade as many of the class had experienced the same feelings concerning the death of the President.
What is of interest is the detail one remembers when an event of that nature takes place. I recall my parents mentioning where and what they were specifically doing when they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the explosion of the shuttle Challenger involving the NASA crew that included Christa McAuliffe. When all may seem right with the world, tragedy may take place at any moment. That’s history.
Larry G. Jansen
On the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I was a 19-year-old Army private stationed at Fort Dix, N.J.
My buddy from the same platoon, remembered only as Lester, had just reported for guard duty when the 30 or so of us were called out of our barracks for a formation. Here a Second Lieutenant, not much older than we were, announced that President Kennedy had been shot and to return to our barracks to wait. About an hour later, we were called out again and informed that the President had died and President Johnson had been sworn in as our new Commander-in-Chief.
That evening at guard mount, we were assigned to our areas that were guarded in two-man teams in two-hour shifts, the Lieutenant told us to be extra vigilant when walking our posts, for he didn’t know what would happen. Luckily, Lester and I were given the same section.
That night when walking our post, though scared, saddened and bewildered about the day’s tragic event, Lester and I walked our area being “extra vigilant and diligent” while trying to be good soldiers in a manner that would have made our late President proud.
I found out that the President had been killed while I was waiting to get a polio vaccination at my school.
The next evening, my church had a special evening service, which my family attended. I remember singing “The Navy Hymn.” There was a large picture of the President at the front of the church.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was working in Charles City, returning from lunch. The radio kept repeating that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
I was shocked, to say the least, and continued driving for several blocks to verify to myself that an actual assassination attempt had place. A short time later, the announcement was made that JFK had died. What a sad day for this to happen to our President and country.
A few years later, my wife and I were visiting our daughter’s family in the Dallas area. We had a tour of the area where the shooting took place. We were able to enter the Texas Book Depository building and looked out the window where Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. There were no obstacles blocking his sight line. Nearby, there is a small plaza that has a memorial detailing the events that took place on Nov. 22, 1963. It was a ver sobering experience for our touring group.
I was in Fayette installing a gas space heater in a barbershop. A guy by the name of Larry Bussey was there helping me. We were listening to the radio in the truck as we cut the pipe. He came running in and said, ‘Cliff, the President’s just been shot.’ We went out to listen to the radio. They first announced that his injuries were critical and then later said that he had died.