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Your responses: Where you were when JFK was assassinated?

Written by Colette Clarke, Interactive Producer | Nov 21, 2013 7:01 AM
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For the past month, we've been asking you where you were when JFK was assassinated as a lead-up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination. We also asked you what you saw as his legacy. Here are some of your responses.

Janet Pickel, Pittsburgh

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was walking home from grade school with my friends. The Catholic school kids were already home. One of the boys came up to me and said, "The President was assassinated!" I said, "Yes. Lincoln was shot in 1865." He said he was talking about Kennedy. I didn't believe him until I got home and saw my mom watching TV and crying.

I knew that this would be an important moment in history, because he was the President and we had learned about Lincoln being shot 100 years earlier. It didn't really have any immediate impact on me emotionally because I was too young to know much about President Kennedy. I was only 9 and our parents didn't discuss the news or politics in front of us. My grandfather had died 3 months earlier. I cried for him, so I certainly understood the finality of death. I do remember crying during the funeral because I felt sorry that Carolyn and John John wouldn't have a dad, which was worse than losing a grandfather."

What do you see as his legacy?

"His presidency was as important to Catholics as Obama's is to African-Americans. My parents were very proud that he was the first Catholic president. And as an adult, I became aware how perilously close to war we had come during the Cuban missile crisis. We can be thankful that he remained calm and resolute and not only kept us out of war with Russia, but kept Russian nuclear weapons out of the Western Hemisphere."

Steve Kennedy, Newville

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"It was our last day in our old elementary school, and a teacher had asked a couple of other sixth-grade boys and me to help him take some supplies over to the new school. On the way back he said that on a radio the workers had on, there was a report that the president and vice president were down in Texas and someone had "taken a couple of shots at them." When we got back to our class, everyone was just sitting quietly at their desks. It was kind of somber. Shortly afterward, another teacher came into the room and told us the president was dead.

I just remember that solemn, somber feeling. I was 11 years old and knew this was a very serious thing, but I don't remember thinking about who could have done this or why, or what it might mean for the country."

What do you see as his legacy?

"Rather than specific legislative or administrative accomplishments, I think of it more in terms of inspiration, of challenging the country to live up to its ideals and stretch toward its potential - civil rights, the goal of a moon landing, the Peace Corps. One might say that some of his initiatives contributed to unleashing turmoil as the '60s unfolded, but they were things we had to face, and I respect him for being willing to do so."


Photo by Public Domain

Photograph of servicemen carrying the casket of President John F. Kennedy up the steps of the Capitol, followed by the late President's widow and children, during state funeral services for President Kennedy in Washington, D.C..

Joreen Kely, Harrisburg

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was in the 5th grade in a parochial grade school, in Mrs. Baker's classroom, in the center aisle, 4th seat.  Most people my age can remember exactly where they were.  Math was interrupted by an announcement on the loudspeaker to pray for the president.  Someone came to the door and Mrs. Baker began to cry.  Then we all got out our rosaries and started the sorrowful mysteries.  He was more than the president to Catholics at the time.  There was still quite a bit of anticatholic bigotry and he was one of us who made it through.  He was smart and charming and a war hero.  All parochial school classrooms had his picture on the wall close to the crucifix and the flag.  It was as if someone killed a family member.

I didn't want to believe it.  It was unreal to think that someone would want to harm the president."

What do you see as his legacy?

"He stood up to organized crime and Cuba.  He got us through one of the greatest crises ever to happen to the US."

Jeanne Schmedlen, Lemoyne

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was a junior at Flint Central H.S. (Flint, MI) in my early afternoon college-prep English class. My debate partner was running in the hallway yelling "the President's been shot... the President's been shot." My English teacher closed the door to the hallway and said,  "don't believe everything you hear."

When the bell to signal that class was over, the students filed out into the halls very somberly.  We whispered to each other - "how can this be true?" We were dismissed and I walked home with my friend Maureen, who lived across the street.  We both cried.  When I got home, the television was on (it never was on until after supper) and Walter Cronkite told the world, over and over, that President Kennedy was dead.

We are a Catholic family and we adored the first Roman Catholic president. The next 4 days were overwhelming, watching the Kennedys put their father, husband, brother to rest.  I remember crying when "John John," in his short pants and little coat, reach under the American flag covering his father's casket, to say good bye and then salute the casket.

I also admire Jackie Kennedy's composure under such extreme stress, and all of the Kennedy family's loving "circle the wagons" attitude yet understanding that a nation had to heal as well as a family. Bobby Kennedy's heartfelt tenderness towards JFK's family was palpable... and then he was assassinated."

What do you see as his legacy?

"Perhaps his greatest legacy is the ubiquitous quotation from his Inaugural address, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It has been repeated millions of times over 50 plus years by Americans and others across the world."

Robert Beard, Lewisburg

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"My wife and I were in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. I was working on a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to describe Serbo-Croatian adjectives. We were only the second American family to reside in Novi Sad since the end of World War II, and had real difficulty finding a place to stay when we arrived.

I was returning to class when a perfect stranger approached me in tears and passed on her condolences (in Serbo-Croatian), never mentioning what they were for. I believe she assumed I had already heard.

When I arrived back at the apartment where my wife and I shared a room with a Hungarian family, there was much excitement. The 22-year-old daughter, Czilla, was listening to the news reports on a transistor radio (remember them?), which she was holding up to her ear. She reported only that he was shot, not that he had died.

In the days that followed, one stranger after another approached us, usually in tears, to offer condolences. It was highly important to the Serbs and Hungarians to have a personal American contact to express their sympathies to, even though we had never even met the Kennedys.

After we recovered from disbelief, my wife and I fell into a deep grief and regret that such a great president would not see a second term."

What do you see as his legacy?

"We were treated to an experience of the kind of influence Kennedy had around the world. Yugoslavia? We also saw how deep that influence ran. Not only were the political elite impressed by him, the man in the street looked up to an American president for hope. We can now better understand the breadth and depth of the impression our current president is making around the word."

Leslie Giambalvo, York

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was in third grade. Sister came to the door to talk to our teacher to tell her something very serious. When I think now of the news our teacher received in front of thirty 8 yr.old children, the grief she felt for herself then the grief she must have felt for us...then the grief for our country..."

What do you see as his legacy?

"Civility to the less privileged."

Carolyn Stine, Enola

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was in my 10th grade Biology class.  It was either announced over the loud speaker or someone came into the classroom and told us.

I felt total shock that such a thing could actually happen.  I lived in a conservative community and there was one Catholic girl in my Biology class.  She broke down crying, and I felt just terrible for her.  This event and the possible nuclear war with Cuba were the first world-wide events that made me realize the enormous effect these things have on everyone.  I grew up quite a bit that day."

What do you see as his legacy?

"He appeared to me to bring our country into a new, happier society, but I couldn't quite tell at my age what that actually would be.  His popularity and youth will be part of his legacy."

Jim Foster, Mechanicsburg

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I  was in the sixth grade at Main Street School in Titusville, PA.  We were doing an art project.  During the class, someone called our teacher away.  When she returned, she had a very odd expression on her face.  She waited until the end of the school day to tell us.  By that time, she knew that JFK was dead, so she told us he had been shot and killed.  Riding home on the bus that day was a strange and eerie experience.  Rather than the joking and fooling around that normally occurred, everyone was quiet and very somber.

For me, the following Sunday was an even more disconcerting experience.  My grandmother was a Catholic and worshiped JFK.  There were pictures of him all over her house, right next to the crucifix and shrine to Mary.  We went to see her on Sunday.  Even though two days had passed, she was still in a state of stunned shock.  Then, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed on live TV while we were visiting Nanna. Everyone was shocked into silence, and we wondered what would happen next.

It was truly a world shattering experience for a young boy.  If an assassin could kill the President of the United States in a major city in broad daylight, what else might happen?"

What do you see as his legacy?

"I think JFK has a very mixed legacy.  He and his family projected an image of youthful enthusiasm, after eight years of the much older Eisenhower.  There was a sense of great possibilities.  But, we learned later that things were not as they appeared to be.  JFK was a very sick man with Addison's Disease.  His image as a family man was tarnished after later revelations.  We started down the road that would lead to a debacle in Vietnam, though there is debate about whether he would have made the same decisions as LBJ.  On the positive side, we seemed to be moving toward true equality for African Americans.  He made some key decisions that led to a man on the moon.  All in all, a very mixed legacy."

Bill Blank, York

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"I was in Mrs. Knapp's 5th grade class in Penn Yan Elementary School, Penn Yan, NY.  I clearly remember another teacher coming into the room, whispering something to Mrs. Knapp, and both of them looking horrified and close to tears.  I seem to think we had an early dismissal, so I walked home and spent much of the next several days watching the continuous news coverage with my parents (on one of two channels we could get on our b/w TV).

I don't think I was really old enough to understand the national significance, though I do remember feeling sad for Mrs. Kennedy and her children.  The events in November 1963 taught me a lot about the presidency and the rules of succession, which otherwise I might not have had much interest in."

What do you see as his legacy?

"He set a new tone for the post-war era, which led to a great many social changes - during his shortened term and during those to follow.  The unfortunate link to the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. likely gave the civil rights movement considerably more visibility and importance."

Rich Krampe, Harrisburg

Where were you and what do you recall thinking?

"At 5 years od, I only remember visiting the neighborhood grocery store, as my younger sister and I frequently did with our mother.  The cashier was visibly upset, and we were too young to really appreciate what it meant to hear "the president was shot".

We were confused, as in our own little innocent world nothing had changed, and it was hard to understand how people could be upset about something that happened so far away.

A few days later, I recall watching a lot of JFK's funeral, and I remember the repetitive sound of the drums to this day, and the horse-drawn casket being pulled down the streets of Washington.  Even later, it was something to see the pictures of the funeral in National Geographic."

What do you see as his legacy?

"Certainly man first landing on the moon in 1969, as he set as a national goal.  He was the first president to embrace civil rights. He gave us hope and confidence. His was a charmed family, which we've been reminded of with each passing family member."

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  • Bob img 2013-11-21 11:58

    Reflections on November 22nd

    A few of my early childhood memories involve talk of the "Russians" who were viewed as such a danger to us. I imagined them as being the same as the creatures in "War of the Worlds" because I didn't understand how other human beings I didn't even know would be so intent on killing me. A funny thing is that I only have a hazy memory of the building of the Berlin Wall even though I was serving as a lowly/lonely airman in West Germany at the time. I remember the alert status we were on during the Cuban Missile Crisis very well, though. I missed President Kennedy's visit to Wiesbaden/Frankfurt when he was on his way to Berlin by a day. I had taken some sound equipment from our base to Wiesbaden the day before; I hadn't realized Kennedy was to be there. When Kennedy was killed I was in the air on my way home after three years in Germany. I walked about a block or two from one Philadelphia bus station to another past a picket fence on which was painted in red "ATOMIC WAR WILL KILL ALL". I finally arrived at my own nearly deserted bus station early in the morning; I remember a dirty newspaper scudding across the floor in the breeze when I opened the door with the front page announcement of Kennedy's murder. I thought how much it was like a movie, maybe "War of the Worlds".