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Remembering the Day President Kennedy Was Assassinated (November 22, 1963)




The assassination of President Kennedy is the first vivid memory I have of any historical event.  In the fall of 1963 I was six years old and in the First Grade at Fenton Elementary School in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks.  Nov. 22 was a Friday and early that afternoon I had just returned to school after having lunch at home.  My classmates and I waited for our teacher, Mrs. Foley, to arrive but for some unknown reason we waited an unusually long time for her (this was too good to be true!).  Finally, she walked in and told us the news that the president had been shot and that we could go home.




It seemed fitting that the afternoon was overcast, which added to the somberness of my walk home (and Saturday would be dreary and rainy).  Although I was aware this was an awful event I don't recall feeling any strong emotions.  While waiting for my father to return from work I sat on the sofa in the living room and paged through my mother's December issue of Good Housekeeping that arrived in the mail earlier that afternoon (pictured).  On the cover was a little girl holding a large Santa lollipop.  Although its festive nature was incongruous with that day's tragedy, it was a nice escape for a young child.  And the next day my brother and I spent much of that rainy Saturday afternoon at the movies.



Another thing I remember about this day was my surprise at the word "assassination", which I had never heard before.  Although I quickly learned its meaning, I found it somewhat amusing/shocking because it had the word "ass" in it - twice - yet everyone was saying it, which my six-year-old self found curious and amusing.  After all, back then words like that weren't spoken in polite company.


Just two days later the nation witnessed the shooting death of accused assassin, 25-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.  It was just past noon and my family was eating Sunday lunch.  The TV was on in the background in the living room because my father, a football fanatic, insisted on watching the NFL game that was being broadcast.  The telecast was interrupted by coverage of Oswald being brought into police headquarters in Dallas.  As he was being walked in, surrounded by detectives, a man named Jack Ruby jumped out of the crowd and shot Oswald in the stomach.  I didn’t see the shooting because my seat at the dinner table was obstructed by a wall that blocked my view.  But I heard the commotion and saw the reaction of my parents.  This was very likely the most shocking event ever seen on live TV until 9/11 when millions saw the second plane (United Flight 175) crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center.




Because of these events, for a long time I viewed Dallas (and Texas in general) as an evil place, not unlike enemy territory such as Red China, and it took a long time for me to shake this feeling.


In 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, journalists Guy Russo and Harry Moses asked a cross-section of Americans to share their memories of that tragic day, and turned it into a book titled Where Were You? 







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I was in kindergarten and had just arrived at the afternoon session when I noticed a group of teachers standing in the hallway. I went into my class. We seemed to sit there for quite awhile. Our teacher came in and told us we were being sent home. Our teacher didn't say why. I remember kids are on the bus were crying but I didn't know why. I ran into the house and run up to my mom's bedroom to let her know I was home. I found her sitting on the bed watching Walter Cronkite. This was the first time I saw my mom cry. She told me the president had been shot and killed. Oddly enough, we ended up being in DC for the funeral because my mom had made arrangements weeks earlier for the family to spend Thanksgiving with my oldest brother who was a senior at Georgetown University that fall. I remember how cold it was; the sky was a deep blue but it was cold, standing for what seemed like hours. I did not see the Oswald shooting live but my brother Byron saw it on the motel TV and he was shaken by it. He was 12 at the time. The most striking memory was - no matter where we went that week - no one talked, no one laughed, there was no music on the radio in the car, and the TV only showed scenes of the funeral. At least it seemed like that. The day after the funeral, we went to the grave site. My mother - who was the same age as JFK - she is 92 now - was badly shaken by his death and wanted to see the grave. I remember my brother Mark putting me up on his shoulders so I could see. The whole area was packed with silent people. When we were getting ready to leave, a group of cars pulled up and Jackie and Caroline stepped out and went to the grave. My brother told me, there's the presedent's daughter, she's the same age as you. (Caroline is 1 month older than me.) I remember being startled by that thought - she had lost her father.

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