Readers recall Kennedy, day of shock and grief

Centre Hall Port Matilda Boalsburg Centre Hall State College Pennsylvania Furnace Bellefonte Houserville Lemont Ferguson Township State College State College Professor emeritus of journalism and American studies, Penn State State College Warriors Mark AlNovember 22, 2013 

Centre County resident LeDon Young received this response from the White House after sending a letter of condolence in 1963.

LEDON YOUNG — Photo provided

The Centre Daily Times asked readers to share their thoughts and memories about the presidency and assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago. Here are their stories:

‘Letter of condolence’

I wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs. Kennedy.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table writing it while watching the funeral on TV. I told her that I would always remember what President Kennedy said about asking what I could do for my county.

Weeks later I received a printed card, edged in black, “Mrs. Kennedy is deeply appreciative of your sympathy and grateful for your thoughtfulness.”

The envelope does not have a stamp, just her signature.

LeDon Young

‘I could still easily cry’

I remember clearly where I was 50 years ago.

I was in high school in Reedsville. It was my 17th birthday. They announced that everyone was to come to the auditorium for a news announcement. They told us that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

People were crying, people were in shock, and I was numb. I couldn’t believe in our great country someone would kill such a good man, our president.

I could still easily cry about this today.

Anna Caldana

‘I prayed for him’

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was an eighth-grader at the Fairmount Avenue Junior High School. We returned to our homerooms at the end of the day to an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

You could have heard a pin drop after that. A few girls started to cry softly.

On the bus ride home to Boalsburg, the students were unnaturally quiet, very unusual for that group. I kept telling myself it couldn’t be true, it had to be a mistake. But upon reaching home, there was Walter Cronkite on the black-and-white TV, solemnly telling the country the president was dead.

Would the country ever be the same, I asked myself. I prayed for him and the family left behind.

Deborah Lutz

‘A very sad day’

I was a student at Bald Eagle Area High School taking an algebra test. It came across the PA system that the president had been killed.

Our teacher was sitting at his desk, and when announced, he took his glasses off, put his head in his hands and started to sob (as did a few students).

A very sad day, indeed. I’ll take this to my grave.

Robert Williamson

‘Everyone was stunned’

I was living in Big Spring, Texas, married to a military officer and working as a special education teacher. I had just walked out on the playground to supervise students when the other teacher assigned with me ran out onto the playground saying Kennedy had been shot. Everyone was stunned.

I remember telling my first- to third-grade students that the president had been shot and asking for everyone to say a prayer. Teachers can’t do that now, but I knew if he was shot in the head, it was over. We had a radio in the school — no TV.

One of our teachers in that school was on leave because her husband was having surgery in Dallas. She had written us saying her husband was better, and she thought she would go out to watch the parade. She was past the knoll on the parade route.

One of the other teachers said, “I can’t believe it happened in our Texas.”

My brother called me from Pitt, where he was a freshman, and I can’t remember if I called my parents in Pennsylvania or if they called me. This was the ’60s, and nobody made calls unless there was a death.

The feeling when Kennedy was president was a time of hope. The only time I felt the same was when I stood in line to vote in the Obama election. We need that feeling our country again.

Nancy Silverman

‘World changed forever’

My view of the world changed forever on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. I began a typical day as a fifth grade student in Dallas, Texas, aware that the president was visiting my city; by the end of the day, childhood naivete was shattered.

In my school there was no announcement of the heinous event, though I did wonder why the flag outside my classroom window was lowered to half-staff during the afternoon. It was not until after school that I learned from a friend’s mother that President Kennedy (as well as the governor) had been shot in my hometown. Afterward, I realized I had been in music class, singing Thanksgiving songs at the exact moment the shots were fired.

The enormity of the events sank in during the next four days as we sat glued to our TVs. The surreal experience only became more bizarre as we learned after attending a packed church service on Sunday morning that yet another shooting (of Lee Harvey Oswald) had occurred.

But along with the shock and sorrow of the assassination came something else. I could not fathom how all the residents of Dallas could be condemned for the death of the president. It seemed as though the entire world was pointing a collective finger at me and my city, saying that everyone who lived there was evil and that we all were to blame for killing the president.

I suspect that most of us who experienced the past two years in State College can understand my feelings as a 10-year-old, as an entire community was assumed culpable for the crimes of an individual.

Carol Zeiss

‘Sad day for this nation’

I was sitting in my living room in Emporium, rocking my 11-month-old son (Bryan K.), and watching my 23-month-old son, Gordon.

It was a sad day for this nation.

May this nation go back to “In God We Trust.”

Margaret Goodrow

‘Students were sobbing’

At the time, I was in the maintenance department at Westerly Parkway Junior High School in the State College Area School District.

I was in the mechanical room checking the boiler temperature when I heard screaming outside. I immediately ran out and saw a student lying on the floor in the hallway, with a teacher and other students around her. Some of the students were sobbing.

I ran up and asked what had happened. The teacher said, “President Kennedy has been shot.”

It was lunchtime and the cafeteria was nearby, and it was complete chaos. Kids were sobbing and holding each other. They played music in the cafeteria, and the radio announcer had broken in and said the president had been shot. I couldn’t believe it.

The cooks stopped serving. The students didn’t eat. Their meals were left on the table.

The rest of the day was silence, people wandering around as if they were lost.

From that time on, my wife and I were glued to the TV. I can remember Walter Cronkite saying, “President Kennedy has died.”

To this day, any time I hear something about Kennedy, I wonder whatever happened to that girl from the hallway.

Ralph Shope

‘Tears in his eyes’

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was in fourth grade at Ingram School in Pittsburgh. My teacher was Miss Hawk.

At one point in the afternoon, our school librarian, Miss Emigh, came into our classroom unannounced and had a private conversation with Miss Hawk. Our teacher then told us that the president had been shot and we were going to be sent home from school with early dismissal.

In those days, we all walked to school. It was a cold, gray, overcast day. I remember walking up Smilax Street and seeing a red votive candle in a house window.

When I got home, both my mom and dad were watching our TV. Both were very upset. It was the first time I ever saw my dad with tears in his eyes. Later that afternoon, our entire family went to Holy Ghost Church in the McKees Rocks Bottoms and prayed for the president.

James Hopey

‘We were all stunned’

I was a junior in college when my Spanish professor came into the room at 1 p.m. on that Friday; she was in tears. On the board she wrote that the president was dead, in Spanish of course.

We were all stunned as we went back to our dorms or homes. All fraternity parties were canceled that weekend, as was the football game.

We sat around the television sets and cried.

Susan Klein

‘India ... grieved with me’

I was a 16-year-old exchange student living in Bombay, India, on that November day in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated.

It was a terrible shock for a young girl, and I felt very alone being so far from home. It was not long until I found that the entire city, and indeed the whole country of India, grieved with me.

Flags flew at half staff, churches held memorial services and the outpouring of sympathy at my school was tremendous.

Nancy Jane Fogleman

‘In a state of shock’

I was in eighth grade. I can clearly remember sitting at my science lab table as the teacher turned on the TV to let us watch the news of JFK’s assassination.

The class was silent, in a state of shock.

Although we were very young, we knew that this was a terrible and frightening event … something that is never supposed to happen.

Amy Shellenberger

‘Burned in my memory’

As with others, the Kennedy assassination and related events are burned in my memory. I was in boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training facility, and on the day of the assassination, I was in fire control school. We had just finished lunch and returned to class when we were informed of the president’s death. (We were in the same time zone as Dallas.)

We were sent back to our barracks, where we were allowed to watch the events on television. On Saturday, we attended a memorial service, and on Sunday, we had scheduled liberty. A friend and I went to Chicago to visit an aunt and uncle, and when we arrived at their suburban home, we learned that Oswald had been shot.

Decades later, when I was getting divorced and dating again, a friend advised me not to date anyone who didn’t know who JFK was. When I told the woman I was to marry that story, she exclaimed: “I shook Kennedy’s hand.”

It turns out that my wife was the head majorette at West Hazleton High School, and when Kennedy’s motorcade moved through Schuylkill and Luzerne counties, he stopped in Hazleton and she was on the rope line in her official capacity.

Kennedy also drove through my hometown, Tamaqua, but we were not given a school holiday to see him. At the time, Tamaqua was decidedly Republican and Protestant, and I have no doubt that both of those factored in the school board’s decision not to give us time off.

R. Thomas Berner

‘World had become surreal’

I was 23 and a trainee journalist on The Times (London). I was covering the National Union of Students’ annual conference in a seaside town called Margate when one of the other reporters got the news of Kennedy’s assassination.

Everyone was stunned. Kennedy had inspired Britain with his youth and charisma in the televised U.S. election debates. The students stopped for a minute’s silence before they got back to business, but all the reporters were so stunned that they walked out of the conference.

We spent the rest of the evening discussing the news and watching the chaos on TV: reporters mobbing the Dallas hospital, shouting questions, nobody answering ... British politicians remembering ... everyone wondering who could have done such a thing, and why?

The next morning, my landlady rushed into my bedroom, waking me: “Have you heard? The prime minister’s been shot.”

Of course she was confused, but I almost believed her. The world had become surreal and anything seemed possible.

Mary Gage

‘A sad day’

I was in English class at Waynesburg College.

Upon entering the Student Union, I realized that everyone was watching Walter Cronkite on the Student Union TV.

A sad day.

Tom Walther

‘New breed of president’

This man, John F. Kennedy, was a new breed of president, with his debonair look, his inaugural calling to America and his achieving rock star status, with his humorous and witty command of first-ever TV press conferences.

He stood down the powerful Soviet Union with his “ Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and his courageous stand in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He committed America to achieving superiority in space and launched a bold civil rights agenda, with both programs realizing their greatest achievements in the years after his death.

As an 11-year-old Washington Post carrier in 1960, in McLean, Va., I was so enthusiastic about JFK that I covered 30 traffic signs along Old Dominion Drive with large Kennedy/Johnson stickers one early morning before the election.

As a 14-year-old, in ninth-grade algebra class at State College High School, I was in a state of shock, listening to the news (over the loudspeaker) that President Kennedy had been killed by gunfire.

I would be disappointed in the presidents that followed, and despite all the tales of JFK’s marital infidelity, many years later, the feelings of American pride I felt while Kennedy was president will always be there.

John Richard Ingram

Days of Ike, JFK, LBJ

I was in fifth grade on Nov. 22, 1963, sitting in class, waiting to go to lunch when the intercom crackled with the news, “No lunch today, our governor was shot. ... All students are to go home immediately.”

As if caught in some weird school fire drill without bells, teachers quickly ushered students out doors and we shuffled home, uncertain of what happened. When my two younger sisters and I arrived home, the house was quiet. My mom had taken my two older sisters downtown shopping. My dad was at work.

We were alone, but at least we had our favorite TV show, “Funny Company,” to watch. Turning on and tuning into our dear black-and-white TV with maybe four channels, it was all news stories, no cartoons. It was then that we learned President Kennedy was shot in addition to Gov. Connelly.

Until late into the night we were alone with the TV, parents gone, and the worry of the start of some nuclear war loomed, and we were at the center of it. Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963 ... a day I would never forget.

We were an “Eisenhower family.” Ike was “our” president (dad being a WWII vet), but I liked President Kennedy a lot. After hours and hours of television on the assassination, including watching live as Jack Rudy shot Oswald, and JFK’s funeral, I wrote a precious letter to the new president, another follow Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson, offering help.

Three months later, I received a reply from the White House with the message that the “President appreciated my support.” Of course, I never showed that letter to my father. In a couple of months, the family moved north. Later, I worked my first presidential election (distributing campaign buttons for LBJ). When Vietnam consumed the nation, I became disappointed with LBJ and turned toward Nixon.

Ike, JFK, LBJ. I think we were all in a national funk for months that wasn’t lifted for me until the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the spring of 1964. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” clashed with the social and cultural struggles of the 1960s. Amazing times.

Dave Saxe

‘One of America’s saddest losses’

I regard the death of John F. Kennedy as one of America’s saddest losses. When I first heard of it, I felt a sense of disbelief, shock and grief. It seemed to me that when he was elected president, he brought renewed hope to our great nation that we might work together to have a strong America.

Upon his death, that hope seemed to be gone for the moment. I really regarded him as a great president, and I felt all of America, along with his dear wife, Jackie and the children, suffered a great loss.

Geraldine Borger

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