Nov. 22, 1963: A shared memory of an awful day

Nov. 22, 1963: A shared memory of an awful day


President Kennedy reaches out to the crowd gathered at the Hotel Texas Parking Lot Rally in Fort Worth, TX, Nov. 22, 1963. | Credit: Cecil Stoughton/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Editor’s note: The Record-Journal received dozens of responses from readers about where they were when the heard the news of JFK’s assassination. Here are some of their stories:

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. We were just ending our after-lunch school recess, and our custodian (who was always a bit of a joker) said, “The president was just assassinated.” Knowing what a teaser he was, I laughed and replied, “Oh, I know that was Abraham Lincoln and it happened a long time ago!”

When we returned to our classrooms, our teachers were stationed at the doorway to each room. Many were crying. We were told to quietly gather our belongings and meet our school buses. We were leaving school early.

A boy seated behind me on the bus was laughing and joking (not about the assassination, however), and I stood and turned and faced him, horrified that anyone could laugh about anything on that day. He quickly stopped talking and sat in silence for the remainder of the ride.

My father was still in the U.S. Navy Reserves at the time, and as I entered my house, I became worried that he would be called to active duty. It was believed that this was perhaps part of a plan to take over our country. I also suddenly realized that my father was the same age as the president; it was the first time I thought about the mortality of my own father and it frightened me terribly.

Nancy Harrington, Wallingford

I was teaching a fourth grade class at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School when our principal, Al Lawrence, announced on the intercom that President Kennedy had been shot. A little while later he came back on to tell us that the President was dead. The room fell into a stunned silence. A few of the children began to cry. The class discussed what had happened. We talked about other presidents, most notably Lincoln, that had been assassinated and yet the country had survived and would once again get through this tragedy. Feeling somewhat reassured the class left for home at the end of the day.

Leverett S. Stocking, Meriden

I was in my second grade classroom at Thomas Hooker School. An announcement came over the PA system that President Kennedy had been shot. I can remember vividly where I was seated and where my teacher was standing. She began to cry and that made the lasting impression on me. It was the first and last time I ever saw a teacher cry.

Linda (Silver) Grunwald, Wallingford

I was 25 years old and working a white-collar job in a health insurance company. My first-born child was just 23 days old. I happened to be President of our social club at that time. To celebrate various holidays we would sell raffle tickets to club members. In our case, just about all employees were members of the social club. The drawing on November 22nd, 1963 was to be historic because there were to be fifty Thanksgiving turkeys given out as prizes. As I prepared to tour the company for the drawing, a phone rang. It was the at-home wife of a fellow employee and she was in a state of shock. That fellow turned to me with a look of horror and said, “Kennedy’s been shot!” What started out as a day of high anticipation instead became the first day of a disastrous decade.

R. A. Seaberg, Wallingford

I was in 8th grade at Sleeping Giant Jr. High in Hamden. It was announced during afternoon home room announcements that he was shot. The discussion on the bus was of only that subject. When we reached our bus stop, one student ran home and got the news that JFK had been killed and ran back to the bus stop with the news. I walked the 1/2 block to my house where my mother was cleaning and hadn’t been listening to the radio. I solemnly announced that the President had been killed. Thinking I was making a joke, she sternly rebuked me saying “that’s not funny!” I simply said, “I know.” Although the conversation was short and to the point, I’ll remember it as if it were yesterday.

Peter Anderson, Southington

I was in 5th grade at Hanover School. We were in the auditorium. My teacher, Miss Nigri, was playing the piano and I remember seeing her put her head down on the keys when she heard.

Laurel Laude DelaChevrotiere, Meriden.

I was a freshman at UConn the day of the assassination. It was a Friday, a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day, and I was walking back to my dorm after my last class. I overheard the conversation of two boys ahead of me. One of them said, “Did you hear that Kennedy got shot?” I, of course, never imagined “Kennedy” meant the president! I assumed it was someone they both knew with that name.

When I got back to my dorm, of course, the truth was obvious. All weekend, the girls who had stayed in the dorm for the weekend and I huddled around the television in the lounge, watching the story unfold. We shed communal tears, hearts heavy, mourning together. To this day, I distinctly remember that bright pink suit and matching hat Jackie wore and her blood-stained skirt.

Kennedy was the only president whose picture I commonly saw hanging in average citizens’ living rooms.

Barbara Lathrop, Wallingford

Third platoon was a few hours into the ‘swing’, 2nd, shift when someone came into the operations bay and shouted out the President had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Most of us reacted to the news in stunned silence; how could this happen? Or was someone initiating a terrible hoax?

And, as expected, the base was placed on “ALERT’ – everyone had to draw their weapons and dress in combat gear. We had practice alerts every month where the entire base – went mobile – we could replicate our missions with the equipment in specially designed vehicles so this was a task that we performed with high precision. This alert, as the powers-to-be explained, was just in case ‘the balloon went up’ a reference to the Commie hordes that possibly would be threatening imminent attack. Well, that never happened and we spent the next few days reflecting on the JFK presidency and wondering how the world would change with LBJ as President – well we all know what happened then – c’est la vie.

Ernie Larsen, Meriden (stationed in Germany in 1963)

I was a Marine in Rota, Spain at the movies. All of a sudden the movie shut down and a lot of us went to the EM club for a brew. All of sudden a sergeant came to the mic and told us what had happened. Beer mugs hit the floor, lots of “Oh no!’s” were yelled. Not much was done the next few days. The day of the funeral the base was about shut down.

C. W. Henderson, Wallingford

I had a personal history with the President. I met the President in 1958 while he was serving in the U.S. Senate and then again in 1960, in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention that nominated him for the Presidency. It was about the third day of the convention, at a delegate meeting. You should know that I was a twelve year old, a mere “Go For” who worked on the floor delivering messages etc. Kennedy was making his rounds, going from delegation to delegation in an attempt to secure votes. The day before this event a delegate told me “Paulie, tomorrow you will see the next President of the United States”. When Kennedy walked in the room all eyes looked in awe. He wore an impeccable suit, he was tanned and had a commanding walk. I shook his hand. Of all of the Kennedy brothers that have I met, I can say that he was regal. I saw him again on the early morning hours of election eve in Waterbury and the last time in 1962.

The day that he was assassinated I heard it over the loud speaker, as a sophomore, at Maloney High School, in Miss Luty’s Latin class. It was a dark overcast day that matched our feelings. Just a few days ago I had an opportunity to retrace my steps from that same room. Tears reappeared on my cheek, fifty years later.

Paul E. Gradwell, Meriden

I was a junior at Maloney High School sitting in shorthand class, room 127, in my seat toward the back of the room. Class was interrupted with the first announcement coming over the P.A. system, “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.” Gasps were heard throughout the 6th period class. It was approximately 1 p.m.

We soon moved on to our last class of the day, 7th period. The usual hallway noises were not heard. Girls giggling, passing of notes and the usual pleasantries were eerily absent. I remember little of that final class. My mind as well as those of my classmates were churning with turbulent thoughts and images.

Each day we returned to our homerooms before afternoon dismissal. Sitting in the same seat where I had heard the first announcement, the second tragic announcement came over the P.A. system, “President Kennedy died at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas just before 1 p.m. CST.” Dismissal was called and we left with tears in our eyes and hearts much too heavy for young people to carry.

­ Jodie Somerset Roberts, Meriden

Fourth period in Mr. Trawny’s Advanced U.S. History 2 class began as always on Friday, Nov. 22, with Mr. Trawny collecting our weekly essays on the issue of our choice discussed from two different political points of view. It seems appropriate to me that the man who taught me to think about rather than simply to react emotionally to all manner of political issues should be the man who had to deal with a class full of seniors in Morristown High School on that terrible day. The principal’s voice, shaking with emotion, came over the PA to announce that an unthinkable event had happened as the President campaigned in Dallas; that the President had been shot and he would let us know of further developments. In the interim we were told to pray for our President and for our country. Needless to say, shock and the tears were immediate. This was some 3 years after the Cuban missile crisis. Was our country under attack and this the first blow? Mr. Trawny’s calm kept panic at bay until the subsequent news of a solitary gunman shooting from the Texas School Book Depository. At some point, we learned of the President’s death, school was closed and distraught parents came to take their children home, where we all remained glued to Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man on TV news, who gave us details as they emerged.

The next two days are mostly a blur, but the images that must stand out for everyone were the absolute dignity and courage of Jackie, hard on the heels of the death of baby Patrick, the caisson slowly rolling through the capital with the riderless black horse, and most heart-rending of all, the salute of 3 year old John to his deceased father. That memory continues to bring tears to my eyes to this day.

Trish Neice, Wallingford

I was a 12 year old student at Dag Hammarskjold Jr. H.S. when an announcement was made over the PA at around 1:40 p.m. that the President was shot and classes were dismissed a bit early. I walked home with a group of friends and we learned the President was dead.

Our family stayed glued to the television set all weekend and watched the funeral on Monday. School across the entire nation was canceled.

That event is etched clearly in my memory 50 years later.

J. X. DiCarlo, North Haven

I just turned 12 on the 18th and the announcements came over the intercom while we were in class at Dag Hammarskjold. A lot of kids and my teacher started crying.

We were dismissed & many of us didn’t know or comprehend what had happened that day.

I remember going home from school & seeing my Mom crying. I remember sitting in the living room watching hours of the coverage, the transfer of power to LBJ.

Everyone was sad for days. I don’t recall talking about it.

Ron Napolitano, Meriden

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