Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where were you on Nov. 22, 1963?

When the announcement of President Kennedy's shooting was made public?

I was sitting in my eighth grade English class, left-hand row of seats in the classroom, the row nearest the windows, second seat back.  School was dismissed, and we went home to watch the other events of that week on television.

It is good to remember this admonition from him:  "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

But look at the context:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

We have strayed, but we can get it back!

43 comments:

Michael J. Krivich, FACHE, PCM said...

St. Helena of the Cross Catholic School in Chicago, IL. When the news came out, the entire school was taken to Church were we prayed. I was 10.

Anonymous said...

I was a junior in high school and the principal announced over the PA system that the President had been shot. Disbelief was the primary reaction. I remember going home and my mother was waiting for me at the door, crying. I don't think this country has ever really recovered.

Paul Levy said...

For those not around, or those who were, it is worth reading or watching his inaugural address, whether you have or haven't. It will inspire you. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkinaugural.htm

Mary Ann Hart said...

From Facebook:

Sixth grade, Mr. Hobeka's class, East Junior High, Walpole, MA. Another teacher came in and whispered to Mr. Hobeka and then they both immediately fled the room. Kids started horsing around, then Mr. Downs, our principle. came on the intercom, reciting the pledge of allegiance. Our teacher came back, looking extremely upset and yelled for us to stand up. Then there was an announcement that school was dismissed and no one told us what had happened. (Guess those were the days before crisis intervention awareness and grief counseling) I ran home with my friend, thinking that maybe a nuclear war had started. My mother cried almost continuously for the next 5 days.

Harris said...

Miss Gilbert's second-grade classroom, Mark Twain School, Kansas City, Kansas. I remember wondering why all the adults seemed serious in a way I'd never seen before. We students went home for lunch, as we did every day--it was a different world--but this time we didn't return for afternoon classes.

Kansas City--little sister to larger, more cosmopolitan Kansas City, Mo.--was a comfortable, mostly middle-class town in those days. By the 1980s, all the light industry that formed KCK's economic backbone had fled, as had most white homeowners. All that remained were the drugs, crime, and foreclosed futures we've come to accept as natural, inevitable, and intractable features of the urban landscape.

It was a different world on Nov. 22, 1963.

In "Libra," his spectacular reimagining of the Kennedy assassination, novelist Don DeLillo writes something to the effect that the murder "broke the American century in two." Hard to argue with that.

Lilyane Soltz said...

From Facebook:

It was a Friday. My parents went to a Bat Mitzvah at Temple Emanuel in Newton that evening. Rabbi Gordon and Cantor Hochberg led the service and, when it was time for the Mourner's Kaddash, everyone in the sanctuary slowly rose and began reciting the words usually reserved for a family member who had died. He was our family: he was our son, he was our brother, he was one of us.

Jim Conway said...

A junior at St. Mary's High School in Cambridge, I was in science class when SARGE (the sister principal) announced it over the PA. I remember two things like it was yesterday: helplessness--we didn't know what to do and crying--all the people crying on the Red Line as I took it home to Dorchester. Our yearbook the following year was dedicated to JFK.

John said...

I was in sixth grade at St. Clare's School in Great Kills, Staten Island, NYC. Sister Mary Mark was the teacher. An announcement came over the loudspeaker for us to pray for the president. Then we got the news he was dead and we were sent home early. I'll also never forget sitting at home that Sunday and watching Oswald get shot. The whole weekend was particularly traumatic as my family just arrived in the US in December 1960. All of us sat around a small tv and watched the inauguration events in January 1961 in our new country. To see JFK go so quickly followed by MLK and RFK 5 years later in many ways shaped how I view the world today.

Bonny said...

Like you (and probably everyone else our age) I was in school. Yes, I can picture the moment when the chilling announcement came over the school's speaker system - for me in the second seat in the middle row of the classroom. (Actually, I don't remember what the class was, but I can picture myself sitting there hearing the announcement.) I also recall Walter Cronkite's teary announcement later in the day that Kennedy had died (though at this point I honestly don't remember whether I remember that when it happened or whether I remember seeing it since then, but I think I remember when it happened). I think that is the only time I can ever remember Walter Cronkite losing his composure.

And yes, I have often referenced Kennedy's admonition to "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Ted Hess-Mahan said...

From Facebook:

I was 4 years old, so I don't remember where I was when I heard about the assassination of the president. But I do remember the tense, disconsolate silence around the table with all of my relatives at Thanksgiving dinner that awful year. As the oldest child, I was allowed to sit at the adults' table. During the meal, I stabbed a boiled onion with my fork and the center shot across the table, causing my elderly great aunt Edith to laugh so hard she suffered a "spasm" and had to be taken to the hospital. That story has been told at Thanksgiving every year since. Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever.

Peter Yaffe said...

I was having lunch at the private school that I attended. I was sitting at the headmaster's table that day.The heasdmaster's wife burst into the room and yelled from the balcony "they shot the president". My instantaneous thought was "why would anybody shoot the president of a private school?" The alternative was even less believable. I was seventeen. I was too young to have the world change that much. Looking back, he was the last president that I believed in.

Dwight L Davis said...

From Facebook:

Junior high school gym class 8th grade. Announcement on the PA that JFK had been shot. School continued. Social studies a period or two later the announcement came that he had died.

Jennifer said...

I wasn't yet born, but I grew up with the notion that something had gone terribly wrong when he was shot and that the world would have been a much better place if he had not been. As an adult understanding the nuances of life and politics, I'm not sure how different it would have been, but I still cling to the vision and hope he espoused.

David Harlow said...

From Facebook:

My younger sister was born less than a week later. The OB told my mom: Boy or girl, you have to name the baby Kennedy Harlow. She didn't.

Amy Wexler said...

From Facebook:

Bowen [elementary school], can you believe that?

We got sent home, it may have been a half day anyway.

Mom had moved the T.V. (no small feat in those days) into the bedroom, so she could finish her project and was watching when I got home.

Anonymous said...

7th grade science class, Mr. Mulvihill was the teacher. I was wearing a red courderoy skirt and red&white blouse. The Principal came in, crying, and plugged in a radio so we could all hear Walter Kronkite reporting. At home, it was one of the few "school nights" that we were allowed to watch TV, hearing the news over and over and over.

F Nicholas Jacobs said...

From Facebook:

Also in gym class and the football coach yelled at us for making noise and said, "It's your fault the President was shot." Took me years to get over my assassination attempt.

Ted Hess-Mahan said...

From Facebook:

Newton's Board of Aldermen honored Mildred & Richard Hutchinson on their 48th wedding anniversary last night. The Hutchinsons spend more time in City Hall at meetings than any city official, elected or otherwise. Last night they told us their honeymoon was cut short by news of the assassination.

Jerry said...

I was in 7th grade, the start of 8th period algebra when they announced he had died (the memory of what 7th period class I was in when they announced he had been shot has faded).

Bryn said...

I was in 3rd grade. A teacher came in to talk to our teacher, then we all went out to the playground where the lower school was gathered. We didn't really play because we could see that all the teachers were grouped together and crying. As we walked home, one of the older boys rode by on his bike and said that the President had been shot. I told him that he was a liar, because you can't kill a president. But when I got home, my mother and a neighbor were watching TV (in the daytime; that was as crazy as someone killing a president) and told me it was true. I still judge people's ages by whether or not they were "there" that day.

Ed said...

What an interesting question!!

My memories are so blurred on one hand and so strong on the other. I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. I was walking down State Street, it was a cold and clear day. I was wearing a light blue wool ski cap, there was a gray construction barrier on my right. I was stopped by a girl I vaguely knew, I believe her name was Vivian. She told me that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember hours and hours of watching TV trying to make sense of it all – Walter Cronkite tearing up, the funeral, the horse without a rider, Jackie, the salute, Oswald being shot, Johnson being sworn in. I believe I had a meal job at a small girls dorm because I remember watching TV at the dorm. The strange part is I have no memory of where I spent Thanksgiving or of going home to Queens or of my family. Perhaps I did not go home but that does not seem possible.

What an interesting question!! It is also interesting to read the JFK quotes you posted – it’s sad we seem to be setting the bar so low these days.

Mark Zeidel said...

I was in class at the Brown Elementary School, Natick Mass. I was in third grade. We were all brought into the auditorium/gym, and sat down in front of a large black and white TV. We were sent home early.

Cheryl Clark said...

From Facebook:

At boarding school in Williamsburg, having a yearbook photo taken. A few of us were posed near a tree just outside a classroom. Someone opened the window and yelled out what had happened. Then the photographer, who apparently hadn't heard, said "SMILE." Awful...

Martha Katz-Hyman said...

From Facebook:

I was a sophomore at Marblehead High School and we were told in homeroom, at the end of the day. It was also supposed to be the opening night for our school musical, "The Boyfriend," and it got postponed, of course. It was a very sad weekend.

Gayle White Gildea said...

From Facebook:

I was in sixth grade and was minding the office for the school secretary. She had a small transistor radio and when I heard I ran to my class and told Mr. Pittman. I saw big boys cry and everyone prayed.

Peter Kenney said...

From Facebook:

Sitting in the office of my high school principal talking about college admissions. Mrs. Kelly, the school secretary ran into the office, said, "He's been shot. The president has been shot!" Then she fainted.

psweetman said...

I was a child in north London, UK, and had just come indoors from playing outside on my scooter. My parents were in the living room, watching the news on TV. 'President Kennedy has been assassinated'. We were all shocked and very sad, he was much admired over here, and as a little girl I thought he was the handsomest man alive.

fairhavenhorn said...

I was in fourth grade. We were given a brief announcement and sent home.

Michael said...

I was in my eighth grade classroom at St. Edwards Grade School in Racine, WI. The announcement of the shooting wasted over the PA system, and it was left on with the microphone near a television or radio. We listened to a couple of hours of reporting before being sent home. The nuns were visibly shaken.

Roberta said...

I grew up in the DC suburbs, schoolmates with the sons and daughters of Congressmen and Senators and military officers. We knew something was up by the atmosphere in middle school, and there was a rumor that someone had shot the President. It ran all through the bus on the way home and I can remember saying to my friend “This is the United States, things like that don’t happen here.” She got to her home, behind mine, first and shouted to me “It’s true, oh my God, it’s true.” Then we turned on the TV and we knew.

Bill said...

I was just leaving first-year German course in college...walked out into the hallway to hear the news. It is indeed unforgettable. A few days later when Oswald was shot, it felt like the whole world was crazy.

Maxine Tassinari Teixeira said...

From Facebook:

Just back to work after my honeymoon, washing my hands in the ladies room when a woman who worked on the same floor came in with the news.

John McKenna said...

From Facebook:

I was in sixth grade at St. Clare's School in Great Kills, Staten Island, NYC. Sister Mary Mark was the teacher. An announcement came over the loudspeaker for us to pray for the president. Then we got the news he was dead and we were sent home early. I'll also never forget sitting at home that Sunday and watching Oswald get shot.

The whole weekend was particularly traumatic as my family just arrived in the US in December 1960. All of us sat around a small tv and watched the inauguration events in January 1961 in our new country. To see JFK go so quickly followed by MLK and RFK 5 years later in many ways shaped how I view the world today.

Arleen Odonnell said...

From Facebook:

Watching it live on TV when I was home sick from school in Ashfield MA. Ran into the kitchen to tell my mother, who went hysterical.

Brenda Dunn said...

From Facebook:

Walking across the school grounds and it was announced over the school PA system.

Pam Ressler said...

Strange how some moments in time are captured like a photograph. I was in first grade (Mrs. Greer's class) at Travell Elementary School in Ridgewood, NJ. The principal rushed into the room and motioned for Mrs. Greer to come out into the hall. We were all immediately sent home. I can remember walking home with some older kids who said that we better walk fast because the Russians were going to drop bombs on us now...I ran the rest of the way home.

Marilyn Morrissey said...

From Facebook:

I was in the 6th grade in a Catholic school classroom in Irish Catholic South Boston. We heard screams coming out of the 8th grade girls' classroom. Suddenly, the pastor swooped in and told us all to get on our knees. I thought maybe the bomb was finally coming and we should all get under our desks. Once on our knees, the priest led us in a recitation of the "Our Father", then told us that the President had been killed. He followed with a recitation of the" Hail Mary" and told us that school was dismissed and we should all go home.

I met up with my 4 other siblings and we began the walk home from S. Boston to Dorchester along Carson Beach. I remember seeing grown adults holding onto lamp posts and weeping openly on the street.

When we finally got home, we found our parents glued to the old black and white TV. They didn't seem to be concerned that their children had been dismissed without announcement and had walked a few miles home without adult supervision. The next few days we were all assembled in front of the TV watching everything unfold. Strange to think about now.

Wayne said...

What an interesting question. My question now is what America has come to today?

Bobbie Sproat said...

I was in 11th grade chemistry class, new to the school and its Chicago suburb. I think the news was announced over the PA system. I vaguely remember wondering at first if it was a joke. Like most school kids, we got sent home early, where we commenced to watch the TV coverage for days.

Abigail, Francis, and Ruth said...

From Facebook:

Abigail Norman: I was 7 years old, home sick from school. I heard Louise start singing out loud, but it was a strange, wailing sound. She was weeping, swaying on her feet. It was the first time I had seen an adult cry.

Francis Landry: I think I was in High School when my parents told me and I ran to the TV watching in shocked disbelief.

Ruth Gold: I was in third grade, playing in my friend's backyard after school; I remember going back to school the following Monday and the teacher telling us (the third graders) that we are the same age as Caroline Kennedy and we send cards of sympathy to her.

Sandy said...

I was in the ninth grade, in a junior high school that never told the students anything. Instead we had hallway rumors, passed along as the classes changed. Someone had supposedly overheard two teachers talking about the President being shot, from a report on the radio in the teacher's lounge. I was concerned but skeptical: rumors were often exaggerated or mistaken.

So I continued on to study hall, which took place in a large classroom with many windows overlooking the school's front lawn. And it was there, thirty minutes later, that I saw the flag out front lowered to half mast...

John said...

Thanks for the reminder - I was 25, married with a one year old son and running a chemical plant in LA when the news hit. I completed an orderly shut down, and we then spent one of the saddest weekends of my life. For all his warts, JFK was an inspiration to my generation.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Collins 5th. period shop class-Langford Junior High, Augusta, Ga.Someone from class had been sent to the office and when he came back he said people in the office were listening to the radio about Kennedy being shot. The principal announced on the intercom during 6th. period Civics class that Kennedy had died.