Thursday, November 22, 2012

JFK assassination: Your memories

      The day sticks in our minds -- Nov. 22, 1963. Where were you at 12:30 p.m. or shortly thereafter when you got the news about President Kennedy being shot?
      Here are the remembrances from people in my age range, including Woodlawn students who were either in New Orleans or on their way for a state football playoff game:

      Albert A. "Bud" Dean: Never will forget it. I was in the library at our old, now gone Colfax High School. The word had come, but had not been confirmed that morning. Then as it became clear that the rumor was actually a horrible truth, two things still stand out in my mind: (1) the 10th-grade English teacher made an ass out of himself by running into the hallway on the second shouting "please tell me it's true," which eventually got him fired, and (2) even though there was an anti- Kennedy sentiment in my small town as evidenced by the inappropriate response in No. 1, all of us were shocked and continued classes as if nothing happened other than the pall that had been cast by that sad series of events. Also our basketball practice was canceled, which was a great move on our coach and principal's part.
        O.K. "Buddy" Davis: I was sitting in a civics class at Ruston High School and word began to circulate about President Kennedy being assassinated, but we didn't have many details yet. Then during a change in classes, the official word filtered through the hallways and that's all anyone was talking about. Then Ruston High announced school would be called off for rest of the day and i remember walking home and seeing my mom waiting outside on the steps when I walked up. She was crying and said, "We lost a great President today." The whole weekend was so incredibly sad.

      Kirby Ramsey: I was a ninth-grade student at Oak Terrace Junior High when President Kennedy was assassinated. The day he was killed I was walking down the dark corridors of Oak Terrace when I saw a girl who was also in the ninth grade. Believe it or not, she was actually laughing. I asked her, "What's so funny?" She said, "President Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas!" She seemed happy that our President had been killed. I was shocked that President Kennedy had been killed, but I think I was even more shocked by that girl's reaction to such a human tragedy. I never felt the same way about that girl after that encounter. I remember there was a lot of polarization in our country at that time, primarily over civil rights. Vietnam and the Americanization of the war there would not be fully realized until 1965 primarily because President Kennedy was determined NOT to send combat troops to fight an Asian war. (Ref. Lessons In Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Viet Nam).
      Ron Newberry: I was in the TKE frat house at Northwestern State playing bridge with frat brothers my freshman year. I spent the rest of the day and the weekend glued to the TV where I saw Oswald murdered on national television. It was a sad day for America and the beginning of a tragic era for the Kennedy family. No, I am not a Democrat but a human being who cares for his fellow man.
      Mary Margaret Higginbotham Richard: I was on the band bus going south to the playoff game in New Orleans. Those were the days of transistor radios, and people picked up a few bits and pieces as we traveled. It was a long time before we found out that the shooting had really happened and that the President was dead. We had rain all the way down, and (I think) rain at the game. I have read conspiracy theories about people traveling from New Orleans to Dallas, and they all describe that relentless rain.
      The band stopped for dinner at a horrible truck stop, the game had a horrible ending, and the President was assassinated. It was just a bad trip from start to finish. The only bright spot was a chartered bus instead of a school bus, but all things considered, that didn't help much. I don't think we got soaked, as Mr. Jennings [Richard Jennings, Woodlawn's band director] was always rightly concerned about the uniforms and instruments. I imagine we spent most of the game standing in a sheltered area at the stadium -- or maybe we waited it out in the gym at East Jefferson, as I can't remember a thing about the game. Again, the pits.

       Shellye Abington Cooper: On the pep squad bus traveling to East Jefferson H.S. for the  state playoffs. A car passed the bus holding up a sign that said something like "Kennedy has been shot or killed." It was raining and the closer we got to the game the more it rained. There was a prayer and moment of reflection in honor of Kennedy before the game. Pep squad wool skirts shrunk and the sweaters drooped. We lost by one first down (which none of us had ever heard of). I think, at the time, we were more upset about the game and riding back home on the bus sopping wet than Kennedy's death. That changed, of course, when we got home and reality set in. 
      Mike Richey: Neville High School, civics class, Mr. Phillips ... I have no idea why, but our teacher discussed the President's trip to Dallas during class that morning. I can't quote him verbatim, but he said something to the effect that he wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't trouble during the visit. He alluded to UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's visit to Dallas a month earlier to speak on United Nations Day where protestors spit in his face. It wasn't but 15 or 20 minutes later that it was announced to the entire school that the President had been shot, followed later by the announcement that he had died.
      I don't know if the same held true at other Southern schools, but the announcement of his death brought a mixture of cheers and tears in the halls and stairwells. It's hard to believe now that even JFK's biggest detractors could find happiness in his death.
      The rest of the week is mostly a blur ... and probably is for all of us who are old enough to remember. The funeral procession hit home in our house because my sister had marched with the Neville band at JFK's inauguration.
      While this was perhaps the biggest moment up to that point for network television news, it's ironic that two still black and white images are prominent in my memory: the first, Oswald's face just moments after being shot by Jack Ruby and the second, John John saluting his father's casket. 
         Lucille (Mrs. Don) Landry: The thing that immediately comes to mind concerns that weekend ... We were planning a party for our oldest son's second birthday on Nov. 24. When this tragedy happened, we were devasted, of course, and seriously considered canceling the party for our little boy. It just did not seem appropriate under the circumstances. We took it very personally, almost as though we had lost a close member of our own family.
      Rabbi Dr. Jana L. De Benedetti: I was 3 years old (actually, a bit over 3 1/2). I remember everyone being sad and that the only thing on TV was people talking about the fact that the President was dead -- and they were all sad. At first it was frustrating that I couldn't watch anything fun. But then I realized that I felt sad about the President, too, and it made sense that there was nothing on TV but people being sad about the President.
      Jimmy Russell: I was a senior at LSU and had a test scheduled for 1 p.m. I heard the President had been shot but did not know he was dead. I went to my class (Mexican History) and took the test along with other members of the class. The university in the meantime had cancelled classes before 1 p.m., but no one in the class knew it. We took the test. I found out about Kennedy’s death after the class and went home. My older son, Kyle, was born on Nov. 11 and was at home with my wife.

     Steve Oakey: I was working an Elrod strip caster on Nov. 22, 1963, in the foundry of a weekly newspaper and print shop I worked at in Sun Prairie, Wis., during the year I postponed entering the University of Wisconsin so I could establish residency and avoid out-of-state tuition. I was on lunch break with some co-workers in the alley outside the shop when somebody heard the news from Dallas on a transistor radio.
      As the only one in the group who had just moved north from Texas, I was expected to have some insight, but all I could think of was to wonder who could have done such a thing. Was it one of those "outside agitators" for civil rights?
      What I was really thinking about was what effect the momentous news would have on the opening of deer season the next day. None, it turned out. Two friends and I drove up to northern Wisconsin the next morning and hunted all afternoon in 10-degree cold. We bagged zero whitetails, but I did bring down a nice-sized squirrel with a 12-gauge slug from my borrowed pump shotgun. I have avoided any kind of hunting ever since.

      Mike Harper: I was in the seventh grade at St. Joseph's School in Shreveport, was in the library after lunch and noticed that all of the nuns were crying. They later told us what had happened. It still seems surreal, much like 9-11.

     Casey Baker: We [Woodlawn football team] were set to play East Jefferson in the first round of the playoffs in Metairie. Our team was staying at the Holiday Inn. The weather was terrible. Heavy, heavy rain. We were all milling around in our rooms or under the covered walkways outside the room when [coach] Billy Joe Adcox came around to check on us. He asked what was going on, we said "nothing" and then he asked what was going on on the TV. We went to look and the world changed forever.
     The first thing that came to mind was whether we would play that night. The leader of the free world had been assassinated, and I wondered if we were going to play a high school football game.
      I don't remember much of the game except that it poured and water was coming into my hightop cleats. I know the final score was 7-7 and we lost on first downs. Don't remember the trip home, but do remember laying on the living room floor watching Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald.

     Pesky Hill: I was 13 years old and we had just started P.E. class in the eighth grade at T. O. Rusheon Junior High School in Bossier City. All of a sudden, someone came in the gym and said President Kennedy had been shot. Then, a few minutes later we heard Texas Gov. John Connally had also been shot.
     It only took a few minutes for virtually everyone in school to get in front of the few television sets available. It was confirmed that President Kennedy was dead and Gov. Connally was in critical condition.
      What bothered me most was some cheering and applause when guys heard our President had been shot. I couldn’t believe the reaction. My parents didn’t vote for JFK and so I suppose I was pulling for Richard Nixon, too. But, to cheer for the President being shot? That really bothered me. I didn’t understand even though JFK was not popular among most in the Deep South.
      I also remember watching (live) when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. That was surreal. I couldn’t believe something like that could happen with all the security. And, it happened on television.

     Claude M. Pasquier: That Friday started off great. That was the last day of class before the Thanksgiving holidays and the school newspaper, The Flyer, was due to be handed out. I was in the 10th grade at Jesuit Shreveport. I had seen in the paper a picture of Sen. Everett Dirksen giving President Kennedy the ceremonial Thanksgiving turkey.
      The first bell after lunch had run and I was at my locker on the second floor of Jesuit. Bickford Umphries came bounding up the stairs shouting that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas. We went to fifth period and it was announced that President Kennedy had been shot. We said a prayer for him. A few minutes later it was announced that he had died. That was hard to understand.
     Fifth period ended and we went to Gerald Johnson's geometry class. He was visibly upset. We had no class that day; we just talked and read The Flyer. It was rumored in the classroom that Mr. Johnson had actually seen the President in person.
      My father picked me up that afternoon from school. He was never home from work at 3 p.m. It was very quiet at home. The television was on and we watched until Air Force One landed and the hearse drove off.
      Saturday was a sad day. The paper had quotes from a lot of people in the area that were close to the White House. One person in particular, was Mr. John Iles. Mr. Iles was and still is a family friend. I discovered that day that Mr. Iles and President Kennedy were friends. They served together on PT boats during the war. In my adult years, I asked Mr. Iles about the President and he said “he was a good skipper.”
     Sunday we came home from church and we were watching the transfer of Oswald from the Dallas Jail and saw on live television Jack Ruby shoot Oswald.
      It was a rough weekend for the whole country.
     James D. Gibson: I was a ninth grader at Linwood Junior High. It was around 2:30 in sixth period gym. We were playing half-court basketball when the ball went out of bounds under the basketball. Both Johnny Lewter and me stepped to pick up the ball. Johnny just asked, “Did you hear anything about President Kennedy being assassinated?” I answered, “No, I haven’t,” and we continued to play.
      Since school got out at 3, gym ended shortly. I went in the dressing room and finished dressing just about the time the bell rang. I walked out the door onto the small parking lot to head toward Linwood to cross the street to catch the trolley to Caddo Heights.
      The parking lot had a turnaround drive and parents, there to pick up their kids, were all out of their cars. President Kennedy had been killed and it was a very emotional scene. Suddenly, I was scared, felt weak, and wanted to get home. I felt alone, although there were people all around I ran and jumped on the trolley that had just pulled up. It was only a couple of miles, several stops, and maybe 10 minutes to Caddo Heights where I got off the trolley and ran home.
       I rushed in the back door into the kitchen where Mama (my mother) was hanging up the phone. It was about 3:20. She was talking to C.J. Serio, the Newspaper Production route manager, who told her that the papers were already at the paper box. It was a special edition of The Times, the first such special since 1945, and not The Journal, the regular evening paper. Suddenly, I felt a lot better. The paper route made me forget my anxieties.
     I put on my tennis shoes, jumped on my bike, and sped the 3 1/2 blocks to the paper box at the corner of Corbitt and Ridgeway to the awaiting papers. I started folding my papers and was joined in a few minutes by Randy Bouknight, who came to get his papers. I threw the route around my house and Randy threw the route around his house. I don’t recall us saying much to each other. We folded our papers and got on about the business of delivering them.
      The weekend and the days after are a blur now. I remember Walter Cronkite and all the TV coverage: Parkland Hospital, The Texas School Book Depository, Officer J.D. Tippitt, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, President Johnson’s swearing in, Jacqueline, little John, Caroline, and the funeral.

      Elsa Van Thyn: I was in seventh grade social studies class (Ms. Cooper) at Oak Terrace Junior High during lunch break practicing a puppet skit with Diana Jacobs, when someone came in the room and announced that Kennedy had been shot, I remember someone actually cheering, which even then I found horrifying. A little later, Theresa Underwood stood up and said she was listening to the radio and the President had died. At about the same time, Ms. Cooper's phone rang and she told the class that the office mandated that the assassination could not be discussed. I know, isn't that the most outrageous?
      I do remember walking home that Friday in shock and that Mama was crying when I got to the house. I also remember being in Sunday school that Sunday with Steven Katz teaching Hebrew when Oswald was killed, somehow it was announced to the class (maybe Steven came in and told us). 
     I believe for all of us alive and aware that it was the turning point in our lives, it changed us all, by the loss of innocence and instilled fear in me that I had not experienced before.


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