Thursday, November 22, 2012

JKF assassination memories (part II)

     Yale Youngblood: I was home from school, sick with a sore throat. I was in the second grade. I was lying on the couch watching Cartoon Carnival when a Channel 11 (an independent station in the D-FW area) news person broke in to say that the President had been shot. We immediately turned to a network station and watched as the news grew more dire by the minute.
     I remember my mom shaking a lot when we heard that President Kennedy had been pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. I don't remember her crying, but I knew that this was a very significant moment, based on how she reacted. I remember little else from that day or from that weekend.

      Maxie Hays: The fall of 1963 was the first year of my coaching career. I was the athletic coordinator at DeQuincy Junior High and an assistant high school football coach for coach Billy Lantrip. I was in charge of all the scouting for the varsity football program.
     On Nov. 22, I was on a scouting trip to Lake Providence. I was at a gas station in Monroe when I found out that the President had been killed in Dallas. I went on to Lake Providence and scouted the game. Afterward, I drove back to Oakdale and spent the weekend with my mother. DeQuincy lost its game that night, so it was out of the playoffs.
      I was in a state of extreme disbelief, anger and sadness all at the same time. After all, this was something that happened in other countries, NOT in the United States of America. I will never forget the feeling of fear that I had because our security chain had been broken at the highest level, something that hadn't happened in my lifetime.

      Karen Bryant Dye: I was in the [Woodlawn] pep squad and we were in a convoy en route to an out-of-town football game. The buses pulled over for a few minutes, and our chaperone got off our bus. When she came back, she told us what had happened. The bus, which had previously been filled with lively teenaged girls laughing and talking, became very very quiet. I also remember later sitting in front of the TV watching the funeral and crying.

      Leon Barmore: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University walking through the student center on my way to a history class when I learned that President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Like everyone, I was saddened and a little nervous about the news.      A few minutes later in John D. Winters' history class, he made a statement that helped greatly. He said, "It's a great loss for us all, but this country is so great someone else will take his place and America will remain free and strong." That was what I needed to hear at that moment. Thank you, John D. Winters.

      Jerry Byrd: I was living with my Grandma Allen on Topeka Street, a few blocks from Highland Baptist Church, and was watching TV in her house when the President was shot. I went back to the office [Shreveport Journal], where they had already published an extra edition of the Friday paper with Kennedy's picture and a story about the shooting on the top of the front page. About half of the reporters were out on the streets selling the paper. I was also watching TV at her house when Jack Ruby shot Oswald while they were bringing him out of the Dallas jail.

      Gary Ferguson: If I'm not mistaken -- since it has been so long ago -- wasn't Woodlawn in a football playoff game in New Orleans? The students of Wodlawn went as a group by bus, I think. One of the tours we went on in New Orleans was a boat called The President or something like that. Anyway, the captain announced over the speakers that JFK had been shot.

      Jim McLain (The Times sportswriter): I was in New Orleans to cover a Woodlawn High football playoff game. I had driven down from Shreveport after work and slept late in my motel room out near the airport. I went to a (I think) Krystal hamburger restaurant to get breakfast. I walked in, took a seat and heard one of the counter waitresses say, "Well, somebody finally shot that son-of-a-bitch."
      I asked which SOB she was referring to?
      "Kennedy, she replied, "and I think he's dead."

      Tim Looney: I was a junior at Jesuit High in Shreveport. Several of us were hanging around outside the basement classrooms after lunch and before our next class. Someone -- another student -- came up to us and said he had heard that President Kennedy had been shot. We were all incredulous. We didn't know for some time how serious the wounds to the President were.
      As I recall, the school broadcast the news over the classroom intercoms as more became known. When we found out that our young, vibrant hero was dead, a sick feeling came over us all. Too young to know about the horrors of war, and having lived our entire lives in a simple, idyllic time, it was almost impossible to process the magnitude of the tragedy.
      The next few days were surreal. The funeral procession. The evil, yet pathetic, figure of Lee Harvey Oswald. The shooting of Oswald on live TV by Jack Ruby.
      Tina, my wife, was a high school student in Dallas. They had gotten out of class to go line the President's motorcade route, hoping to get a glimpse of him and the beautiful Jackie. Indeed, she saw them pass just a few feet from where she stood with her friends. A very few minutes later he was shot. They had gone to eat at a Mexican restaurant. It was announced over the loudspeakers at the restaurant. She said they all broke into tears of shock, sadness, and disbelief.
     A dark day for our country.

     Gary West: I was in school, of course -- fifth grade, in New Orleans -- and it was after lunch, maybe 1:30, a time that usually found the kids anxious and starting to anticipate the end of the school day, when the principal came to the door, which was strange, and asked to see our teacher, Mrs. Landwehr, in the hallway. Mrs. Landwehr stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
      Her departure, of course, was the signal for Johnny Whateverhisnamewas to turn around in his desk and make faces at the beautiful Sylvia Memphas and for a half-dozen others to take shots at the wastebasket with wadded up balls of paper and for Norman the Noggin to reach into his trumpet case and pull out whatever Ian Fleming book he happened to be reading and had snuck into school.
      We were just silly, naive kids, doing the things that silly, naive kids everywhere do, but for some of us that was all about to change abruptly. I sat in the back of the class, nearest the door, and so when it opened, I got a close look at Mrs. Landwehr. She was pale, her face drained of color, her eyes shiny with moisture. She walked stiffly by me and up the aisle to her desk in front of the class. Slowly taking her seat, she attempted to say something about the lesson we were on. But then she burst into tears.
      We sat there shocked, watching her sob, not knowing what to do. I remember thinking something must have happened to her husband, who always seemed to be traveling. Mrs. Landwehr struggled to compose herself. And then, sitting very erect, she said, "Something terrible has happened. Our President has been shot."
      I don't remember much after that, don't remember when we found out President Kennedy had died. But I recall that some kids seemed completely oblivious to the significance of the news, or maybe they were just trying to be cool. As for me, I was shaken. I never had known anybody who had been shot dead. It was something that happened only on television or in Norman the Noggin's books. And, of course, in that world, only bad guys got shot, and the good guys always won and, well, this didn't make any sense because President Kennedy represented an idealized version not only of the presidency but of America.
      Is this what real life is like, I wondered. And, of course, it was. That day began what became for America a profound loss of innocence, which continued with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and culminated with Vietnam and Watergate. For all of us, I think, everything changed forever on Nov. 22, 1963.

      Robert Steckel: I was a freshman at Archbishop Rummel High School, in Metairie, La. My PE class was showering in the locker room when it was announced on the school PA system. My memory beyond that is only vague, but I’m pretty sure the reaction of my classmates was stunned silence.
      Next period was algebra, and our teacher did his best to try to speak wisely, calm us down, try to get some perspective that would help. I remember, later that afternoon, it was raining, and my mother arrived home from grocery shopping, weeping and worrying about those “poor [Kennedy] children.”
      On Sunday, we got home from church and immediately learned Ruby had shot Oswald. What a nightmare. The President of the United States, gets his head blown off in a public execution, in broad daylight in downtown Dallas. (A friend who is a native Texan (Corpus), and a liberal, remains resentful to this day for people trying to pin it on Dallas because of its “climate of hate.” Bullshit, he calls it. I agree.)

      Dr. Leonard Ponder: I was teaching at Oak Terrace Junior High on that fateful day in 1963. [Principal] Stan Powell had invited me to go with him to Baton Rouge that week where the Louisiana Teachers Association was holding its annual convention. I was flattered that Stan invited me, but a major part of his incentive was that he needed me to drive. Marti (his wife) needed their good car.
      I was harried because I had to get three classes prepared for a substitute teacher. The second period was always my planning period, which allowed me to go to the main office and check my mailbox. When I walked into the teachers' lounge everyone was talking about an event, but I couldn't catch what the event was. One teacher (and I have no idea who it was) said, "I didn't especially like him, but I didn't want him dead." That allowed me to ask "who?" "Haven't you heard, the President was shot and killed in Dallas just a little while ago."
      Little did we know what a chain of events that terrible deed started. I remain convinced to this day that most of the political animosity that we still experience was created by that event. 
     At that time in Louisiana one voted Democratic if he or she wanted to participate in the political process -- there was no other option. Even as a young man I knew that the Louisiana Democrats were corrupt so I chose not to participate in politics at all.
     I, therefore, had not voted for John Kennedy or Nixon, but I thought Kennedy's term was off to a good start. He was very likable. Whatever he was going to accomplish was still before him. Lyndon Johnson gets credit for completing much of Kennedy's agenda, but he was much too abrupt and created unnecessary animosity.

      Billy Maples: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University with residence in McFarland dorm, first floor. After class that day, I was preparing to drive home to Bossier City and a close friend Don Cope (who later became an orthodontist, now deceased) was to ride with me. Don lived on the upper floor and I was waiting on him in the dorm parlor. Suddenly, I saw him running down the hall yelling that JFK had been shot in Dallas. Don was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt.
      JFK was not popular in the southern states and I was not a JFK fan. I was shocked to hear he had been shot but not devastated. I later learned the gun shot was fatal.
Throughout the weekend, news reports kept reporting what was thought to be the facts, including the arrest of Oswald.
      On Sunday at home, I was preparing for a return to Tech. I was watching TV in our living and like millions of others, saw Oswald shot as he was being led from the Dallas jail.
Then, I remember a commission was appointed with a finding Oswald had acted alone. Then all the theories followed, even today.

      A.L. Williams (Woodlawn assistant coach): I was with you at the Holiday Inn in New Orleans for the Woodlawn-East Jefferson game the day JFK was assassinated. Ronnie Hooper came to me and told me the President had just been shot. It was decided the game would be canceled; then it was decided the game would be played, and this decision was changed back and forth several times. The final decision, of course, was to play the game, which was a very rainy game that wound up a 7-7 tie. (Woodlawn) lost the game on first downs. Ken Liberto made an outstanding, one-handed catch of a pass from Trey Prather but came down out of bounds. It was a very bad day: We lost our President and our game.

      Sarah Williams: I was at home with Amy Williams, our 3-month-old first -born watching As the World Turns when the soap was interrupted with the news that the President had been shot. The news was most unnerving and unbelievable.

      Ken Sins: I grew up in Rome, N.Y., attended St. Mary's Catholic grammar school as an eighth- grader. We heard the news early afternoon during a class; the nun-teacher looked ashen as she recounted the report that the President was dead, and she led us in prayer. Since Kennedy was Catholic, this was an incredible shock in our community. Kennedy was a hero to us; he'd campaigned in our town a few years earlier, and the memories still lingered.
      There was speculation that somehow the Russians had something to do with it. Actually, Oswald did have Russian ties ... his wife, his background. Anyway, it was an emotional day.     
     I was an altar boy and had to serve Mass at St. Paul's on Sunday. I don't recall much about the service other than the priest asking the congregation for more prayers for both the country and the Kennedy family, and there were tears shed by men and women in the pews.
       We returned home, and as the eggs and bacon and toast were served, we watched in horror on our black and white Philco as Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. What an emotional weekend! What a confusing weekend for a kid!
      Then, about 15 years later, here I was living and working in North Texas. One of my first tourist trips from Fort Worth was visiting the Triple Underpass and Dealey Plaza in Dallas, long before the museum was installed, going through the events of that day and wondering how in the hell this terrible event took place. To me, Dallas was the City of Hate, and here I was, a Yankee in the midst of it all. That feeling never left; I always felt like a stranger there, 'til the day I left.
 
      Ben Sour: I was eating lunch in the [Shreveport] Byrd High cafeteria, just like every day at that time. Bobby Pack sat down across the table from me. We exchanged greetings. I think he was interested in my sister. He said, "Did you hear about Kennedy getting shot." I said no. We had a couple of Kennedys at the school. A promising basketball player had been wounded in a hunting accident, thus ending his career. I figured one of the Kennedys in the school had been accidently shot. It took a minute to sink in that it was President Kennedy.
      The cafeteria noise picked up but no one was really sure what had happened. Was he dead? How many people were shot? It was like someone who was a big part of you life had suddenly died. You knew it but you really could not believe it. It was not something any of us had ever thought about.
      After my father died, I kept expecting him to come out of his bedroom while I was sitting at the kitchen table, just like he always did. I knew he wouldn't, but that's what I kept expecting and wanting to happen. That was the feeling when lunch ended that sense of not being able to quite accept it.
       A few minutes after Bobby broke the news to me, we went back to class. The cafeteria was on the first floor. Most of the classrooms were upstairs. As we climbed the stairs to return to class, we passed the kids coming down to go to lunch. None of them knew anything about the shooting. As we passed them, we told them what we knew. I honestly don't remember a single emotional outburst. It was like we were just starting to realize that we had all been wounded.
      After about an hour, Mr. Ravenna, the assistant principal, came in to our classroom and told us exactly what was known. He was very calm and precise. That really helped. I think an administrator went to every classroom.
       Mr. Ravenna was at Byrd for nearly 40 years I think. If I saw him tomorrow, he would say, "Hi, Ben, how is your sister, Beth." He had a system for memorizing every student's name and their relation to other students.
      Some 15 years after the assassination, I attended a theater production in London. I saw a familar face in the crowded lobby. Bobby Pack and I recognized each other instantly even though we had not seen each other for years. We recounted the story of where we were when JFK was assassinated. I think I was the first person he told, and I am not sure how he had found out.

      Leo Van Thyn: I remember being in grade 11 and it was some in the afternoon. Our class was suddenly interrupted by a P.A. announcement by the principal saying that the President of the United States had been shot. It brought reactions of shock from my classmates. On my way home after school I remember feeling a profound sadness. Even though JFK was not the leader of Canada it felt as though he was. He was relatively young and I had known political leaders as being older adults. It felt as though someone from our younger generation had died.
      My friends and I had admired his willingness to deal strongly with the leaders of the Soviet Union and Cuba. My generation in Canada looked at him as the leader of all the democratic nations. However, it was his youthfulness that appealed to us and we liked his charming wife and their children, and his younger brothers.
      I remember being glued to the television watching the reports of the assassination and the funeral. It seemed as if I couldn’t get enough and even took me away from watching hockey, which is saying a lot for someone young in Canada.
         
      Bill Smith: I was in ninth grade at Oak Terrace coming out of Miss Waddell's class on my way to my locker when we were told. It was a shock. Many mixed feelings because that weekend was the football team's annual trek to see LSU play Tulane. It was my first train ride. When we got back and were at the train station in Shreveport when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Quite a shocking week.
    
      Jimmie Cox: A bunch of us Woodlawn students were on the SS President steamship on a river cruse in New Orleans. We came down on the train to go to the Woodlawn-East Jefferson state playoff game in football. I always thought it was ironic that we were on the President when the President died.
    
      Beverly Clark Porche: As a member of the Woodlawn band, we were on our way to New Orleans for the playoff game. Of course, like everyone else, that weekend will forever be in my thoughts.
    
      Sandra Groves Timmons: I was on the [Woodlawn] pep squad bus heading to New Orleans for the football playoffs. We had stopped at a little store to get drinks, food, etc. when we heard the news in the store. It was very surreal; the remainder of the ride was very quiet. I think we were all just trying to process what we had been told.
 
      Brenda Boyette Laird: Sandra, I also remember stopping at that little store and hearing the news about President Kennedy.
        
      Jan Baker: As a Dallasite, this day really hit us hard. My dad had taken off work and he drove my mom along the route the President would drive. They parked out by the Haggar Slack building. They were shocked to hear he had been shot a few minutes later.
I
was in elementary school listening to Mr. Shelton, my math teacher, drone on about fractions. He was a bear of a man. I remember the principal calling him into the hall and he was crying when he re-entered. It shocked me. All the students were gathered into the cafeteria and auditorium and we watched tiny black and white televisions on rolling carts as we heard the news for the first time.

Almost every parent took off and picked up their students. I don't recall us going back to school for almost a week. We watched TV nonstop. Scary stuff for a kid.

      Douglas Yoder: I was in the fourth grade and my teacher started crying. Had no idea what was going on. She explained to us what happened and a class of 9- and 10-year-olds were all very quiet and subdued.
    
      Priscilla Goff Cox: It was my Dad's 50th birthday. But the [Woodlawn] pep squad was on the buses going to the playoffs. I remember people standing on the highway holding up signs saying "President Assassinated." Girls on the buses were crying. It was such a sad day in history.
     
      Patrick Booras: I had just turned 2 when JFK was assassinated. I know from listening to my parents and other adults (years later) that it was a huge shock to adults who were trying to comprehend how it could have happened. I don't think any common citizens in America have ever felt comfortable talking about JFK's assassination. "Let's not go there" was the feeling I always got (conversations ended abruptly).

      Gerry Robichaux: I was at home, just waking from a night's sleep from working the PM shift [at The Shreveport Times]. I did the only thing I knew to do. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed. And cried.

      Ike Futch: I was going to lunch at the A&W drive-in (Highway 80, I believe) in Ruston, La., and heard it on the radio.

      John Sturbin: I was a seventh-grader at Transfiguration School in Rome, N.Y. By midday my mind already was wandering to Sunday and the New York Giants' game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. Because back then, my hero, quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and the Giants always beat the Cards twice a season.
      Shortly after lunch a TV was rolled into our classroom and our teacher, a Franciscan nun whose name has escaped me, quietly told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and we needed to pray for him. It wasn’t long after that we watched CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite inform the nation that, indeed, JFK was dead. That reality hit hard in our little parochial school, where Kennedy was revered as the first Catholic president.
      I didn’t realize it then, but Cronkite’s now-famous and emotional words marked the beginning of the coming-of-age of TV as a news medium. Coverage of the Kennedy tragedy continued all weekend on what were then the three major networks. Among the enduring figures to emerge was a young Dan Rather, then a reporter at a Dallas TV station.
      My memories include my mom coming home from work in tears; my father coming home from work irate and blaming the Russians and Fidel Castro … and getting drunk that night. I remember returning from Mass on Sunday morning with my mom and sister, walking in the door only to hear my father yell out: “They shot him! Somebody just shot Oswald, right on TV!” He was referring to Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s accused killer. The conspiracy theories launched by that single act continue to this day.
     On Monday, I watched on a black-and-white TV as the funeral courtege wound its way through Washington, D.C., impressed by the stoicism of the Kennedy family, the magnificent and respectful pomp-and-precision of our military and the rhythmic drum beat that served as the background music en route to Arlington National Cemetery.
     A resident of Fort Worth since 1978, I since have done the tourist thing at the School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza with my mom and sister, and am grateful that tragic moment in American history has been preserved.
     Back to Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963. The Giants lost to the Cardinals, I think by 14-10, in a Yankee Stadium that I recall being described as "eerily silent." NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who made many groundbreaking decisions that propelled the league to the prominence it still enjoys, dropped the ball on that one by opting to play the full schedule. I believe the Cleveland Browns played the Cowboys on that Sunday, with coach Tom Landry and his team suddenly and unfairly carrying the burden as the most hated city in America ... only soon enough to become "America's Team." 
      

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