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Local citizens share their memories of the day JFK was shot 50 years ago

By Paula Walter
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), the 35th president of the United States. The youngest man to be elected president at the age of 43, JFK was also the youngest president to die in office at 46 years old. He was killed on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas after an assassin’s bullets struck him down.
Shots were fired into Kennedy’s open motorcade where he was traveling with his wife, Jacqueline, along with the Governor of Texas, John Connally, and his wife on a whirlwind tour through several Texas cities. As they rounded the corner and passed the Texas Book Depository, shots were fired. The president suffered gunshot wounds to his throat and his head at approximately 12:30 pm. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:00 pm. The president’s body was placed on Air Force One to be returned to Washington. Kennedy’s vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States with his wife and the widow of JFK at his side, her clothes covered in her husband’s blood.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after Kennedy’s assassination for the murder of a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit. He was never charged with Kennedy’s murder. Americans, glued to their televisions, watched as a local business owner, Jack Ruby, gunned down Oswald while he was in the process of being transferred from the police station to the county jail for the indictment of Kennedy’s assassination two days after the president’s death.
Kennedy’s flag-draped coffin was carried on a horse drawn caisson to the United States Capitol. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to pay their respects. In a somber ceremony, JFK was transported to Arlington Cemetery to be buried, a short ride just across the bridge from the White House and Capitol. The haunting memories of John Kennedy slumped over in his seat towards his wife, Jacqueline frantically scrambling out of the back seat and onto the trunk of the car and the sounds of loud shots piercing the air remain with those old enough to remember that day. Americans will forever see the three-year-old John Kennedy, Jr. salute as his father’s casket passed by. For many, it’s a memory that never leaves. If you remember that day, those images, thoughts and even emotions can be recalled in an instant.
John Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected president of the United States. For this reporter and her family, JFK was a hero. He was one of their own elected to the highest office in the United States. It was a huge accomplishment and the Catholic community was very proud of their beloved Kennedy. His death was a huge blow to them. They mourned and wept at the loss of a man with a vision for his country, gunned down before he was able to fulfill his dreams. To this day, this reporter can vividly recall the voice of one of the priests at the Catholic school she attended as he told the students and teachers that President Kennedy had been shot. Minutes later, he announced the president had died. Schools around the country sent their students home early, and this writer remembers being met at the bus stop by her mother, her tear-stained face full of sorrow. Kennedy’s funeral was televised and Americans spent hour upon hour watching the heart-wrenching procession from the White House to Arlington Cemetery.
For those who were young at the time of Kennedy’s death, their memories are often vague but they still have some recollection of the day the president was shot. Bill Thomas, publisher of The Tomahawk, recalled that on November 22, 1963 he was attending elementary school in Wilmington, Delaware. He recalled walking home and as a seven-year old, didn’t recognize the significance of what had happened. Carol Camp, who now lives in Johnson County, was in her first year of high school. She recalls she had just walked into her chorus class right after lunch and the mood was festive as most of her classmates enjoyed an easy class. According to Camp, her teacher was crying and couldn’t even talk to explain what was going on. “I remember not being able to take in what he said,” Camp said. “I heard the words but couldn’t take in the meaning.” After arriving home, the reality of Kennedy’s death hit her. “It was unbelievable,” she said.
Pat Forrester was six years old on that fateful November day. “The reason I probably remember is we just got our first television,” Forrester said. “I can still remember Walter Cronkite telling us the president of the United States just passed away. For days, we just sat and watched the news. I remember the motorcade and the day of the funeral where John John gave his famous salute.”
During Kennedy’s short presidency, the United States saw the implementation of the Peace Corps in September of 1961 and the ratification of the 23rd Amendment that gave residents of Washington, DC the right to vote in presidential elections and the building of the Berlin Wall. Alan Shepard was the second person and the first American to travel into space. In 1961, the failed attempted by the United States to overthrow Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba became known as the Bay of Pigs. In 1962, the entire country was on edge as the Soviets came to an agreement with Castro to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to keep the United States from invading the country again. This event, known as the Cuban Missile crises, nearly brought the United States to the brink of nuclear war.