English and journalism teacher
Sometimes we teachers forget how quickly time passes, especially when events are imprinted on our souls. The youngest of our present students were one or two years old on September 11, 2001. The oldest were in kindergarten on that horrible, world-altering day.
Though now educated about that day, most remember very little save the emotional reactions of those adults in their small little worlds. I can relate. I was four years old, and I could not watch cartoons on Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963. A day earlier, America had changed almost instantly, but the only change a four-year-old could understand was that Saturday morning cartoons were being pre-empted.
Real people, not actors, were crying on TV. Our president was dead, brutally murdered before our eyes, and the relative newness of television spared no detail. This president and his young wife were vibrant, attractive, stylish, storybook- symbols of hope and change long before those words became a slogan.
Now, his blood spattered and stained her pink dress- a pink dress sadly similar to the burning, collapsing twin towers of 9/11. Within a matter of days we watched the killer mortally wounded, and the president’s three-year-old son salute goodbye to his father. Think of the not so distant past leading up to this – the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and constant fear of nuclear holocaust.
Americans, my parents included, endured it all, painfully but successfully. But any national sense of resolve or accomplishment was shattered with those three shots in Dallas. We were abruptly reminded of our vulnerability, and many say that our innocence was lost that day. Unlike the 9/11 aftermath, there was no groundswell of uniting patriotism. More, much more, rocky road lay ahead in the 60’s.
Though many think of the decade in terms of peace, love, and flower power, it was a fairly awful time. The Vietnam War divided us. Changing culture put even family members at odds. We watched fire hoses and dogs set upon people marching for equality. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, symbols of hope and conscience for American have-nots, were killed within two months in 1968.
This decade went through us like a tornado leaving both change and destruction in its path. For good or bad, things have never been the same. November 22, like September 11, can never disappear from what we were or from we have become.
I invite you to read the memories of Godwin staff memories of that day 50 years ago.
Social studies teacher
I was in the second grade at Wakefield Elementary (High School it was then) in a reading circle. The teacher, Elizabeth Morris, was reading Charlotte’s Web. The principal, Bill Story, came in to the classroom with a sheet of paper and Mrs. Morris met him at the door.
They conferred and both were noticeably concerned about what was on the paper. Mrs. Morris announced that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The school day ended at 3:00 p.m., but there was a cloud hanging over everything and everyone. Adults appeared lost, distraught, and confused.
I remember going home with my mother, who taught in the school, and we listened to reports on the radio (6 mile trip). Arriving at my father’s grocery store, I was very interested to watch the adults who came in to shop and listen to their comments which ranged from sorrow, to who could done such a thing, to what do we do now, to disbelief and despair.
I could not get over how disoriented everyone seemed to be and how out of kilter things seemed that evening. It was one of the most confusing times that I could/can remember. Like everyone, I wondered what would happen and somehow, despite the calming efforts of my parents (“don’t worry, it will be ok), I never seemed to believe that the adults had the answers from that day forward.
In the last fifty years we have seen all kinds of conspiracy theories develop because of the ineptness of the Warren Commission Investigation and the willingness of the U.S. government to withhold much information in a classified format in the name of protecting national security.
We have seen Americans become more distrusting and cynical about their government (its motives, operations). Of course, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran Contra, Clinton’s Impeachment, the Iraq War, and Obamacare have contributed to this condition, but America’s self-confidence, her swagger, was severely damaged fifty years ago this Friday.
Few America Presidents have combined charisma, charm, intelligence, courage, vision, and assertiveness the way Kennedy did. Despite the collection of these qualities, Kennedy did not live long enough or serve long enough to really be considered a great President. His perceived greatness is due in part to two things, the potential for greatness that he possessed and the martyrdom that came with his demise in Dallas.
Lynsie J. Levay
English and exceptional education teacher
I remember that day so vividly, and to this day when I think of it I cry. I was in Miss Nelson’s first grade class, Stony Brook School, Stratford, Connecticut.
Emily Zack, one of my sister’s friends, lived next door to the school. Her mother came to our classroom window to tell Miss Nelson that the president had been shot. Miss Nelson was crying and she told us why.
I remember running home from school down Swanson Avenue, through the woods, and then down Wiklund Avenue (my street) with my sister terrified. When we got home my mother was ironing in the kitchen watching a portable black and white television, crying.
So much sadness. With an Irish mother and Catholic father, President Kennedy was a hero. We had drinking glasses that said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
School was canceled for three days; I think it was a national time of mourning. We watched the funeral, so somber, John John saluting. It was fifty years ago, I was six, and now tears are streaming down my face as I write this.
I was in the 9th grade and was coming in from PE to the locker room when one coach passed another and said the President had been shot. When we got to 6th period (our last period of the day), the Principal came on the P A and announced that the President had died. My Latin teacher broke down and started crying in class.
Robert M. Gregory
Social studies teacher
I was a 10 year old student at Saint Bridget Elementary School. I vividly remember the Nuns crying as many of them were Irish Catholic. We were told President Kennedy had died before going home and there was great fear among many because of the Cold War and our constant preparation for the impending nuclear attack.
Hardest thing to explain to today’s students is that there was NOTHING else on television at that time but my parents permitted us to watch, which in my household was a rare privilege except on weekends.
I have a very clear memory of that November afternoon. I was at Brookland Jr. High School (now Brookland Middle School) with my 9th grade biology class watching a film about frogs when the room’s intercom came on with a very static, unintelligible message.
Our teacher, Ms. Spiers, had to go to the classroom next door to find out what had been said. She came back and told us that the president had been shot and was dead and we were all in pretty much of a daze for the remainder of our afternoon classes.
When we got home and for the rest of the day, weekend and Monday funeral, there was continuous live TV coverage; the first time this had ever happened.
I was watching this live coverage on Sunday when Jack Ruby shot Oswald and schools were closed on Monday so we could watch the live coverage of Kennedy’s funeral.
I was fourteen and sitting in an Algebra class taught by the cutest little teacher named, Mrs. Bugg. She was gentle and always happy, so as we entered the class and saw the tears in her eyes, we knew something was up, so the class was unusually quiet as we took our seats. Immediately after the bell rang to mark the beginning of class, our principal made the announcement. “ President Kennedy has been shot and it has been reported that he has died.”
Everyone old enough to remember that day, remembers where he was when he heard the announcement, and all will record the shock. I am one of them, but what I also remember thinking, “This cannot be happening. This is the United States of America! Things like this do not happen here –except in history-“ and there it was…living history. Everyone in my classroom was crying. We were scared.
At home, my Catholic family that had reveled in the election of America’ s first Catholic president, cried, and perhaps most amazingly, our parents allowed us to watch TV during the day! It was turned on after school, before we had even thought about doing homework! My brothers and sisters and I were glued to the screen like the rest of the nation.
We watched every detail and cried with the family, felt so sorry for the children left behind and marveled at Jackie Kennedy’s poise. We saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald. We saw him come out of the crowd, shoot Oswald, and be led away by the police! We could not believe what was happening in our world. “This is America!”
Schools closed, businesses closed and just like all the reporters have said, a nation grieved.
I was in the first grade. I was on the playground at T.C. Walker School. We were playing on the merry-go-round when our teacher, Miss White hurriedly called us all together and told us we all had to go inside.
We were scurrying and running in response to her request for us to hurry and we went into our classroom. I don’t even remember if she told us that the President of the United States had been shot or if there was some sort of announcement over the PA. The teachers were all upset and some were crying.
We were told that school was closing and we were going home early. The busses were called and we left . . . only to be greeted by our parents who were also crying. I don’t even know how it was that my parents were at home so early in the day.
It think it was the first time I’d seen my dad openly cry . . . and when a little girl sees her daddy cry, it makes her cry too.
I was in the 5th grade, and we were on the playground for recess. There were some guys working on the road next to the playground, and they told us the President had been shot. (They were listening on transistor radios—remember those?)
Our class ran in and told the teacher who let the office know. I remember the teachers talking in hushed voices about it. I also remember that when I got home my mother told me President Kennedy had died—I specifically remember because she was crying, and I don’t think I’d ever seen her cry before.
We watched the funeral on our old black and white TV—I think they closed school so we could watch since there were no TVs in school then. I do remember how somber everyone was even for weeks afterward—even as a kid I noticed that.
Sue S. Lawrence
Exceptional education teacher
I remember vividly, I was at home with my mom ( I was 5 at the time). My mom was watching her soap opera on television as she ironed. I think I was playing with my dolls.
All of a sudden, there was an interruption in the programming. Normally this only happened when there was a civil air patrol test, but this time, it wasn’t a test. These tests were always a little unsettling as this was in the midst of the Cold War.
The news anchor announced that President Kennedy had been shot and that he was being rushed to the hospital. My mom started crying and from then on, we both were glued to the television.
In the ensuing days, I remember watching the funeral. The thing that struck me the most was the children – Caroline and John Jr. and how stoic they appeared during the long procession to the cemetery. I hadn’t witnessed many funerals, but this one was very different.
The president’s unmounted horse was part of the ceremony and the hearse was horse drawn, even though this was no longer the mode of transportation for most Americans.
I remember there was a lot of uncertainty at the time about who was the assassin and why did he do it. Was Russia or Cuba behind all of this. Kennedy’s death broke many American’s hearts. It was a very sad day for America.
Christopher S. Dunn
Administrative aide and social studies teacher
On November 22, 1963, I was in the 5th grade at St. Bridget’s School. The nuns came into the classrooms to tell us that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas. They were crying and we said a prayer for the President.
As a little Irish Catholic kid who also shared the same birthday with Kennedy, the news was devastating. With the election of John Kennedy, it really was true that anyone could grow up to be president, even an Irish Catholic. Now someone had killed him. Why? That bothered me more than anything else. Why? What happens now? What about his family?
As I unloaded groceries for my mom that afternoon (it must have been Friday, grocery day at the Dunn house), a plane flew over headed in the direction of Washington. I just knew it must be Air Force One, carrying my hero back to the White House for the last time. It was a sad and terrible day. Still is, 50 years later.
Jane P. Kelly
I was cleaning out my desk in the 3rd grade when we were told what had happened. Can still remember that picture in my mind.
Came in from church on Sunday and immediately turned on our new HUGE television to hear about what had just happened when Jack Ruby shot Oswald.
Those are visual memories that I haven’t forgotten in 50 years.
Exceptional education teacher
I was in 4th grade in Lewes, Delaware on Nov. 22, 1963, watching an educational TV program, broadcast from Wilmington, Delaware. The program was interrupted by a news bulletin, saying that the President had been shot.
We were the only ones in the school watching TV, so heard the news first – my teacher went to a nearby classroom to let her coworker, a Kennedy supporter, know of the shooting. The TV was left on so we could see further updates – the sound was turned down, but we kept looking up at the TV to see if there were any more reports.
After a while, programming was interrupted again to announce Kennedy’s death – there was a lot of crying heard in the classroom, and from teachers in the hall.
I remember watching the funeral telecast – I don’t remember if there was no school in honor of the funeral. My father was the senior US Navy officer in Delaware as Commanding Officer of the Naval Facility in Lewes, Delaware, and both of my grandfathers were in the Navy – my family takes patriotism seriously, so the President’s funeral was quite a solemn occasion.