At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, a sniper shot and killed John F. Kennedy as he and his wife Jacqueline traveled in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.
Investigators later determined that shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald, who was shot and killed by another man before he could stand trial.
Kennedy, one of America’s most admired and charismatic presidents, was known for his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his Cold War speech in Berlin.
Brookings residents often recall exactly where they were and what they heard, saw and felt as the news of JFK’s assassination came from radios, black and white TVs or were announced in schools and workplaces.
Here are some of their stories:
William F. Farrell
Capt. USMC (resigned) Brookings
It was early morning in port aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier CVA-41 in Honolulu. I was the executive officer of the Marine Detachment and standing duty for the first time as Officer of the Deck in Port. The message came from the Combat Information Center (CIC) that President Kennedy had been shot and that we were to go to a certain numbered defense condition (DEFCON).
I immediately flashed back two years prior as a senior NROTC student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, when I had stood honor guard for Kennedy when he spoke at Kenan Stadium.
As I absorbed the communication from CIC, my duty was to notify the Navy Captain skipper for him to set the DEFCON. I woke him in his cabin and remember his comment that, “This report was not funny, Lieutenant!”
The rest of the day was very somber for me as I remembered Kennedy as a very charismatic person. Little did I know then that our beginning involvement in South Vietnam would lead me to two tours and the effect it would have on me forever.
Kai Overbeck, Brookings
I was a 20-year-old college junior, attending San Jose State College. I lived in an apartment/house close to school and the buildings were old, vintage. The rooms were not connected with a solid wall, so if one were interested in eavesdropping they could hear into the next apartment.I was preparing to leave my apartment when I heard the neighbor shout to his girlfriend that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. I was the society editor on the Spartan Daily, the college newspaper, and I ran to the newsroom. The building was filled with weeping young reporters. It was my job to write the story for the next day’s newspaper. I titled it: “And Flags Hung at Half Mast.”
It was a sobering moment. President Kennedy was the first and last president I was enamored with.
Here are some of my memories of the JFK assassination and aftermath:
At the time I was working as a menswear catalog copywriter for Montgomery Ward, with offices then located near Penn Station/Madison Square Garden in New York City.
I first heard the news that Friday afternoon from one of the other writers in our office. The shock for everybody was simply incredible. One colleague groaned, “This means LBJ is now President. We’re in big trouble.” On the commute home, the sadness was palpable and clearly visible on the faces of everyone you passed.
That night, my wife Diana and I, who were dating at the time, canceled our plans to go out. The feeling of sadness colored everything. And it seemed disrespectful to spend the evening out having a good time.
Feelings of shock, sadness and depression, in fact, continued all through that weekend. Most of us stayed glued to our TV sets. It was shock again when I watched live as Oswald was shot while being walked through the Dallas police station basement — more shock and feelings that things were completely out of control.
That Monday was declared a national day of mourning, and like many others, I opted to stay home and watch the ceremonies on TV.
Some iconic images from those sad days remain with me — Bobby and Ted Kennedy following on foot as the horse-drawn caisson carried JFK’s body to the Capitol to the cadence of sorrowful drumbeat; Jackie Kennedy grasping the flag on JFK’s flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda; little John Kennedy Jr. saluting as the military honor guard marched past; and everyone there and at home with tears in their eyes.
Nothing was ever the same after that. Gone was the optimism and faith that the future ahead would be bright. Suddenly, it really was the 1960s.
Location: East Main Street next to the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisc. Date: Nov. 22, 1963 Time: 12:30 p.m. Central Time
Situation: I was a sophomore at Sun Prairie High School in Sun Prairie, Wisc. I had just finished lunch and arrived early to the music room to warm up for playing my trumpet in the 1 p.m. High School Jazz Band practice. Most of the band members were in the room and everyone was talking or playing their instruments.
A public announcement was suddenly made by the principal at 12:30 p.m. I will never forget the loud noise in the room suddenly going silent and what he said and the way he said it. He was a former Marine Sergeant with a deep bass voice, but he sounded like a tenor as he stated in a slow, broken, squeaky way: “Ladies and gentlemen, our President John F. Kennedy was just assassinated.”
The phrase “you could hear a pin drop” suddenly became a reality. Everyone in the room simply froze in time. No one moved. No one blinked. No one cried. We just simply sat there all feeling very sick, both physically and emotionally.
A second announcement brought us to reality when the principal loudly announced in his deep Marine Sergeant voice: “School has been canceled. I want you all to go home right now!!”
My eyes were filled with tears. The silence was quickly replaced with a couple of the students gagging, while others were screaming hysterically.
I remember getting up from my seat and walking out of the room. Everything was in slow-motion; my legs felt like I was dragging a 50-pound anchor, and the silence was deafening.
The walk home was really weird. Cars, trucks, buses and a farm tractor just sat idling in the middle of the Main Street, dead in the water. The drivers looked like they were frozen until a policeman loudly announced on his squad car’s PA “O.K. People let’s get moving.” I would guess they had sat motionless for 30 minutes or more.
When I got home, I found my mother silently sitting in her favorite chair looking at the television with a fixed gaze. Her eyes were filled with tears and she seemed to hardly notice my hug. I quietly sat next to her and never said a word.
We both almost jumped out of our skin when the phone rang. It was my dad and he was crying like a baby.
Later, my mother and father told me that it was just like the day when they heard the announcement on the radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. I will never forget how my family, our church and our community came together with every other citizen of the United States of America.
For a short moment in time, we all shared a singular focus of surviving this horrific moment in history, which will never be forgotten.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a carefree pre-teen enjoying the adventure of living as a military dependent in the beautiful city of Chalons-Sur-Marne, France, less than two hours from Paris.
“City Americain” was a housing area comprised of duplexes for military personnel and their dependents not far from the Vatry Air Base where my dad was stationed. My parents were avid news devotees and, because we had no TV and no telephones, we listened to Armed Forces radio stations, shortwave and HAM transmissions passionately.
Late in the evening on Nov. 22, I recall listening to the radio with my parents when news of our President’s assassination was broadcast to France. My father grabbed a flashlight, jackets for himself and me, and we raced off on foot, hand-in-hand through that dark night to wake our compatriots and tell our friends and neighbors of this terrible tragedy. Like a tidal wave, we ran to each duplex in the housing area, knocked on every door and left in our wake, shock, disbelief and grief.
Burned indelibly in my memory are the horrified faces of those men and their families we woke that night — people whose mission it was to serve our Commander in Chief proudly, honorably and at all costs.
I will also never forget the subsequent memorial tribute to President John F. Kennedy at Vatry Air Base. Hundreds of dedicated soldiers, standing at full attention with tears streaming down otherwise expressionless faces.
In the weeks that followed, our devastated parents no longer allowed my sister Denise and I to go downtown and we were discouraged from mingling with our French friends. Day trips to centuries-old cathedrals stopped, as did jaunts to museums and battlefields. An altogether somber mood prevailed. Even at that age, I realized how much impact one horrific, powerful moment had on our world, which was changed forever.
I was 23 years old when President Kennedy was shot and killed on Nov. 22, 1963. Being in the President’s hometown of Boston when he died is something I’ll never forget. He was more special than most because he was young and he was OUR president.
My husband, our two children and I were living in the Charles River Apartments; my husband was working on the completion of the four-story complex. The basement area had been converted into a coffee shop where the workers and tenants could drop in any time.
On that fateful day, we were in the coffee shop sitting with another couple when news reports broke in that shots had been fired at the President’s motorcade in Dallas. As we watched the TV, we were in shock when Walter Cronkite came on and announced the President was dead.
I was stunned and couldn’t move watching Walter Cronkite all choked up with emotion. People all around me started crying and jumping out of their seats in disbelief of what they had seen and heard. I was crying and the rest of the afternoon I don’t really remember much, other than just sitting there stunned.
Later that day, I heard reports on the news about the many memorial flowers that the people of Boston had been leaving at the President’s Brookline home.
I still feel a great sense of loss and sadness remembering that day so long ago.
Arvid D. Payne Brookings
I was in San Diego, Calif, in boot camp. I had just turned 17.
We were out on the parade grounds, “perfecting” our marching skills. A runner came up to our company and informed us that the President had been shot.
We double-timed it back to the barracks where we gathered around our one and only radio. All the announcer could say was, “The President has been shot! The President has been killed!” Over and over.
Very devastating. Like, something like this happens in other countries. Not here! Not our President!
I was coming out of an economics class at the University of Washington, and spent the next three or four days completely glued to the TV. It was a very emotional time and a little scary. The Cold War was very real then. I remember the day like it was yesterday.
I was a third-grader at Washington Grade School in Medford on Nov. 22, 1963. My teacher was Mrs. Rector. The telephone in the classroom rang, and our teacher went over to answer it. Afterwards, she stood in front of our class and, looking white as a ghost, said “President Kennedy has just been shot.” The kids in the room talked amongst themselves, wondering how it had happened. I sat silently, and stared out the third floor windows at the gray sky, somehow knowing the world would never be the same again.
I was in the eighth grade standing in front of the class giving a report. The assignment was to retrieve a news article from the local paper and give a report and comment on the news in front of the class on that article. Naturally there was great competition for front page news, so I had taken an article found on the back page of the main section of newspaper. It was small and non-descript. The article told how President Kennedy was traveling to Dallas the next day.
My comments were that President Kennedy should spend more time in Washington D.C. and not be traveling all over as he was not attending to the nation’s business.
I had just completed my report on President Kennedy’s ill-advised travels when the vice principal burst into the room with a radio and the news and we listened to the events of his shooting; he was not pronounced dead for some time.
School was let out early and the nation was shaken to the bone. I often think of the coincidence of my report and it still stands the hair up on my neck when I think of it. For the younger generation it was comparable to Sept. 11th in our world back in the early ’60s.
Mararete Lisa Flatebo
I was in Berlin when the news of Kennedy’s assassination hit Germany. Just that last June at Pres. Kennedy’s visit to that city, I was among the many Berlin citizens listening to his speech at the Schoeneberg Courthouse when he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I was waiting for my final papers to immigrate to America, and I thought, my passage to the ‘New Land’ was for ever cancelled. ...
I was in my sixth-grade class when the teacher from the next room came in and said JFK had been shot. Total shock; everyone in tears. I remember his funeral on TV and the horse-drawn hearse. So sad to lose such a great man.
On that terrible dark day in 1963, I was busy at my reservations desk in the offices of National Airlines in New Orleans, LA. Just a normal day, never imagining the tragedy that was about to overwhelm us all.
I was on the long-line with Delta Airlines in Dallas,Texas, receiving the through-counts for the flights we were working.
In the midst of the information I was receiving, there was a prolonged silence, then a gasp followed by a sob. Of course, I asked what was wrong, fearing a crash — or worse, a bombing — both of which we had previously experienced.
The agent said President Kennedy had been shot during his motorcade in downtown Dallas. No one knew if he was alive or dead.
I immediately advised the on-duty-shift-supervisor. After alerting management, he made the sad announcement to all departments. Of course, everyone was devastated, but praying for news that our hero, the man who protected us during the Cuban missile crisis, would recover.
Phones were ringing off the hook. No matter how we felt, the job had to be done. And, as always, in spite of everything, we did it.
As everyone, the days that followed were the most heart-rending and darkest that I could remember. I prayed that we would never see such again. But, of course, we did: horrifically, Robert and Martin came not much later.
I was a merchant seaman on the freighter Overseas Rebecca. We had come from Europe and docked in New Orleans the night before he was killed.
We went to Avis (the next day) so I could deliver a car to Ft. Worth. On the way to Ft. Worth, we stopped at a restaurant in Dallas across from the Depository. We sat there, we’re eating and some of those Texas good ol’ boys come in, saying, “Now we gotta get his (expletive)-loving brother.” I told my friend, “Let’s get out of here before we get in trouble.”
We got up, got in the car and drove to Fort Worth, and start stopping at car lots to see if we could get a car to continue farther on. At about the third one, we’re talking with the dealer and someone on a PA system says, “You in there! Come out with your hands up!”
We go to the door and there’s all these state police, Ft. Worth police, Dallas police, all with their guns out. My friend was in the cop car, a bunch of cops with their guns pointed right at him. One guy says to me, “Boy, keep your hands up!” I said, “I don’t have a gun, I don’t have any weapons!”
I got my driver’s license and the Avis card out. The girl who’d made up the card typed in a four-door sedan instead of a station wagon. The cop said, “All right; you boys get outta here and don’t you ever come back again.”
We found out later we fit the description of the two dark-headed 6-footers that shot Officer J.D. Tippet in front of the downtown theater in Dallas. We were very upset over the whole thing. All I wanted to do was get out. Everything went wrong.
Sharon Kay Allen
In Dayton Ohio, I was a carhop and people just left without their orders. It was very sad time.
Carol Dunn Arlandson
In school !! Horrified !!!
Chico Senior High. We came back from lunch and the teacher said, “Go home; our president has been shot and has died.” So walking home I pondered where our world would go. It was a scary time. I was in my senior year.
Fifth-grade elementary school. A kid walked into the class and made the announcement. The teacher was shocked.
I was managing a meat department. I couldn’t believe it!
Clarice Neff Sutter
I was at school. I remember the sadness that swept through the nation.
Sandra Cole Ware Parson
Headed out the door to take pumped breast milk to my third newborn at the local hospital! Hard to believe he soon turns 50!
I was 3 years old and living in Tripoli, Libya so I don’t remember it. When the TV broke in for a special report, apparently the first thing my father said was “The President has been killed.”
Susan Figueiredo Reaves
I was in 3rd grade. They pulled us in off of the playground where I’d been playing tetherball and told us.