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Where you were on 11/22/63

It seems a sacred time, this Friday afternoon 50 years after JFK was slain. It's sent me back to a book long on the shelf, Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy, compiled by United Press International and Amnerican Heritage Magazine. Stuck inside, I found a yellowing copy of The New York Times section The News of the Week in Review for Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963.

"He was a man of peace, who at first hand experienced war," the paper editorialized.

OK, so on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, I was in my fifth-grade classroom at Mary Queen of Heaven School, Brooklyn. A Kennedy-esque young priest -- he looked as if he could have been a Kennedy himself, and he used to require the altar boys to show up after school for a physical fitness routine -- came over from the rectory to break the news. Later, after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, our teacher -- her name was Miss Kennedy -- made a terrible assumption about the suspect. She said, "After all President Kennedy has done for the Negroes ..."

Some days later, the parish had a Mass for the children featuring an empty casket covered with an American flag in the center aisle before the main altar. Everyone was in tears, as if we'd lost a close relative.

And you?

 

 

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7th grade - Most Precious Blood Catholic School, Denver.  Pastor, Fr. Degan, CM, announced the news and we later went to church for a brief prayer service.  At the service, Fr. Degan talked about what had happened and that another friend of his, Vincentian priest, Oscar Huber, CM, had anointed President Kennedy.

Remember that my mother was backing out of the garage two days later when I saw Oswald shot by Ruby on TV and ran out to tell her.  She was on her way to host a tea for the Daughters of Charity who ran our school and they were moving into a new convent on the parish grounds.

Years later, saw Fr. Huber buried at the Vincentian cementery in Perryville, MO where Fr. Huber had been raised and later attended seminary and was ordained.

I was riding home as a 5 year old from the private Ryan Academy in Norfolk, Virginia when the bus driver announced that the President had been shot.  A few of my school mates clapped and cheered, which confused me.  When I arrived home I told my mother what had happened.  I think I was too young to understand her response, but as I would understand when I got older, some folks in the South didn't like President Kennedy's support for civil rights, and they had inculcated that dislike into their young kids.  People forget that some Americans were happy to see the President go.

My home would never be more somber and dark than during those days following the assassination.  My Irish Catholic mother was glued to the tv, mostly in tears, while my Irish Catholic dad did his best to comfort her when home from his duties as a Physician on the Naval base.  When it came time later for my dad to make a decision about whether to remain in Norfolk, my mother said she just couldn't.  With the kids cheering on the assassination, and the neighbors giving my mom grief for doubling her African American maid's wages to $3.00 per day, she had to move on.

 

 

We were very much rapt up into Kennedy at that time. Such style, flair and Catholic to boot. Yet as with most hagiagraphy---unreal. In JFK's case he was born into privilege and milked it. He read words prepared for him. When Jesus died there was no national mourning. No parade. Yet we overlook the regrettable ethics of those celebrated as heroes. Same for MLK.

I was a brand new USAF 2nd Lt with about 100 other men (no women in those days) on a radar site in the middle of NOWHERE, Washington State.  The sirens went off; armed guards raced around like they actually knew what they were doing; the place was locked up and we all expected Russian Badgers to come over the hill any minute and blast us all to smithereens.

We were kept very busy for about a week and then we retreated back into our usual state of boredom, but with ears glued to radios as often as possible.  No tweets, no internet, darned little TV and a dearth  of readable newsprint in the middle of NOWHERE, Washington State.

Bill M: The ethics of memory are a difficult matter.   It is very common for us to weave webs of belief that are highly personalistic, and yet these webs may allow us to function very well in the world.  If we had to accommodate every failure, every limitation, every sin in our own lives, how would we ever advance through a day?   Shall we therefore diminish the value we find in certain stories of our heroes and heroines because not everything that could be known about them accords with the best that we learned from them?

I was a 14-year-old freshman in boarding school, 800 miles from my family and the Middle Western world in which I had been raised.  I heard the news announced by a prominent Senior, a school leader:  “That son-of-a-bitch Kennedy has been shot.”  To me the immediate shock was not the shooting (we did not immediately know that he was dead), but rather the expletive used to describe John Kennedy, who was a hero to my parents.

Mark L.

Bill d - that is very interesting stuff.  I ran across this article about Fr. Huber.

http://thefederalist.com/2013/11/21/hes-dead-right-father-oscar-l-huber-kennedy-assassination-news-leak-controversy/

 

 

Third grade.The principal came on the PA system and told us the president had been shot. I was looking at my teacher, Sister Scholastica, and  saw her face change and her mouth  formed an o and she kept reapeating, oh,oh,oh with her mouth in a perfect round. I was mesmerized, like an autistic child, at her rounded mouth saying "oh".Then,  over the PA ,the principal had the whole school saying the.rosary.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        When we were dismissed for the day, while in the school yard there was alot of commotion but through the commotion I head one classmate say"I'm glad he's dead". I walked home  and when I got home and was in front of my building,I saw my next door neighbor coming back from the  store pushing her grocery cart . She looked so calm and oblivious I thought she must not know so I went up to her and said;" Mrs. Morris;guess what, guess what, they killed the president"! and she calmly replied;"Yes ,I know". I was baffled at her seeming indifference and calmess.[Inside I was thinking-how could you go about business as usual and go to the store like nothing happened after you just heard the president awas killed"?]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    At some point I remember seeing images of Oswald on tv and I remember feeling sorry for him as he was being manhandled by an apparant mob of people.I remember him saying"I'm a patsy"; I did not know what the word means but I felt sorry for him. I also remember [I think, while still in class before being dismissed the radio was on the PA system after we said our rosary].  hearing that Oswald was not given a lawyer.I remember someone-on the radio saying that of course he should NOT get a lawyer in this case- and feeling sorry that there was absolutely no one on earth to defend him. In the next few days I also though of the contrast of Jackie and her children  with Oswald's wife and their children.Their contingent place in history and the contingency for good or bad of their own lives. Again I felt sorry for  them.                                                                                                                                                             Fifty years later, I dont' think about the what's ifs and all the political meaning ,but just how ephemeral everythng is;the pomposity of;earthly power is impotent and powerless before eternity.I remember my father who never watched  tv watching the funeral and telling us that we would remember this all our lives. So now when I think of this event ,I think of him too .What connects us more then our beliefs, politics, etc. is our connection with time/eternity; the fact that we're all just  here . 

Monsignor Bonner H.S., Drexel Hill, PA, sophomore homeroom after lunch. Without previous announcement, a radio broadcast was fed through the PA system, a poor connection at first. The fragments began to coalesce into a horrible revelation. The president was shot. Later, the worse news that he was dead. After classes, at band practice, my only encounter with one who mocked my grief. I remember multiple hands grabbing and holding me back at that moment. My mother and I travelled to Washington by train and stood in line for ten hours to file past the casket. It felt good to be an American back then. People say they do now, but I think they are just saying it.

I was 27, an Air Force radar technician at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage Alaska.  At first I misheard the announcement and thought the President had been "shocked", as in electrocuted.  Having been a reborn catholic for three years at the time, and having voted for him, I was of course stunned and saddened.  Then came the Oswald assassination, on TV yet.  I thought, "What the H******** is going on!"  Some time later, a very conservative magazine had an article entitled "Marx-manship in Dallas".  That's when my political/philosophical education started.  

I've already related my 11/22/63 story on another dotCommonweal blog entry, so I won't bore anyone with repeating it here.

I had never heard the Fr. Huber story before. As fate would have it, NPR's "StoryCorps" segment this morning involved the story of an ambulance driver who happened to be at the hospital with his assistant when Presdient Kennedy was brought in. The driver, his assistant, and Mrs. Kennedy were the only ones present in the ER trauma room when Fr. Huber anointed the president. 

  http://www.npr.org/2013/11/22/246602045/witnessing-history-in-a-dallas-e...

Recently married and moved to NYC for graduate school, I was standing in a Citibank (probably not called that then) to get our weekly funds. There was no announement just a rising set of whispers in the line, "The President has been shot." Peter and I spent the next days listening to the radio and watching television. It seemed incredible that such a killing could occur.

Watching the observances today (Friday) and the inevitable questions about Kennedy's achievements (or not), I was reminded of how the "charisma" question really was seen then. Kennedy had energy and ideas. Everyone forgets how boring and seemingly non-engaged Eisenhower was. He has been rehabilitated as president (probably rightly so) but at the time he was a worn out general who had served two terms that seemed undistinguished. Nixon, his VP, lost because Kennedy beat him in the debates, but also because Eisenhower did not inspire much affection or attachment. History may have changed that along with the assessment of Kennedy as having not done much. But that's not how it seemed at the time. History!! Historians!! Memory!! Who really knows?

 

Stanley K--

Small world.

I know it's significant that Kennedy was the forst Catholic president, and I did like his  'I won't vote as a Catholic' speech and I think it's interesting the connection between him and John Courtney Murray SJ, but when I think of him I mostly think of his wealth, his philandering, and his administration's strange connection to mining in New Guinea (http://www.voanews.com/content/mine-collapses-in-eastern-indonesia/16620...).

I was in 7th grade, we were all eating our sack lunches when Sister came in with the news, tears in her eyes.  12 year old girls can be drama queens, and a few of my classmates proceeded to have raving hysterics.  I watched in awe; envious in a way, but I'm not wired that way, so I just sat in silence. After a few minutes Sister said,  "Enough of that, go out and wash your faces; we'll go down to the chapel and say the rosary."  I just remember the comfort of the prayers said so many times you don't even have to think about them.  School was dismissed early.  I remember arguing with my brothers on the way home about who got to tell Mom the news.  But when we got home she was watching the news on our black and white tv.  My parents were Republicans and far from being Kennedy supporters (on the other hand, my grandmother had been invited to his inaugeral ball, but that's another story). However Mom and Dad were somber, and we watched all the coverage.  As Mom put it, "He was in office by the will of the people, and someone tried to override that with a bullet."

I was working as a roughneck in Cherokee County back in those days—just a worm, really. Dirty job. Dirty as all hell.

 

Anyway, I remember it was Eli, or maybe Ralph—he came tearing down from that little booth where the drillers would sit around drinking coffee, just yelling his head off. Well, you can’t just shut down a rig like it was nothing, and like I said, I was just a worm—so it wasn’t until about a half hour later that I could go and hear what all the fuss was about. So there I was, covered in mud and grease from toe to head, tears cutting through all the muck. We all five of us—me, Ralph, Eli, Lil’ Pete, and Eddy Smiles—just stood there for a while, listening to the radio, not knowing what to say.

 

Then Ralph, or maybe it was Eli—he says, “Well, alright, that rig ain’t gonna run its own damn self!” And we all went back down into the pit.

Abe? Back in the glory days of oil exploration? 1880s? This explains why you're such a wise guy.

Many thanks for the eloquent recollections here.

Walter Cronkite's radio remembrance for the 40th assassination anniversary was aired last night on NPR, and is among the best of these things floating around for the occasion: http://www.npr.org/2013/11/22/246628793/walter-cronkite-on-the-assassination-of-john-f-kennedy

FWIW, my great-grandfather used to tell about the Lincoln assassination. (I never heard this first-hand; he was already in his 90s when I was born, but Dad had heard these stories a lot). Grampa was five at the time Lincoln was shot, but he vividly recalled his mother being terrified that the Civil War would break out again. Her brother had been killed fighting for one of the New York regiments, and she was unconsolable for several days. He remembers special community meetings were held so people could get news, prayer services were held for the safety of the nation, and sending a contingent of community leaders to see the funeral train was briefly discussed, but the nearst stop in Chicago was too far away.

Jim P - interesting but even yesterday Steve Landregan (currently archivist for the Dallas Diocese) who was an assistant administrator at Parkland the day of shooting, recalls setting up a news room and asking police to look at for the catholic priests.  He made the call to Holy Trinity rectory asking for the priests and found out that they were on their way.

He (yesterday both in interviews and in a quoted, published interview today) repeats that the presidential party wanted no announcement until Kennedy was anointed.  He relates that Fr. Huber came out and told some of them that the president was dead and had been anointed.  After that, the news was announced in the emergeny press room at Parkland.

BTW - Landregan is a deacon (1st in Dallas) and led deacon trainings for the diocese for years.  One other note - they cite that the ritual book is in a museum at DePaul University (which is true) but for years all of those museum items were located in Perryville, MO at the college seminary, retirement home, and motherhouse of the Vincentians in the western US.  When the college was closed in 1985, it was decided to relocate the museums, library, etc. to DePaul University.

Personal note - on my way to the Vincentian novitiate in 1969, stopped at Holy Trinity to meet a classmate and Huber's associate, Fr. Stack, gave each of us our first cassocks.

Kennedy, Jacqueline, Robert F Kennedy were sublime. The myth is not a posthumous construct of the widow using the press to monumentalize her husband. I don't remember where I heard of the assassination but I do remember his visit to Ireland earlier that year, from tv and from being in the crowd in Cork but too small to see the great man. He had genuine charism, magnificent presence, deep humanity, humor, wisdom -- something Obama found impossible to imitate during his own Irish trip. To talk of the Kennedys as the idle rich is silly -- they had to "labour to be beautiful" and they kept loudly voicing ideals of justice, freedom, compassion, in a way that never rang hollow.

Camelot lives on in Japan with Caroline Kennedy as US ambassador.

I was in eight-grade at Mt. Calvary Catholic School in Forestville, MD just outside Washington DC.  Sister Norman was called to the door of our classroom by another teacher when Sister Norman let out a gasped, "Oh no, please Lord!"  

Sister immediately turned back into our classroom and began to set up the classroom television that was on a tall movable stand on wheels - we always had to adjust the antenna to get the reception right.  We all began watching Walter Cronkite talk us through the reports filtering out of Parkland Hospital in Dallas.  I remember Sister started to cry and asked that we begin to recite the rosary.

Soon the principal, Sister Gabriel, announced over the "loud speaker" that local government officials were declaring a state of emergency and were asking that students be dismissed from school and return to our homes as soon as possible.  

I remember walking home and I saw police and military vehicles beginning to take up positions at intersections along Pennsylvania Avenue (which extends out into Prince George's County toward to nearby Andrews Air Force Base - the destination of Air Force 1 with the body of John Kennedy).  

As my brother and I walked home, we saw our mother walking toward us.  She had been crying.  She tooks us by the hand and we walked quietly home together.

On the Sunday following when Kennedy's body was brought to the US Capitol to lie-in-state, I was standing with my father and sister at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Constitution Avenue on the steps of the Old Senate Office Building, now called the Russell Office Building.  

We had met a relative at the Office Building who was the top aide to Senator Mike Mansfield and had arranged so we could view the funeral procession along with other Senate staffers.  The funeral cortege had turned off of Pennsylvania Avenue and processed up Constitution before turning right in front of us into the Capitol Plaza.  I'll never forget the muffled drums, the flags fluttering in the breeze, the riderless horse with the boots in the stirrups turned backwards.

Many government officials and dignitaries were ushered pass us to take their places in the Capitol Rotunda.  Although many of these people were familiar to us from television, I don't remember anyone calling out to them or acknowledging them.  The crowd though twenty to fifty people deep from the curb was just silent.  

A man standing near me had an old portable transitor radio which he held next to his ear and announced to the crowd that Oswald had been shot in the Dallas police headquarters.  A confused gasp and reaction spread through the crowd.  Right behind me I remember there was an African American woman with a dress hat on who said that she wished she could have been the one to deliver justice to Oswald.

After the dignitaries had left the Rotunda, the public was then allowed to cue up and climb the tall Capitol steps to walk past President Kennedy's flag drapped casket.  Because we were at the front of the line, I don't recall us waiting in line for that long.  I remember most the honor guard rigidly holding their posts.  The only sounds were people crying and quietly praying.

Dallas, TX - Nov. 24th - Holy Trinity Catholic Church bulletin:

Not every Holy Trinity parishioner is aware of the pivotal role our parish played during the events of November 22, 1963. Recently, Ruth Lang, who celebrates her 90th birthday on November 30th, shared her story with a group of Holy Trinity friends who have been meeting regularly for many years to read about and discuss issues of faith.

On that day in 1963, Ruth was relieved of her receptionist duties in the Holy Trinity parish office to go down to Lemmon Avenue to watch the presidential motorcade. She remembers that the Daughters of Charity, who managed and taught the students at Holy Trinity School, took the schoolchildren out of class and down to Lemmon to see the President and First Lady pass by. In their white “bonnets,” the Daughters would have been very noticeable in the crowd, and Ruth noted that the President seemed to take special notice of them as he drove by. It was only after she returned from watching the motorcade that Ruth learned that the President had been shot, and that Holy Trinity Pastor Father Oscar Huber had gone to Parkland Hospital with Father Thompson to minister to Mrs. Kennedy and the President. The two priests wrote accounts of that day, and they are contained within Holy Trinity’s archives. In his account, Father Huber noted “ . . . the perfect composure maintained by Mrs. Kennedy . . .

I will never forget the blank stare in her eyes and the signs of agony on her face,” as he stopped to offer her words of comfort at the hospital.

Long-time parishioner Becky Corley has a slightly different remembrance of the day – at once joyous and chilling. With her fellow SMU student friends, she also went to Lemmon Avenue to watch the motorcade pass by. A small boy near her was holding a sign saying, “Mr. President, Please Stop and Shake our Hands.” To their great surprise, the President’s limousine did stop, and Becky and her friends shook the hands of President Kennedy, the First Lady and Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the President’s car (and who would later be seriously wounded at Dealey Plaza). The stop was not planned, and the Secret Service car preceding the President’s limousine didn’t realize that it had left the President’s car behind, and had to quickly back up for quite a distance to rejoin the motorcade. Becky and her friends were so excited by their encounter that they attempted to catch up with the motorcade in downtown Dallas, only to hear that shots had been fired at the President’s motorcade. They actually beat the motorcade to Parkland Hospital, learned of the President’s death, and Becky went to Holy Trinity Church to seek comfort. By the time she arrived, the church was already completely full with Dallasites joining together in grief and prayer.

http://content.seekandfind.com/bulletins/05/0477/20131124B.pdf

From Fr. Huber's written notes of the visit to Parkland Hospital: