JOHNSTOWN — Editor’s note: We asked readers of The Tribune-Democrat to recall what they were doing on Nov. 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Following are their recollections:
Made eye contact during JFK visit
In 1963, I was a skinny kid growing up in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, which was like a city within a city, having its own mom-and-pop stores, restaurants, a pharmacy, funeral homes, numerous churches, social clubs, bars and a transportation system (street car).
Mom’s mom, “Baba,” lived in a grand, 13-room, coal-fired home in the 800 block of Broad Street loaded with aunts and uncles, along with Baba’s mom, “Little Baba.” I lived with my parents and two younger sisters in a modest home behind Baba’s place, facing the railroad tracks, which would quiver at the vibration of every passing train.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy’s campaign motorcade traveled down Broad Street in front of Baba’s elevated porch. I stood precariously atop the wooden railing while someone held my waist to steady me in my front-row seat. I recall a sea of people surrounding us and can hear the cheers and clapping like an orchestra performing a fine symphony. I remember all those miniature American flags waving as if in unison with the clapping and cheering.
Magically, for a brief moment, Kennedy and I made eye contact, a moment in time which seemed to last a millenium. His eyes conveyed a sense of trust, compassion and charisma from a man destined to become the president of the United States of America.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was attending St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic School in Cambria City. Upon hearing the solemn news of Kennedy’s death, the entire school attended church to say prayers. School was let out early that day, maybe for the students to experience their own personal grief.
No more cheers, no more clapping; the symphony has succumbed to the muffled sound of drums dictating the cadence of the funeral procession. I can see his wife, Jackie, solid as a rock, with their children, Caroline and John-John, and the reversed boots nestled in the stirrups of the saddle on a black steed.
We as a nation can only speculate if the tragic event of Nov. 22, 1963, was circumvented how history would have been changed. I for one still firmly believe Kennedy had only began his quest to lead the U.S. to an elevated level of greatness. His human qualities, such as his ability to compromise, negotiate and ultimately stand firm on issues possibly jeopardizing the welfare of our country, would have prevailed.
Thomas M. Inman