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
Marched in inaugural parade
I was a young 22-year-old Marine sitting in our company TV lounge at Quantico, Va., on Nov. 22, 1963, awaiting my discharge from the Marine Corps on Nov. 29, 1963, after serving four years of active duty, when on the noon news with Walter Cronkite came an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
Those early years of the 1960s were good times. I had marched in Kennedy’s inaugural parade in January 1961 and was on standby and ready to deploy during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, during his term in office.
Fifty years – where has the time gone? Things have really changed since that time.
Mom’s prophesy came true
I was a 17-year-old senior in high school on that awful day. I was home from school, legally, because my senior class went to Washington, D.C., and I opted not to go.
My mom worked for the former W.T. Grant Co. As she was leaving for work that morning, she and I observed a neighbor’s large dog just whining and crying as though it was in great pain. I remember my mother saying that that was not a good sign and there was something bad going to happen and I should be careful that day.
In the afternoon, I began to walk to the school to visit with a girlfriend and make weekend plans. When I arrived at the school, to my surprise, the students were being let out. My girlfriend told me of the news that President Kennedy had been killed.
We were in shock and saddened, as most young people were, for our president was young, vibrant and we related to him and his youthfulness.
The senior class was home later that evening, having been evacuated from D.C. almost immediately.
I suppose my mother’s prophecy on that day was correct. Something really bad did happen.
At first, not really concerned
I don’t remember much about November 1963. As an 11-year-old, world events and politics mattered little to me. But Nov. 22, 1963, will be a day I will never forget.
I was a sixth-grader at Roxbury Elementary School. My class had just come in from recess. The teacher came before the class and told us the president had been shot, with no other information available at the time.
Just 10 minutes earlier, we were outside playing ball, but now a somber mood had taken over. I recall not being very upset on my walk home, laughing and talking with friends.
When I got home and walked in the door, there was my mother watching the news coverage. I asked her how the president was. While holding back tears, she said he had died.
I sat down with her and watched the news and realized what a terrible tragedy had occurred. The events of that day and the days that followed plunged the nation into an incredible sorrow.
In some ways, it is hard to believe 50 years have passed since then. Though it has been a lifetime ago, that day in history will be one I will never forget.
John Jr.’s salute sticks in mind
I was only 7 and in second grade at Benscreek Elementary School on Franklin Street when President Kennedy was killed.
It was afternoon recess, and a group of us were playing basketball with the second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lohr, when the principal, Mrs. Wingard, came running out of the building screaming, “The president’s been shot!”
All of us were ushered into the building, where we spent the rest of the afternoon in the basement cafeteria watching the breaking news on big black-and-white TVs.
The next several days were largely spent watching the funeral and talking about what happened. At several points during the newscasts, I remember several of the teachers breaking into tears.
And I have the image of little John Jr. saluting the caisson burned in my brain because I remember thinking what it would be like if that was my daddy.
I remember my parents talking about the things the president had done up to that point and my grandparents becoming more serious than I had ever seen them before. It was the first time I recall my parents and grandparents agreeing about a political matter – namely the horrible loss the assassination brought to the people of this country.
Quiet and somber mood
My recollection of the John F. Kennedy assassination is something that is still a very vivid memory.
I was in ninth grade at Garfield Junior High School listening to my algebra teacher, Mr. Davis, explain an equation when an announcement came over the classroom intercom. Our principal told us that the president may have been shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas, but the details were still uncertain.
Mr. Davis resumed teaching for a few minutes but was interrupted again by another announcement that the radio would be broadcast over the classroom intercom in order that we could hear the reports as they were happening.
We listened intently to the confusion among the reporters who were at the scene at the Parkland Hospital in Dallas as they attempted to get facts on the shooting.
A confirmation was made that the president was seriously wounded. A few minutes passed and then we heard the words “the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, is dead.”
There was silence in the classroom and looks of disbelief among the students. Then girls began to cry and there was a great sense of loss felt among everyone.
We were instructed to return to our homerooms. There was an eerie silence as we quietly walked the halls, which were always filled with noise and loud talking.
Shortly after returning to our rooms, school was dismissed. As I walked home with my friends that Friday afternoon, there was very little conversation, just quietness and somber facial expressions. Even the streets were deserted of people and vehicles, which added to the eeriness of that day.
When I arrived home, my mother was watching the television with my sister. My father came home from work, and we had our supper. Again, there was little conversation as we watched Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as the new president on Air Force One. Jacqueline Kennedy was standing next to him in a blood-splattered dress.
On the airport runway, a hearse carrying Kennedy was being led away by a police escort to take his body back to Washington, D.C.
Each year on Nov. 22, I recall the memories of that mournful day.
Gary G. Kozak
News bulletin was shocking
At that time, we lived in Rockford, Ill. My oldest son, 4 1⁄2, had returned from morning preschool. He was eating lunch and watching cartoons on TV with his two young brothers.
I was sitting at my desk, starting to write my Christmas cards. I will never forget the news bulletin that interrupted the cartoons. As the news continued, with more details and the final announcement that President Kennedy was dead, I sat in total shock.
My sons were too young to understand what had happened. They were upset that the cartoons were over and didn’t know why I was crying.
And I will never forget Walter Cronkite’s face as he tried to continue to describe the scene, and the tears he could not stop.
News was awful to see, hear
I was in the living room of our apartment doing housework. My newborn son, Mike Jr., was sleeping in a crib and I was vacuuming the carpet. The TV set was on, but I had the sound turned off. I was watching the TV because President Kennedy was in Dallas and he was the most popular president ever.
Kennedy was well-liked; people wanted to follow where he was going and wanted to hear what he had to say.
Kennedy and his wife were riding in an open car. They were smiling and waving to all the people on the sidewalks and hanging out the windows. There were thousands.
All at once, the security people were rushing around the car where the president and Jacqueline Kennedy were riding.
I turned off the vacuum cleaner and turned up the sound on the TV. They were saying the president had just been shot.
It was absolutely horrible to see and hear.
People were running and shouting and Kennedy was slumped over toward his wife.
Although 50 years have gone by, that picture is embedded in the minds of many Americans.
Kennedy was a great person, one worth remembering.
Jacqueline M. Gresik
Was in D.C. for funeral
I lived in Washington, D.C., and was in my office at the Army Map Service. A private in the office was calling Walter Reed Hospital for the colonel and was put on hold. The operator came back on the line and told the private to hang up because the president had been shot.
We knew the president was in Dallas. A wife of one of the men in the office worked on Capitol Hill for a Texas congressman. He called her and she said that the president had died.
A few minutes later, our commanding officer announced over the loudspeaker that the president had died and we were dismissed for the day.
On the day of the funeral, I went downtown to watch the caisson with the president’s body as he was taken from the Capitol to Arlington Cemetery for his final resting place.
I still remember that day like it was yesterday and always will.
Numbed by news of J.F.K.’s death
In 1960, I had just moved to the small town of Lockport, N.Y., near Buffalo. One afternoon, I took my 6-month-old son for a walk to check out the neighborhood. I noticed a small crowd of people at the end of the street, so I headed that way.
I saw a very handsome man standing on the street giving a speech.
The sun was shining on his beautiful auburn hair. I soon realized and was amazed that this was John F. Kennedy. He glanced at us a few times, and I took my son’s hand and waved at him. He gave us that beautiful smile. As I was leaving, very excited, I thought, “I just saw the next president.”
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was shopping at Glosser Bros. for a birthday present for my son, as his birthday is Nov. 24. I started hearing the news about the president and I was numb.
I rushed home, turned on the TV and saw reports of President Kennedy getting shot. I was in total shock. It was so hard to believe. The family already had endured so much tragedy, and it didn’t end with J.F.K. They were very strong and never gave up their dreams of making the world a better place.
I had two sons at the time and was pregnant with my third which, of course, I named John.
Was at doctor’s when news broke
I was in Altoona at a doctor’s office when everything got quiet.
They said someone was shot. I thought it was Dr. Stoker because he liked to hunt. My friend, Vera, was shopping, and when she came back, she was crying. We found out it was President Kennedy.
We watched the rest of it on TV. It was so sad. I’m sure everyone liked President Kennedy as much as we did.
I will never forget that day.
Death was topic of conversations
My first time to vote was in 1960, and I voted for John F. Kennedy for president.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was an at-home mom. I was about to put my young son (9 months old) down for a nap when a TV program was interrupted and told of the death of the president.
That bulletin just wiped my mind clean of any other thoughts. Disbelief was the only thought I had.
Shortly after hearing the news, I called the Dorfman & Hoffman sewing factory in Boswell and asked to speak with my mother. When she answered, I told her about the president.
Later that afternoon, I went to her house and the whole conversation was “I can’t believe this; why?” Of course, watching TV and talking was the whole conversation for days.
To this day, it is still unacceptable.
Kathryn (Shippey) Critchfield
Found comfort with family
Nov. 22, 1963, started out like most days. My father went to work at Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s 36-inch mill, and my mother took care of work at home.
I left in the morning, walked several blocks and over the foot bridge connecting two sides of Woodvale to get the Johnstown Traction Co. bus going downtown.
Then I was to catch a connecting bus in town to the 8th Ward to Franklin Street and get off to start the day at Bishop McCort High School.
There were no school buses to take us to school, like today. We paid a few dollars for a roll of bus tokens to use each ride, showing an ID card we also received. It wasn’t like today on yellow school buses, getting picked up and left off at the house for school.
The school day went as usual until after lunch. While we were in our classes, the school’s public address system came on and the office announced we would be getting out of school soon and that a national emergency was happening in Dallas. We were all aware of President Kennedy’s trip to Dallas with the first lady, but it was so shocking to hear that someone had shot at his car in the procession going down the street. (Newspapers later gave all the details, including the time it happened –
12:30 p.m. Dallas time.) It was several hours later here in the east. There were no cellphones or computers in those days.
I knew that my father was coming to the school to drive me home, as he usually did after he came from work.
He and my mother both came to get me, in the 1964 maroon and white Buick Le Sabre coupe that was bought new just a week before. I was so glad to be with them at such a time.
When we arrived at home, we immediately turned on the TV and watched the ongoing coverage as it unfolded like a soap opera.
I didn’t know how bad the president’s injuries were until the news said the whole back of his head was missing when he was rushed to the hospital. They could not save him.
I was shocked at the picture taken on Air Force One in the sky several hours after the shooting, when Lyndon Johnson took the oath to become president. On his right side was his wife, Lady Bird. On his left side was Mrs. Kennedy, who appeared to still be in shock and still in the same outfit she had on in the limo next to her husband.
The reporters then said that she refused to change her suit and hat, which were splattered with her husband’s blood and brains.
In that picture taken on Air Force One, while Johnson was becoming president, reciting the oath of office, Mrs. Kennedy wanted the whole world to see what was done to her and her family. It as torn apart.
The whole scene that day was like a horror movie, unbelievable; especially the video showing Jack Ruby (in a trench coat and hat) shooting Lee Harvey Oswald as he was brought into the Dallas jail, killing him. Was there no security there?
Agnes M. Kazik
Remembers tears of soldiers
I’d like to begin a little ahead of that day, in 1961. A bunch of guys I hung out with decided to join the Army. Four of us – Jon Wilson, Jerry Kondas, Ron Orris and I – joined at the same time on what was called the buddy system and were sent to Germany in August 1961 when Germany started building the Berlin Wall.
Another buddy, Harold Rager, had joined a couple months before us and we met up with him at Fort Knox, Ky. And then Ken Deater joined up after us and was sent to Alaska.
We also met up with Regis Ragan at Fort Jackson, S.C., who joined the same time. He made a career out of the Army and was one of the hostages held by Iran.
When the four of us got to our assigned units, they were already on alert and at their designated area, due to the Berlin crisis. This area was known as the Fulda Gap and was where the Russians were expected to come through with their armor in case of war.
Every time there was any kind of an incident, we were put on alert.
I remember the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. I remember President Kennedy’s speech in 1963 when he visited West Berlin. “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner), he declared.
A lot of things happened during our three-year tour in Germany.
On Nov. 22, 1963, we were again thrown on stand-by alert. When we were finally told that the president had been shot, what I remember the most were tears running down the cheeks of the men in my platoon.
Jon Wilson and I both re-enlisted for three more years in the Army. I was sent to Korea as things were heating up on the demilitarized zone, and later I found out Wilson was sent to Vietnam, where a Viet Cong bullet grazed his back.
All my buddies made it back alive during this so-called “era of violent peace.”
Kenneth G. Buck
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:
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Readers' Forum 3-11 | A standing O for Johnstown Symphony
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I recently became a new homeowner in the city of Johnstown. My family lived in this same house for 26 years. We rented from the same landlords for 251⁄2 years.
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