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Reliving JFK: Readers share their memories

The 1963-’64 school year was the last year of our Country School one mile south of our farm in Middletown Township, Jackson County. The best I can recall was that someone’s father came in and whispered something to our teacher, Mrs. Rose Gilmore. At once she started crying and then told us that President Kennedy had been shot. She then dismissed school and asked us to go home. Most of us realized the seriousness of what had happened, but the sight of our beloved teacher crying really compounded the moment!

David F. Lucht

Belmond, Iowa

I was in the USAF at the time and was just returning from a TDY tour with the 523 Tac Fighter Wing to Saudi Arabia. We had left Dhahran several hours earlier on a USAF C 54, the Air Force version of a DC 6 or 7. About midway from Bermuda to McGuire AFB N.J., the Aircraft Commander came back to the passenger cabin, took the microphone off the wall and said, “Men, the President has just been shot in Dallas, TX. I will let you know of any further developments as we receive them.” About 20 minutes or so later, the Pilot returned again to the microphone. I remember looking at him, he had tears streaming down his face. He said, “Men, It is my sad duty to tell you that the President of the United States has just died.” Except for the engines, the plane was absolutely quite.

We landed in New Jersey in time to go to the terminal and watch the President’s body being transferred from Air Force One to the Hearse. It is a day that everyone will remember what they were doing as long as they live.

Pete Byam

formerly of Windom

I was in kindergarten and the teachers brought all classes to the gym to watch the President’s motorcade. The full gym went silent and the teachers shut the TV off and had us go back to class.

Arl Weinrebe


I was sitting on the sofa, knitting. My husband was at work, our five older children were in school, and our 2-year-old was at her grandparents’ place, taking her afternoon nap. They lived in a mobile home on our farm.

My father had his radio on, but I didn’t. He came over to tell me the sad news.

Lula Leverenz


With Latin conjugations, declensions and vocabulary going through my jumbled mind, I concentrated on my test, when a voice over the Worthington High School intercom made an announcement I will never forget. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and was being rushed to a nearby hospital. The voice on the intercom also stated that we would receive further updates when they became available. Suddenly concentrating on the Latin test became nearly impossible.

The seemingly impossible had occurred. I do not remember the test itself, nor do I remember the grade I earned on that test; but I will never forget where I was when I experienced the initial shock of learning that the President of the United States had been shot. Nor will I forget praying that his wounds would not be fatal. Later, however, we heard the all-school announcement that President Kennedy was dead. In history we had discussed and read about other assassinations, and now, on that Friday, the horrible impact of such a devastating event became a current events reality for us.

That evening and for days thereafter the news was filled with stories about the assassination, Lyndon Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony on Air Force One as it sat on the tarmac at the Dallas airport, Walter Cronkite’s emotional yet very restrained announcement of the President’s death, Lee Harvey Oswald’s role in the assassination, and Oswald’s death.

Since the content of television shows was much different from today, the impact of the assassination was much more intense. Many people had difficulty sleeping at night and were uncomfortable in the dark. I remember having recurring nightmares of someone pointing a gun at me from an upper corner of a room in our house. Finishing chores in the barn at night made me uneasy because I envisioned a gun being pointed at me from somewhere outside or elsewhere in the barn. We simply were not accustomed to seeing this type of violence in the media.

The following Sunday we spent the afternoon with friends near Fulda. As we visited, the television was on low volume but our eyes were constantly drawn to the screen and our ears were tuned in to the newscasters’ dialogues. Suddenly we became aware of unusual action on the screen. Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. For a second time in just a few days, our country witnessed even more violence. We were beginning to heal from the shock of the President’s death, when we experienced a second shock.

In the ensuing days we would witness via the media the funeral of President Kennedy, the sorrow of his family and the entire country, John-John’s salute to his father, the unraveling of the assassination plot, and the symbolic picture which had been taken in the Oval Office of an empty rocking chair which had once supported the President’s back which he had seriously injured while saving the lives of others during World War II.

Fittingly, later yet the eternal flame was placed in Arlington Cemetery on the grave of the President whose death left such an impact upon who were living then that they will always remember where they were when they first learned that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had lost his life to an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

Shari Dalin Nelson


Fifty years ago, my husband was a hired hand for a farmer in northwest Iowa. This day (the 22nd) was our wedding anniversary (6 yrs.). I was waiting for him to come in for dinner. I had the radio on 9no TV then9 and heard the news about the time my husband came in. What a SHOCK !! Needless to say our dinner hour was spent ‘glued’ to the radio. I will always remember that event.

Wilma Van Der Linden


I was in sixth grade at Riverside Elementary, Jackson. My class came in from noon recess to find an empty classroom. Our teacher, Mr. Como, was not there. We all sat down in our seats. After some time, our teacher came in and announced that “the President has been shot.” He left the room again. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Mr. Como returned. He looked terrible. He said, “the President is dead.” School was dismissed and we all went home to watch the tragedy on TV. There was no school the day of the funeral. I stayed home and watched it with my parents.

Cathy Buxengard


I was in sixth grade at Central Elementary. I was on the playground at lunchtime and heard he had been shot.

We went to our classroom, my teacher, Mrs. Fern Williams Anderson (my favorite elementary teacher) told us the President had been shot, and we were all sent home. What followed was three days of being very quiet at home with the only noise being that of the TV. I’ll never forget the look on Walter Cronkite’s face when he announced that JFK had died.

Sally Zuehlke


On Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I was working at Otis Radio & Electric Corporation at Hawarden, Iowa. We were all shocked, and as soon as we heard President Kennedy had been shot, we turned all the machines off and said silent prayers. No one worked very much the rest of the day.

Jacoba Nagel


I may very well be one of your youngest contributors to your “Where were you?” story about the day that President Kennedy was killed. I was just 6 years old, in the first grade at Tracy Elementary school in Tracy.

Mrs. McDaniel was my teacher. She was very strict, something that was just right for a little misbehaved farm girl like me, she was tough and I learned early on to respect her. On the day that President Kennedy was killed we were all seated in the classroom learning whatever lesson that was planned for that day. There was a knock at the door. These were the days before ‘intercom’ systems, any communication was done this way so it was not unusual to have an occasional interruption like this.

Mrs. McDaniel went to the door, I remember quiet murmuring. Then she closed the door and went and sat behind her desk. And she was crying. Tough Mrs. McDaniel was crying. The room was silent, not a paper rustled, not a squeak of a chair, not the sound of any movement whatsoever because, even as little children, we could sense there was something terribly wrong. Mrs. McDaniel was crying, for heaven’s sake!

And then she announced to the class that our president, President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated. She quietly explained to a group of young children what that meant and how sad it made her. And not long after that she directed our attention to the window.

You see, right outside of our first grade room stood our flag pole. The sixth grade patrol, who were made up of students who volunteered to raise and lower the flag each morning, act as crossing guards at the beginning and end of school each day and who helped on the playground during recess, were gathered there at the base of that flag pole and we watched as they lowered the flag that day.

I don’t remember the exact conversations after that. I don’t recollect anything else from that day. The next memory of the assassination was watching the funeral procession on television. I don’t know what day of the week it was on, but we didn’t have school that day,

I was just a little girl and now, at 56 years of age, I look back at different moments in my life and I realize that this may very well have been the first moment in my young life that made a difference, a part of what shapes me as person. Mrs. McDaniel is long gone but my memory of her that day and the assassination of JFK will forever be a part of me.

Deb Johnson


Nov. 22, 1963. I was teaching in a different area of Minnesota and had a roomful of seventh-graders. They were already restless by that time of the afternoon. Suddenly the P.A. system interrupted our lessons and the voice of Walter Cronkite came into the classroom. There was no explanation as to why, but I soon realized something very serious was happening. Not long afterward came the words “The President died at” followed by the time.

Seventh-graders seemed a lot “younger” then than they do today. They were as confused as they were upset. Details afterward are hazy. I’m sure school was dismissed as soon as transportation was available, and we didn’t come back for a few days. The country came to a standstill.

Mae Kleven


Having lived through the “Bay of Pigs,” The Cuban Missile Crisis and other frightening episodes in our history, the assassination of JFK was almost too much for a teenage girl of 15 to imagine. I can recall sitting in my ninth grade English class and having the teacher go into the hall — there were other teachers gathering and whispering about something and in just a few minutes the word came over the PA system — our President had been shot and killed. We all just sat in disbelief. Does this mean we will be at war and with who? Will this mean we all go to bomb shelters? What now, what next? Shortly we were dismissed and loaded on to our buses for a silent ride home.

The next week was spent in front of our black and white TVs watching the story unfold and hearing words we had never heard before… “lying in state on the Capitol rotunda” and seeing things we had not seen before and the whole world watched together (something we take for granted now). I remember seeing John-John go up with his mother and salute his father. I remember the riderless horse with the boots facing backwards in the stirrups. I remember the Kennedys walking behind the wagon that carried JFK’S body. The processions and the mourning did not seem real, and years later when I visited in person the “grassy knoll” and the “book depository” with the big white circle on the window where Lee Harvy Oswald had stood, I was still shocked to see that it was a normal street with normal people and life went on. But it was never the same. We saw too much and we hurt too bad.

Cindy Ramert


Like most people, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Kennedy was shot. I was 21 years old and working at Gage Brothers prestressed concrete on West 12th Street in Sioux Falls, S.D. We were building bridge girders for the new I-90 overpasses.

We were tying steel to cables when the “elderly” normally cheerful tool man came stone-faced, walking along the 700-foot forms, telling each worker he came to that the president had been shot dead. At first I didn’t believe it, then it felt like a kick in the stomach.

I had watched the Kennedy and Nixon debate on my used 17-inch portable Zenith TV set. I felt Kennedy was the right man for the right time. We had lost our future and everything seemed to go bad after that.

Marvin Kroontje


I remember like it was yesterday ... the day JFK was shot. I was in 7th grade Spanish class at Le Sueur High School and the school secretary, Marge, popped her head in the door and told my class that our President was shot and killed in Dallas, TX. For the next 3 days, we watched all current events of the assassination and funeral on TV. No school on Monday to watch the funeral event.

Judy Eykyn


Our son was 4 years old. We were in the grove cleaning chickens —was a nice day. The day of Kennedy’s funeral, we installed our septic system. (That lasted until this summer, when we had to replace it with a new environmental one.)

Dwaine Kruse


I remember clearly that on Nov. 22, 1963, a fellow worker and I were remodeling the old Co-Op station offices in Sibley. At the time we heard the news of the president’s death we were installing paneling in the front office. We signed our names along with “I WAS WORKING ON THIS SPOT WHEN J.F.K.WAS SHOT.” The then-manager of the Co-Op brought in a Wall Street Journal from that date, and we stapled it to the wall behind the paneling. That was one of the saddest days in our nation’s history.

Ron Huisinga

Sibley, Iowa

My husband, 1-year-old son and I lived in Minneapolis. My Newcomers Club had planned a dinner/dance for Saturday night, and I was on the board. Friday noon I put our son in the stroller and walked the several blocks to the treasurer’s house to turn in my ticket money.

“Casey Jones” was playing in the background. The TV program was interrupted by the announcement that JFK had been shot.

Following news of JFK’s death, our club president called off the social with the restaurant owner forgiving all expenses. Saturday evening committee members and spouses gathered at the president’s house and shared reactions to the events of the past 31 hours.

Coralee Krueger


One morning in November 1963, my husband, Robert Howard, went to the bazaar in the town of Pegu, Burma (Bago, Myanmar). A number of people came up to him to say that an important leader in Texas had been killed. The messages were in Burmese, and the pronunciation of the name was indistinct, sounding like “Gonady.”

Bob ran home, and we turned on the shortwave radio to hear of President Kennedy’s assassination. We were the only Westerners in Bago (about 60 miles north of Rangoon). Subsequently, friends and strangers alike sought us out to tell what they had heard and to ask if various rumors were true.

We can never forget the kindess and expressions of solace. At our worship service that weekend, many prayers were raised on behalf of us and the people of the United States. Bob was the co-pastor with a Burmese pastor in a Baptist-Methodist church. How we have cherished that memory of our beloved Burma.

Eleanor Smith Howard