On Nov. 22, 1963, I was sitting in my eighth-grade classroom at Maple Avenue Elementary school in Newark, N.J. My teacher, a man in his 30s whose name I long ago forgot, did something that I will always remember.
Called out of the room by the pretty kindergarten teacher who we all knew was his girlfriend, he exited to the corridor clearly annoyed by the interruption to his lesson. He returned a minute later a different man. His face drained of color, he sat down behind his desk and began sobbing into his hands. The class, wildly out of control just seconds before when he left the room, fell stunned and silent.
With all eyes glued to weeping teacher, we heard him say these words: "President Kennedy has been assassinated. I don't care who you pray to, but I want everyone to pray right now for our country." And we did.
School was let out early that day and my family joined the rest of the world in front of our black and white TV set. We sat, we watched, we grieved, and we prayed.
One of the common connectors for those of us who were alive 50 years ago is remembering where we were when we learned the news that Kennedy was shot. And on the 50th anniversary of that day, Post 50 asked our friends and readers that question.
Kent Zelas, an Aol copy editor and blogger for Aol Real Estate and Jobs, a fourth grader at the time attended a parochial school where two portraits hung above the blackboard -- those of Pope John the XXIII and America's first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. But Zelas was home from school sick that fateful Friday in 1963.
"I was watching daytime TV with my mother when the bulletins began -- first of shots being fired in at the presidential motorcade, then of Kennedy and [Texas Gov. John] Connally being wounded," Zelas recalls. A tile contractor had stopped by that morning to finish work on the family's newly built house in Decatur, Mich. and "He and my mother expressed some optimism that Kennedy would recover, like the way the President had as a naval officer after being injured in the war." The movie "PT-109" was still playing in theaters and Zelas had seen it as a birthday gift just the month before.
But then a tearful Walter Cronkite came on the TV screen to tell the world that the president was dead and all optimism was crushed.
The TV stayed on all that day in the Zelas home, as it did in every American household. The same news footage of the waving Kennedys and Connallys in the motorcade moments before the tragedy, followed by shaky images of confusion and grief. The nation watched as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in, as Lee Harvey Oswald was captured. And then of course the iconic images of the flag-draped coffin and Jackie in her blood-spattered dress, Zelas remembers.
It was a course-altering event for the world, and for Zelas personally. "After that tragic weekend, I started to read the newspaper for more than the comics and became a regular watcher of the nightly news. And eventually pursued a career in the news business." And every flag-draped coffin he's seen since -- at funerals of uncles, his brother, father, and a small town's dead from Vietnam -- reminds him of John F. Kennedy's. And every announcement that begins "We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin...." is still heart-stopping, he said.
Reader Janine Lamb was walking near the hospital in Peabody, Mass. and stopped into the pharmacy to get her husband a milk shake, she told us on Facebook. The mailman came in and became the town crier bringing the bad news. He told everyone in the store the President was shot. "Everything after that seemed in slow motion," she wrote.
Linda G. Kaplan was a freshman at NYU and was walking into her biology class when she heard the news. "I thought for sure that now we would be attacked by Cuba," she told us on Facebook. "The beginning of the end of innocence for my generation with the many assassinations that followed of so many good men."
Doreen Anderla Rohrer was at home and getting ready for work when she heard the news on the radio. Her reaction was shared by many. "I didn't think [it was] true at first. Everything seemed to stop."
Suzanne Fluhr was a nine-year-old living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico while her father did a sabbatical. "I found out from weeping Mexicans in the town square on my way home from school," she recalls.
Many of us were in school at the time and have a frozen-in-time snapshot in our minds of the moment we learned the president had been shot.
Carol Miletti remembers the nun who came into her classroom and told the students. "Everyone started crying," she said. Irene Blau Bevard was in 6th grade in Fairfield, Nebraska when the announcement was made by "Mr. Weeks, the school superintendent." Cheryl Weisser was in 10th grade biology class and recalls that "my teacher, Mr. Frank Bohall announced it with tears rolling down his face." Shirley Hollis Riley was in the 7th grade in Peru, N.Y. where her father was stationed in the Air Force. "We were loading onto buses when it was announced over the loudspeakers. We watched at home on a black and white TV as Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby." Jim Britt remembers seeing Ruby shoot Oswald on Sunday "just as we got home from church."
Rachel Welbourn Prichard was 15 and in boarding school in England. By her own admission, she was "not very politically aware." But as she joined others sitting around a radio at full attention, she recalls "watching the faces of others and it gradually dawning on me what a terrible thing had happened."
Joyce Halee was talking to a girlfriend during her lunch break from work in NYC. She heard it on the radio while they were talking. "Shortly after, people started gathering in small groups on the street."
For many, like Ellen LeCain, the event was the first time they had seen the adults in their life crumble with emotion. She remembers being sent home from school early, and her parents left work early. "It was almost like a mystery to me!! My parents were so emotional." strong>Christine Boone wrote: "I was in Mr. B's 6th grade class, and the principal called and gave Mr. B the message. He hung up the phone and told us the president had been shot and killed, and school was dismissed. Then he sat down at his desk and began to sob. I sat at my desk, transfixed both by the information that the president was dead and that a man was crying." Kathy McFarland Sciannella was in kindergarten. "All the teachers started crowding around the TV and crying. When I went home, my mother was crying too. All the adults looked shocked and scared. I get it, I felt that way on 9/11."
And of course there was the sense of disbelief. Dianne Townes was in 9th grade waiting in the gym office to talk to teacher. "Over [the] intercom came [the] announcement that he'd been shot. I thought it was a sick joke by someone playing on school system. By [the] time I got to my next class, I walked in [and] everyone was crying and the announcement came over intercom that Kennedy had died. It was real! I screamed and started crying too." Michael Sweig was 5 years old and had been watching "Bozo the Clown" on WGN in Chicago when news of the assassination interrupted the show. He ran to the kitchen to tell his mother that President Kennedy had been shot, but she scolded him for making such a horrid "joke." He adds, "I insisted she come to the TV because it was true."