Remembering JFK: Johnson City Press readers reflect on 50th anniversary of president's death

Sam Watson • Nov 21, 2013 at 9:01 PM

The Johnson City Press asked readers to share their memories of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and its impact on American society. Here are messages from some who responded:

• I remember being pro-Richard Nixon way back during the Presidential campaign as I thought Eisenhower was a good man and a good President. I was a sophomore in Lyndhurst High School in New Jersey at that time and was pretty much up on current events. At least for a kid. But during the Presidential campaign you couldn't help but be swayed by the charisma and intelligence of John Kennedy. He showed the vigor and vitality that was missing in comparison to his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower. John Kennedy was adapt at communications in ways hard to describe as he was very intelligent but to the point on facts and at the same time could also be witty and personable. In his 3 years as President he and Jackie transformed a staunch conservative older government into a hard charging, enlightened government that was called Camelot. When Kennedy was shot in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, they not only ended a life but such a positive progressive feeling this nation has never felt before or since. Every American of that time knew and remembers where they were and what they were doing when word came through that he had been assassinated. I was in Economics Class on that afternoon and like most, was shocked to the bone. Watching TV that week has been replayed over the years but also in my memory. It is hard to believe that 50 years has passed not because of the calendar but because the act of this magnitude will always feel so raw and like yesterday. Many try to say what life in America would have been if Kennedy had lived and I can only say that it would have been BETTER. I know deep down there was no magic in President Kennedy but rather an understanding of what people needed to survive in a cold world and his basic ability to gather facts and deal with problems straight on. I personally feel a major loss to this the greatest American tragedy in at least my lifetime. Years later, I traveled to the Kennedy Library south of Boston and watching the news conferences and TV addresses bring back the grander of his personality, his intelligence and humor. Kennedy was unforgettable. — Steve Stanislowsky, Jonesborough

• I was in the 6th grade at North Side, coming back from lunch with my homeroom class, when a teacher came out of her classroom (Miss Brown) and told our teacher (Miss Sparks) that President Kennedy had been shot. We didn't know yet that he had died. When I got home the TV was on, and it stayed on the whole weekend. I saw Oswald being shot in real time, and I remember so vividly watching the funeral. At that age, I didn't really pay much attention to politics, but I always knew who the president was. In some inarticulate way I realized that weekend that a huge shift had occurred in America. — Susan M. Willis

• I was working my air shift at WJSO Radio when the guy covering news ran into the control room and yelled, "The president's been shot!" I put him on the air with the bulletin. I still remember the song I had been playing: "Last Date" by Floyd Cramer. — Don Dale, Jonesborough

• I was a six year old first grader in Fort Worth, TX. My dad was the news director and on air anchor at KTVT-TV 11 in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market. My memories of that weekend are many of the stories my dad has told in his lectures. The day started for him as the on air host of the Chamber Breakfast JFK spoke at in Ft. Worth. You can see that video on line at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w18UnPjkrwc. The voice you hear, the talent "vamping" while waiting for JFK is my dad. JFK was drying off after shaking hands with the large crowd in the rain. Some of his comments created problems later with the FBI as they wondered why he discussed McKinley's assassination while waiting for JFK (it was because JFK was reaching into the crowd to shake hands). After the shooting, dad was at Parkland Hospital with the media world. Dad was in the garage with his camera truck when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. I remember that report about Oswald being shot, my mom being upset that the world was going crazy and I got in trouble. I said "I'm glad someone killed that man. He killed our President." My mom asked me "who told you that?" (Like I could not have just thought it up myself) I realized my statement was not going over well and told her, "my teacher said it" which was a lie. She left the room and I thought, PHEW, I was out of trouble. Next school day, my dad informs me that he was taking me to school that morning to see the Principal to fire that teacher who said such a terrible thing to me. Oh my gosh! I made that up! But there we went, trotting into the Principal's office with my teacher "crying" because she was being fired for something I told my parents she said. I ran over to her crying I had lied, I was sorry, please don't fire her. I had learned my lesson about lying and never did that again! I don't remember where we were waiting for the President on the parade route, I just know we never saw the President but were rushed back to school. I remember TV all weekend because I could see my dad who was gone the whole time covering the tragedy. He was on the air a lot and all the other programs were not running. At church, in school, in the neighborhood, I remember tremendous sadness. At school, kids were sad because our president was dead. He was our hero in first grade and he was dead. I am going back to Dallas to visit the JFK Museum on this 50th Anniversary. My dad passed away in June 2013 so this is as much a tribute to my dad, Edward E. Herbert, as remembering tragic event 50 years ago. My dad was only 32 but this event changed his career as he would then go to NYC and CBS News. He would speak about this event, always believing to his grave that Oswald was the lone shooter, that Ruby thought he would be a hero for killing Oswald, not some super secret conspiracy. My dad interviewed Ruby more than two dozen times, covered the Ruby trial and poured over all the information form that weekend. I will be thinking about that young man of 32 who faced this historic tragedy 50 years ago as well as the event itself. — Ed Herbert, Johnson City

• I grew up in Lockport, NY, and JFK came to my city when he was campaigning. Classes were canceled for junior high students and above, so that we could see civics in action. I was able to shake the future president’s hand, and he spoke to me, taking a moment to inquire if I planned to go to college. It was 1960 and I was 12 years old. I remember how thrilled I was when this president challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country!”. I was young, idealistic, and felt that I could do anything. I was 15 and in 10th grade Latin class when the school principal announced first that JFK had been shot, and then that he had died. It was as if the world changed overnight. With my family and most of the rest of the country, I watched television as LBJ was sworn is, as Oswald was shot on live tv, as the president’s young family followed the caisson. Over the years I have seen many things, and wondered how that president might have affected world events. Even with all that we now know about President Kennedy, no other leader has made me feel that what I did with my life might matter on the world’s stage. Thank you for allowing me this moment to share my thoughts and memories. — Judy Scott, Johnson City

• I was 14 years old, sitting in a 9th grade algebra class at North Junior High School, Johnson City, TN. The class that day was being taught by a substitute teacher, Mrs. Ross Spears, who's husband was the Mayor of Johnson City. The class was going pretty smooth, when Mrs. Spears, noticed a girl walking in the hallway outside of the class crying and holding a transistor radio. She asked what was wrong?, and the girl said that the President had been shot in Dallas, TX. As you can imagine, the class was disrupted, several boys in the class started cheering and hollering! The rest of us were stunned! a few moments later, a message came over the PA system, from the Principal, stating that due to this event, school was dismissed for the day. It was around 1:30 pm as I remember? We trailed out of the school, not knowing what to do. I had a short walk home, we lived on Unaka Avenue, When I got home, my Dad was home from Eastman and we turned on our television and started watching the news coverage. We watched CBS in our home, so Walter Cronkite was keeping us informed about the tragic event! We watched TV all weekend long! We were watching live coverage on Sunday morning when Oswald was shot. I'll never forget that event either. The first time I had seen slow motion replay of TV coverage. I was not really going to watch all of this coverage, but my Father insisted that I do, he said this is history! So, we did. My feelings on this event. I was amazed at the grace of Mrs. Kennedy, who I found out later, stayed up all night and very carefully organized the funeral events of the President. I strongly believed that the fabric of this nation was torn asunder on that day, and we are still recovering all these years later. We had relatives who lived in the Dallas area, so less than a year later, we visited them, and we all went down to Dealey Plaza and viewed the scene and took some pictures. I was personally affected by this event for many years. I think it was the beginning of the end of my interest in school, etc, and I eventually made it to high school and graduated in 1967 from Science Hill High School, My grades were horrible and I honestly don't know how i graduated. Combined with the pressure of the Vietnam War, i really hated school. I think that was due in some part to this event, after 50 years of reflection. Thank God, I did turn my life around and enlisted in the US Air Force in January of 1969 and served 4 years of active duty. I started taking a few college courses, and then upon my return home, I enrolled in college at ETSU and obtained two college degrees. As far as conspiracy theories of the killing, etc? After looking at many different viewpoints, I honestly feel that Oswald killed President Kennedy with two shots, the last being the fatal one. and then was killed by Jack Ruby! Period! Conspiracies are very hard to keep together. There is no way that this one would have not unraveled by now! A sharp shooting Marine with the best vantage point along the parade route. The country and the world cannot accept that a low life like Oswald could have pulled this off! — Thomas L. Swadley, Bristol

• It was my third birthday. I remember sitting at the counter in the kitchen of my parents house with them cutting my birthday cake for me. I don't remember the exact details, but I do remember seeing flags on TV for what seemed like hours. — James Price

• I had just turned five. Cartoons were interrupted by a news bulletin announcing the death of President Kennedy. Those next few days I stayed glued to the television and remember so well the horror of it all. I don’t know if it was because I was the age of Caroline and related to her or if it was the first dramatic death I experienced, but I can’t watch the funeral even now without bursting in to tears. It left me with some kind of eternal grieve and awe that I can’t explain. That grieve along with the question of how different this county might have been has and will impact Americans until all who can remember have passed. — Julia Williams Kodak, Roan Mountain

• I was in kindergarten and remember the remorse of my parents. My father served in WWII at the same time in the Navy but on a submarine. I remember school was canceled for the whole week of the funeral and sitting in front of the TV watching it with my parents and brother. It was one of the first things that happened in my life that made me look outside of my home and look at my country. Margaret Conduff, Johnson City

• Fort Eustis Va. — Had plans for the weekend (3 Day pass) got canceled. Base was under complete lockdown. Called friend in Maryland informed them I would not be up that weekend. They asked why, I replied President Kenn.... that's as far as I got. Operator cut in and said "Don't say anymore" line went dead. — Fred Sandidge

• I was a Spanish teacher at Beaumont High School in Beaumont, MS, Perry County School System. We were all in the auditorium watching live TV after the president, J.F. Kennedy, was shot and assassinated. Then I watched all the events following this sad event. — Jose A. Zepeda, Jonesborough

• I was teaching at West View Elementary School, Knoxville, TN. Our principal visited each class, where he asked all students to get ready to go straight home and then teachers were to meet in his office. Some parents were at our school to walk our ride each student home. There was much sadness over the following days. Many feared for our country, especially if proof was found that others besides Oswald were involved. Black and white television informed us of this news, along with the print media. Our school system was closed almost six days. — Wayne Brown, Johnson City

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