Sunday, November 19, 2023

November 22, 1963

On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas while riding in a motorcade. The country was plunged into grief and turmoil as people grappled with the reality of the tragedy and the painful loss of the nation's president.  Everyone who was of reasoning age on that date remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard news of the tragedy.  On this, the 60th anniversary of the untimely passing of President Kennedy, we pause to remember him, and that painful day. Margaret Sizemore Clark, Gil Tisnado, and Mike Bragg share memories of that day, and how it impacted them.  
Margaret Sizemore Clark
    For those of us old enough to remember this date, it was one that would forever change our world.
    I was 9 years old on this date.  I went to school just like I did any other day…except it was not to be like any other day.  We were out at recess playing kickball when the bell rang and my teacher, Miss Kerr, came to the playground to get us.  I don’t remember her being upset and I don’t remember how she broke the news to us, but I remember the effect of that news.
    The previous June President Kennedy had come to our town, China Lake, CA and the Naval Ordinance Test Station.  “The Base” as we called it, was home to a laboratory and testing facility for the Navy and was chiefly tasked with developing new weapons.  Their most recent accomplishment, the Sidewinder missile, was a major development, and as Commander-in-Chief, President Kennedy decided to come to the base for a demonstration of the missile’s capabilities.  As you can imagine, the news that the President of the United States was coming to the base was unimaginably exciting!
    The day of the President’s visit his jet, Air Force One, landed on the tarmac at the Naval Air Facility.  Bleachers had been erected to hold the dignitaries and the crowds that planned to attend.  I can remember being part of the throng that had gathered near the laboratory, where my father’s office was located.  It was a sea of people, but the President got out of his limousine and walked along the edges of the crowd shaking hands and nodding and smiling.  After he toured the lab, he exited out the main entrance, directly in front of where my father was standing before a replica of the Sidewinder missile.  It was an incredible day.
    On November 22 of that year, we all heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.  We went home from school to watch the repeat of the tape that recorded the fateful drive through Dealey Plaza; we witnessed the sheer panic and confusion of the onlookers as the shots rang out. We saw Mrs. Kennedy’s reaction to her husband’s injury, and her blood-stained suit.  The network played the scene over and over and every time it ended with Walter Cronkite’s announcement, “President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time”.  Throughout the afternoon we were glued to our TV set, being updated with what was happening in Dallas.  What stands out in my mind was the arrival of the ambulance that carried the President’s body pulling up to Air Force One.  The casket was put on a scissor-like apparatus and lifted to the cargo hold.  That made it real.  There was no mistake.  Death is something kids don’t usually encounter, but there it was in all its horrible reality, and it was scary.  We had just seen the President alive, smiling, shaking some of our hands not six months ago!  How could this have happened?  Mom and Dad watched with us, but no one said anything.  Nothing could make the confusion, shock, and sadness go away.
    The next few days were surreal: we watched as Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.  We watched the funeral and then the funeral procession, hearing drums beat a solitary cadence. The Kennedy family and other dignitaries walked those long blocks to Arlington Cemetery.  The horses’ hooves clip-clopped but the saddle carried no rider, just a pair of boots placed backwards  in the stirrups.  No one said a word. The world changed forever for me that day; Unfortunately, it was just the first of so many things I would have to adjust to and try to make sense of. For my generation, that single event robbed us of our innocence, and opened our eyes to the real world.  It was not the safe world we had lived in just days ago. 
My father watching President Kennedy pass by. 
A couple of men in suits

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Gil Tisnado
Everyone from my generation remembers exactly where he or she was when John Kennedy was shot. I was attending St. Augustine School in San Diego. It was during my ninth grade English class with Father Wasco that it was announced over the loud speaker that the President was shot. We were told to report to the gym for a special Mass. During Mass, the priest indicated that Kennedy had died, and even though it was mid-morning, we were dismissed immediately. We were instructed to go home to pray for him and for our nation.

The bus ride on bustling University Avenue was about six miles. It was a warm fall day and all the bus windows were open. I remember seeing adults on the sidewalks outside storefronts openly crying. I knew it had to be really serious if the adults were crying.

    It just didn’t make any sense to me. After all, JFK was just in San Diego the previous June. As thousands cheered, he rode in an open motorcade from the airport along El Cajon Blvd. to San Diego State to give the commencement address. Since my junior high school was nearby, a school buddy and I walked to San Diego State, snuck in without a ticket, and sat on the ice plant embankment in Aztec Bowl to hear our young president speak. But that was June, and now it was November.

Like many families, we were glued to the TV trying to make sense out of this tragedy. However, at some point, my mom had enough, “That’s it! No more TV. Pack some things. We’re going to Palm Springs.”

    So my mom, my stepdad and I loaded up our car and headed off to Palm Springs. I swam alone endlessly in the motel pool, enjoying my Palm Springs weekend. Although the escape from real-world violence was temporary, since while driving home we heard the news that Jack Ruby had killed JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Once home, we would return to being glued to our small black and white TV, and continue to mourn with the rest of the nation.

Mike Bragg
    I was 10 years old, attending the fourth grade class at Buchanan Street Elementary School, enjoying a Friday lunch hour and playground time. The usual Los Angeles smog had blown away from the Santa Ana “Devil Winds” the night before.
    Sitting at a lunch bench, I thought about the next week’s Thanksgiving feast and yearly family get together as my teacher, Mrs. Hegney ran out of the building and on to the lunch yard. She clasped at a tissue when not dabbling it at her red, tearful eyes.
“The president has been shocked…The president has been shocked!!!I was confused at first, having never seen Mrs. Hegney, or for that matter, any other adult crying..I thought, “What does she mean, the president has been shocked…how could he get SHOCKED?
    I remember other classmates, leaving lunch tables, or running from the playground to gather around Mrs. Hegney to hear what was going on. During that time, our school principal stood at the door to the main hallway, her hands covering her eyes as she shrieked, “SOMEONE SHOT PRESIDENT KENNEDY IN THE HEAD!!!
    Our teacher quickly lead our group of confused or crying 10 year olds back to our classroom, where a school TV on a steel cart flickered in black and white across classroom walls and window blinds…live news coverage switching back and forth between Dallas Texas and New York.

     For most 10-year-old fourth graders as myself, it was difficult comprehend what TV and radio broadcast was reporting.  Arriving home from school a couple of hours later, my brothers and I walked in the door where my mom was closely focused on the screen of our television set, watching Walter Cronkite describe the chaos of Dallas that afternoon.

    Once I felt the safety of being home from school a few hours later, the reality that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated became very real to me. Sixty years later, just as vivid, were the days following the Friday afternoon TV news bulletins and reports from across America and the world. The movie theaters in our neighborhood were unlighted and closed. Los Angeles Top 40 radio stations suspended regular music, and broadcast classical music throughout the weekend.

     On the Sunday morning after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my mom made pancakes as my dad and I watched live coverage of the transfer from jail of Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. With the shock of Friday’s tragedy still blurred but nonetheless fresh, Dad and I watched in real time as the alleged assassin of JFK was, himself, killed by a gunman in Dallas. 
    As with most American families, our Thanksgiving 1963 was a sad and solemn day.

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