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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Where Were You? Part 2

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy one of those historic moments when people always remember where they were when they heard the news.

To mark the event, WestportNow is presenting a series of articles detailing where WestportNow readers were on that fateful Nov. 22, 1963. This is Part 2. See Friday for Part 1.


Diane Goss Farrell

I was in second grade at Burr Farms Elementary School and an announcement came over the intercom.

We were sent home early that day, and I recall there being no school the day the president was buried, which for some reason, I remember as having been a rainy day in Connecticut.

The reactions of my parents obviously had a big impact on the way I remember the events at that time. They were deeply concerned about the Kennedy family and somewhat fearful of threats from our then enemies.

The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald on television by Jack Ruby seemed a surreal event, and yet it was the first time I understood the power and impact of news breaking in front of the public in such an instantaneous fashion.

In the years since the tragedy, I have come to realize that that was the first major news event I experienced as part of a human collective.

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, seemed more familiar each time they occurred, as if repeating the experience of President Kennedy֒s assassination.

Pete Wolgast

In November, 1963 I was working as an economic and financial analyst for Standard Oil Company(New Jersey), since renamed the Exxon Corp., in the RCA Building (now the GE Building) at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, I was in a conference room with about 20 people. At about 1:40 p.m someone entered the room and slipped a note to the chairman of the meeting.  He announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and that no details were known. 

About 30 minutes later the same person entered the room with a second note.  We were then told that President Kennedy had died from the shooting, the company offices were closing down immediately and everyone was to go home. 

The chairman of our meeting said that of course the announcement did not apply to us and our meeting continued.  About 4 p.m. our meeting concluded and I returned to my office and then left.

On the way home, I was most concerned as I still did not have the details of the shooting and who was involved. At home, we learned what had happened in Dallas and followed the events of the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald.

We were watching TV when he was brought into the police station and to our horror shot.  I clearly remember watching the sadness of President Kennedys funeral on a black and white 10-inch TV at our home. 

Everyone in the country was hit by this tragedy. It was a total shock. Events in my mind are so clear about what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, and the following days that it seems like it happened just yesterday.

As we watched the funeral on TV, I was building my daughter a doll house

Lisa S. Rome, M.D.

I was in the fifth grade at the time at Albany Academy for Girls. I remember coming home in the afternoon and being excited about getting ready to go to dance class.

This was a coed dance class where we learned the fox trot and the cha cha. We wore white gloves and had dance cards. If we behaved properly our treat would be the opportunity to dance to “Sugar Shack.”

As I was changing my clothes from my school uniform the phone rang. I learned that dancing school was canceled for that afternoon because President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I remember wondering why President Kennedy being shot in Dallas would affect my dance class in Albany, N.Y.

Today I am serving my fifth term on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in Westport

Tom Feeley

I was an Infantry Platoon Leader, 3rd Infantry Division, drinking with my buddies in the Officers Club near Wurtzburg, Germany.

The Officer of the Day strode into the bar ғcovered. He was therefore packing a loaded .45-caliber Colt automatic (wearing a hat in an officers club, unless armed, is such an etiquette breach that the offender must buy the bar a round).

He pointed at the bartender: “The bar is closed. He turned to us: Red Alert.”

This lieutenant was our drinking buddy, so we thought it was a joke and started laughing.

He looked us dead on: “I’m not kidding—THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT! THIS BAR IS CLOSED! RED ALERT!”

At the motor pool, my four APCs (armored personnel carriers) already had live ammo on board, and we roared into the forest to begin our advance to pre-selected defensive positions near the East German border.

We sweated till dawn awaiting the probable Russian attack; doubtful we could hold, even if we used our (then TOP SECRET) battlefield nuclear weapons. Yeah, we were ready. You were safe.

Jo Fuchs Luscombe

I was living in Libya (part of the oil community) at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination, and, like you (and probably most Americans), I can vividly recall the shock at hearing the news on short wave radio. 

It was early evening and we remained glued to the radio for hours and hours.  I can still close my eyes and remember all the details of the tragedy and the confusion that followed. 

It seemed to me a travesty to be so far away from home.  The sense of loss was enormous.

The entire community attended a funeral mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in downtown Tripoli.  Although Libya is a Moslem nation, at the time many nationalities and religions co-existed. 

The cathedral was packed and large crowds had to content themselves with gathering in silence on the nearby streets.  All were grief stricken and in total disbelief.

For weeks afterwards, the international community found ways to extend sympathy to Americans.  I was very touched by this.

I experienced the same emotions on 9/11.  Once again, I was away from home, visiting in Santa Fe.  Maybe I should never wander far from home

Michael Beecher

I was 7 years old and in the third grade at Bedford Elementary School (located in the building that now houses the Westport Town Hall).

I assume the school administration and teachers had decided not to announce JFK’s assassination so as to not upset the students. 

I didn’t find out about it until I stepped aboard the school bus at about 3 p.m. The bus driver stood up and faced all of us and said, “President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas today. I’d appreciate it if you could all be quiet on the ride home.” 

We were all stunned.  Sure, some of us were too young to understand the full import of this news, but every kid back then knew who Caroline and John John were and we knew they had just lost their father. 

I remember spending that weekend glued to the TV set and witnessing Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder broadcast live on Sunday while I visited my friend, Peter Blau. 

It’s cliche to say that America lost its innocence that day, but I do believe that, on a personal level, I saw the world differently from that day forward.

Alice Shelton

I vividly remember the day. I was five years old. I came home from kindergarten to find my mother in tears.  It was probably the first time Id ever seen her cry.

In 1999, while I was researching the RTMҒs history for our 50th anniversary celebration, I found it comforting to read in the minutes that our RTM had remembered President Kennedy. 

On Jan. 7, 1964, the RTM passed a Resolution of Tribute,” which read:

ӓThe Representative Town Meeting of Westport, Connecticut, herewith pays tribute to the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, 1961-1963.

“It pays its deepest respect to his idealism and courage as exhibited in his efforts for civil rights, for youth programs, for a strong America in a world of peace.

“It deplores his tragic and untimely death and the violence of spirit which caused it.

“It hopes that from this tragedy there will emerge a spirit of devotion to the true principles of our nation:  freedom, justice, and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.

The RTM agreed that a copy of the resolution would be sent to Mrs. Kennedy.

Gordon Joseloff, Editor and Publisher, WestportNow

I was a freshman at Syracuse University and had just completed a class and was walking to the campus radio station where I worked in the news department. As I crossed the campus quad, I saw people gathered around someone who had a radio and several girls crying.

Upon learning the news, I sprinted to the radio station where we suspended all programming, put on funeral music, and began gathering reaction from people at the university and the city.

As a teen journalist the year before, I had attended JFK’s now-famous 45th birthday party at Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to him.

Like many other Americans, I felt inspired by his youthfulness and the promise of his New Frontier. His death was a crushing blow.

But by a quirk of fate, my horror at this attack on one of our leaders later became very personal.

As a reporter for United Press International, I happened to be in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

Two months earlier, I had worked the streets of New York getting reaction for UPI when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

Seven years after that, still working for UPI, in another strange coincidence, I was outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Sept. 22, 1975, when Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford.

Having been a witness to attacks on our leaders from a close vantage point, this 40th anniversary of JFKs death is as painful as ever.

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Posted 11/22/03 at 08:40 AM  Permalink



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