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Area residents share memories of Kennedy assassination

POSTED: November 18, 2013 8:46 p.m.

Area residents recall their reaction at news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

Lin Arnold, Gainesville

I have a rather unique memory of where I was when I heard the news. I was 10 years old, so I remember it well. My dad was career Army and had been working with the White House Communications Agency for as long as I could remember. In November 1963, we were stationed in Paris, France, and my dad was in charge of the switchboards at the Paris Blockhouse that channeled all White House Communications throughout Europe.

Paris is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so it was evening for us.

My entire family was standing in line to go to a movie on the Army post. As we stood there, the rumor started going up and down the line that JFK had been shot. Of course, the predominant reaction was, “Oh, that just can’t be true.”

Finally the lady standing in line directly in front of us turned to my dad and asked if he would save her place in line.

She said, “My husband is working in the AP newsroom right now. I’m going to go in the theater and call him. I’ll find out if this is true.”

A few minutes later, she came out of the theater in tears.

That line of people, waiting to go see a movie, went absolutely silent. The entire world seemed to be silent.

When we were all in the theater, before the movie started, the managers went to the front of the screen and updated us on all the details.

That’s a VERY vivid memory for me.

... My family had to leave immediately. Dad had to go back to the blockhouse and since we were a 1 car family, he had to take us home before he could head for downtown Paris. THAT was probably the most devastating part for this 10 year old. We didn’t get to see the movie!

John Whalen, Gainesville

I was getting married in December 1963 and had an appointment to pick up my wife and two wedding rings in Boston. Arriving at the jewelry display case, on the back wall were a dozen different brands of television sets, all running one of the three available broadcast networks at that time in black and white.

Just as I was handed my rings, these multiple TVs staring at me, announced in concert that our president had died from gunshot wounds.

It was a shocking and unforgettable moment for me. By the way, our 50th anniversary is (in) December.

Carol A. Woosley, Hoschton

I was in ancient history class in ninth grade at Central Junior High School in Anchorage, Alaska.

It was relatively early in the day, as ancient history was my second period class.

Someone knocked on the classroom door. The teacher went to the door — there were whispers. She stepped out into the hall and closed the door. This was an unusual event, as classes were rarely interrupted.

She was out in the hall for several minutes. When she came back in, she was crying. Then she stood at the front of the classroom and told us that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

After her announcement there was a collective gasp. It was followed by a moment of stunned silence, and then of course a multitude of questions. Some of the students were crying. Some minutes later, the principal came on the speaker system and made an announcement.

After class I went to the pay phone and called my mom to see if she had heard the news. She had. That in itself was surprising. She must have had a radio on, because Anchorage was four or five hours behind Dallas, and we didn’t get the television news directly. It was taped and flown in each day for the evening newscast. Much of the time, the news was eight or more hours old.

My memory of the remainder of that day is one of a subdued student body.

The halls were quiet with the exception of the clatter of lockers being opened and closed.

When I got home from school we sat in front of our 19-inch black-and-white television, mesmerized by the sight of the motorcade and Jackie Kennedy bent over her husband. A special flight had arrived at Elmendorf AFB with early news reels of the events. We were glued to our transistor radios for days following.

To this day, I can remember how I felt. It was like I had been hit in the chest.

The outrage that followed later can still be conjured up. I wonder now, after all these years, how much of the truth we told about Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby and the events that unfolded after the assassination.

Tommy Harris, Charleston, S.C., Gainesville High School Class of 1966

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was sitting in Mr. Perry’s algebra class when the announcement came over the PA system that the president had been shot. The PA system was then connected to the local radio station for constant coverage for the rest of the day.

During the next period, which was the last period of the day, I was in band when the news came that the president was dead. There was absolute shock, and some tears, as the news sunk in with students and faculty.

I was also a Times carrier in the Green Street area, and there was a special edition for delivery that afternoon. (I still have a copy) For four days, everybody was glued to the television.

Edna Gilstrap

I remember all the news about President Kennedy. I was living in Anaheim, Calif.

I was at work when the news came over. I told my supervisor. She had gone to church a few times with the president, and she went all to pieces.

We were off from work a few days. Then the company I worked for sent me to Gainesville to work at the plant here.

That was 46 years ago, but I still remember what a great president he was. I remember what a good write-up you had in the paper.

Ginny Enzor, Gainesville

I was working in Atlanta for Worthington Corp. and I was relieving on the switchboard for the regular operator to go to lunch. All of a sudden every light on the switchboard lit up because so many people were calling in to tell family members or friends that worked there what had happened!

One of them was my husband calling me!

Harold T. Murphy, Gainesville

I wanted to let you know what I thought of President John F. Kennedy. I think he was the greatest presidents we’ve had in my lifetime.

On the day that he was killed I was working at Southern Hatchery on Bradford Street, owned by the late Jack Short.

I was busy traying eggs and a neighbor’s girl came in and told me that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.

I don’t remember seeing anyone that was not crying the next few days. It was a sad time in our country.

We lost a World War II hero and a very smart man. I heard that he read seven newspapers a day. He was the reason that so many people took up speed reading. He took us into the space program.

I remembered him saying we must always have “a strong defense” and “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

It is so sad that these two things are what we as a nation have turned our back on. I just don’t know what this country is coming to.

Clifford Boling, Gillsville

I was in the sixth grade at Riverbend Elementary Nov. 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated.

I remember my school teacher Mrs. Emily Heath, a big lady with a big heart, a heart of gold. She always sang a song to us students practically every morning that went like this: When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark, with tears in her eyes.

I could never forget that lady until the day I die.

She came into the room sobbing and crying, telling us all that our president had been killed.

I to this day still have been told by my neighbors and older friends that the one that was accused was framed — that they had to blame it on someone that had him killed, that is nigh well possible. Where there’s big money they can keep a lot of things hidden in the closet.

Edmund “Ed” A. Waller, Gainesville

The morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Ed Stubbs, who was the manager of the local J.C. Penney store, invited me to play golf with him, Washy Wallis and A.C. Smith.

We teed off about 1:15 p.m., which would have been just before the time Kennedy was shot. When we finished playing number nine we noticed that the foursome which had been playing in front of us had gone into the clubhouse, and we decided to go straight to the 10th tee to save some time since nobody was playing number 10. After playing a couple of holes, we noticed that there didn’t seem to be anybody else on the golf course. We had nobody pushing us and nobody in front holding us up. It was like we had the whole golf course to ourselves.

We finished our round of golf about 5:30 and found that the clubhouse was already closed and locked, which was very unusual. About that time one of the greenskeepers at the golf shop came up and seemed surprised that we had been playing golf. His first remarks were “you haven’t heard the news?” He then told us that Kennedy had been assassinated. We all talked for a few minutes and then left.

As soon as I got into my car I turned the radio on and the first thing I heard was “the shots came from a grassy knoll next to the roadway.” All the way home the talk was about the shots being from the grassy knoll and there was no mention of Oswald or the Texas Book Depository. There were a couple of interviews with people describing the shots being fired from the knoll. Because of this radio broadcast, I have never believed that Oswald acted alone.

While I was playing golf, my wife, Anne, and her mother, Mrs. Lewis Emmert, were shopping at J.B. Mundy’s Antiques on Thompson Bridge Road where the First Methodist Church is now located. They finished their shopping and started back home. It seemed strange to them that most of the cars they passed had their lights on since it was midafternoon and clear.

When they arrived at our house, the telephone was ringing and a friend of Anne’s told her the horrible news about President Kennedy being shot. Anne then turned the TV on and they watched it the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t have cellphones in those days so Anne couldn’t contact me with the news.


Bruce King, Gainesville

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was in the fifth grade in Boynton Beach, Fla. An announcement came over the PA system that the president had been shot.

We did not have TVs in the classroom, so many teachers had on their radios. I saw many teachers in tears. We were then told school was canceled and (we) were to go right home.

It is then I saw Walter Cronkite on the news break down and say that the president was dead. I remember feeling very angry. That night was strange — there were no cars or people on the streets.

Two days later I watched Lee Harvey Oswald get murdered on live TV. Days I shall never forget!

Dora Sumner, Cleveland

I am 64 and I was in ninth-grade algebra. We didn’t have an intercom at Walter F. George High in southwest Atlanta, so a boy stuck his head in the door and said “President Kennedy has been assassinated.”

Not a breath was taken.

Very quietly school was dismissed and we all left very quietly to go home. It was the quietest I’ve ever heard a bunch of students.

My husband was across town at Forest Park High and he was in woodshop class.

Cathy Vining, Gainesville

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a student in Mrs. Tinkler’s sixth-grade class in Cliffside, N.C.

The principal, Mr. Beatty, came on the intercom to announce that our president had been assassinated.

Rodger Wilson, Clarkesville

I was in high school walking to class. A lot of students were crying. It was confusing times. We all were glued to the television that night with Walter Cronkite.

W. A. (Cap) Van Valkenburgh, Gainesville

In November of 1963 my wife Louise and I and our two little girls lived in Beaumont, Texas. 

I had just begun working for IBM and was attending computer schools. I had been sent to Los Angeles for a six-week large computer school and I brought Louise and the girls with me. We located in an apartment nearby in Hollywood. My school was on Wilshire Boulevard in downtown LA. 

On that fateful day I was returning to school with friends when suddenly people were screaming that the president had been shot. 

The next day we read in the paper and heard on the radio that there was deep animosity in LA toward Texans and several cars had already been attacked — and we had Texas license plates. 

You can imagine that we used our car as little as possible until we returned home. Fortunately no trouble!

Tom Miller, Braselton

Nov. 22, 1963, appeared to be another routine Friday at Eastanollee Elementary School in Eastanollee, Ga., in Stephens County. 

Our seventh-grade class was at recess playing touch football in the school yard when our Principal J.D. Durden directed that all students return to class. 

On entering the classroom, Mr. Durden told us that President Kennedy had been shot in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Shortly thereafter, the news came that the president had died. 

All students were in an unbelievable state of shock and disbelief over the news of the president’s death. 

Friday evening and the remainder of the weekend and the days following, America was in a major state of mourning. 

John F. Kennedy was not just any president, but one that had charisma, charm and instilled a strong sense of pride in being an American. As a 12 year old boy, I still had a lot of growing up to do and lacked understanding about a lot of things. However, it didn’t seem possible that anyone would kill the president of the United States. I guess it just spoke to the innocence that many of us lived and believed at that time in history. 

The president’s death has never faded from my memory. I often wonder how much different America and the world would have been had he lived. 

The quotes from his speeches are legendary. His presidency gave us so much optimism, hope and promise as a nation. 

Judy Byers, Gainesville

I was a court reporter at the Hall County Courthouse on Nov. 22, 1963. Just before Clerk of Court H. Grady Watson came up the steps to tell us the president had been shot, the largest verdict in the history of the City Court of Hall County had been rendered.

The defendant’s lawyer in that case was stunned; he told me later his wife had called and said, “Isn’t it awful?,” meaning the shooting, and he said, “Yes!,” meaning the verdict — he hadn’t yet heard the news.

I was horrified and stayed glued to the TV set for the next few days. I had laid away a Jackie Kennedy doll as a Christmas gift for my younger sister.

Meanwhile, my now late grandmother who was wedded to her daily soap operas was getting angry at having to miss them due to continuing coverage of the assassination. She had no interest in politics and told me she “wished they’d shoot all of them.”

Bill Wilson, Gainesville

My mom kept me out of school that Friday, which was also my sister’s 17th birthday, to help her deliver her Atlanta Journal newspaper motor route in Roswell and Alpharetta because my grandmother who usually helped was babysitting three of my cousins whose mother had given birth to their baby sister the day before. 

I remember we waited a lot longer than usual for the delivery truck to come at Charlie Bottoms’ store in Roswell. When finally (his) wife came out of the store and told (us) the president had been shot in Dallas and asked if we would like to come inside to hear the radio reports. 

A few minutes after we went inside, we heard the bulletin that President Kennedy had died. This was deeply shocking to everyone. 

I was two weeks shy of my 12th birthday. A lot of people might not remember now what a hero JFK was to a lot of the young people, being a decorated war hero and the youngest president in the 20th century. 

The newspaper truck came about two hours late because they held up the presses to get the full story in the home delivery edition. They sent us two extra bundles of newspapers to sell, and we really needed them as people hailed us down in the car to buy them at 5 cents each. And we placed extra copies in the racks at the stores we sold them at. 

As we delivered newspapers that afternoon, we heard the unfolding news about the search for the killer and Officer Tippets of the Dallas Police being shot and killed outside the movie theater and the capture of his killer who indeed turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald, who had shot and killed President Kennedy. 

When we finally got home about 6:30 p.m., they were just taking the president’s coffin off of Air Force One in Washington, D.C. 

I’ll never forget the blood stains on the pink dress Mrs. Kennedy wore. 

I remember the new President Lyndon B. Johnson saying a few words to the public to try and comfort everyone. We didn’t know if the Russians or Cubans had caused this, and a lot of people were afraid we would be attacked by missiles or bombers. 

The three television stations in Atlanta all stayed on around the clock all weekend, which was unprecedented at that time. Nothing else was on TV. People couldn’t get enough of the story. 

And then on Sunday morning on live TV, Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby and died a short time later. 

What an unforgettable sad and melancholy and scary weekend it was.

Peggy A. Jackson, Riverdale, Gainesville native

I remember very clearly where I was that sad day. I was at the Bell Minor home where I worked as a cook at that time. 

After the incident, it was very hard for me to keep it together. I cried and prayed for this was a very sad time for the country. 

I felt President Kennedy was hope for change for this country, and it was wiped out in a few moments. 

My heart went out to his family. 

Beverley Walker, Cornelia

Even though I was a very young tyke, I remember clearly. I was with my mother in Sears in Marietta, and all of a sudden she said we had to go. She was upset and crying and I didn’t know why. We drove to pick up my older sister at school, and while we were waiting the “school patrol” came outside and lowered the flag to half-staff. My mother was very emotional, and while I didn’t understand what had happened, I knew that something awful had happened. 

I watched the television with her in the days that followed, as she explained to me what was going on. Together we watched the funeral. Again, I didn’t truly grasp it all but knew it was a tragedy for our country.

Alice I. King, Gainesville

The shooting of Mr. Kennedy was a very traumatic occasion for most of us. We were living in Rockville, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. The TV coverage was just too much. 

My father had died in August of that year and my mother was now living with us. The TV carried nothing but the details of the shooting, the search for the man who had done it, the funeral and on and on. 

With my father’s recent death, Mother found this very distressing. In order to relieve her, we got into the car and just drove through the hinterlands of Maryland. It was very beautiful at that time of year with the trees in their fall colors and we all enjoyed getting our minds off the events in Washington. 

You may say that we were burying our heads in the sand, but we felt that Mother’s well-being was more important to all of us, and our absence from the TV viewing was unimportant to the world.

Diane H. O’Kelley

On Nov. 22, 1963, around 1:45 p.m. I was in the University of Georgia’s Dean of Women’s office working for my sorority as scholarship chairwoman. In walks an elderly gentleman who announces to all of us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and had died. 

You could hear a pin drop in the large office.

I went back to my sorority house on Milledge Avenue. Most of our members had gathered around the television and remained there for the full weekend. I’m so glad I could be with my sisters for this very emotional time in our lives. 

Many tears were shed that long weekend for our country and the Kennedy family. It was truly an indelible memory in my mind.

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