JFK assassination: Locals share their memories of Nov. 22, 1963

Vic Montalban's father, the actor Ricardo Montalban, meets President John F. Kennedy in this photo.
Vic Montalban's father, the actor Ricardo Montalban, meets President John F. Kennedy in this photo. Courtesy photo

Hanging on my wall at home is a framed picture of President John F. Kennedy and my late father, the actor Ricardo Montalban. Dad had attended a White House function, I'm not sure of the event's date or details, and can be seen in the photo getting ready to shake the president's hand.

Whenever I walk by the picture I'm reminded of exactly what I was doing when I learned of JFK's assassination. I was a fifth grader attending Beverly Hills Catholic School. The Holy Cross nuns back then wore full black habits, complete with a large white thing that encircled their stern faces. My Catholic grammar school experience was rather intimidating, but I won't get into that.

At around 10:30 in the morning, another nun approached ours and the two of them left the room. Minutes later our teacher returned and said, "Children, I have some bad news for you. President Kennedy has been shot. Details are unclear at this time but we think it's best for you to go home now and be with your families. Before you go though, let us take a minute and pray together ..." I recall sitting on the school bus thinking how quiet it was. Normally the kids would be pretty rowdy, especially at that time of day before lunch.

When I arrived at home I joined my family members who had gathered in front of the television set. We all were in a state of shock.

That same feeling of shock often returns to me to this day, especially whenever I glance at that picture on the wall.

Vic Montalban

Grover Beach


On the day President Kennedy was shot I was working as a legal secretary in Ft. Worth. I went down to the street to watch his motorcade go by my building. It was an eye opener for me to see so many Secret Service officers hanging on the running boards of the car. I was so shocked when another secretary told me that he had been shot. I thought, "That can't be. I just saw him."

Foy Roberto

Paso Robles


I was living in New York City and studying literature at Columbia University. My parents, concerned with my dating life, fixed me up with the son of friends who invited me to lunch.... at the Playboy Club, much to my amazement. We were eating lunch when our waitress, a Bunny in full regalia (satin ears, cotton tail, short skirt, mesh stockings, etc.) came dashing up to our table and said in a Southern accented voice: "Oh my God, Governor Connally's been shot!" We were both New Yorkers so that name didn't register and when she saw that she added: "Governor Connally of Texas my home state was shot and so was President Kennedy. We're going to have to close the Club so finish up!" She was crying but I was too stunned. We left and I never saw my "blind" date again.

Judith Bernstein

Arroyo Grande


In 1959 Mr. Kennedy was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Because I was unable to get through traffic getting to work, I took a short cut through a factory parking lot. I approached a cross walk, and two well dressed men were standing on the curb. One knocked on the window of the car and he signaled me to roll down the window. I was very surprised to be looking at the future President. He naturally requested my vote in a very charming way, and he noted to his Brother Teddy that I resembled his wife. I did have another plan for my vote, but in the end, I voted for him, because of our chance meeting.

Fast forward to November 22nd. 1963 when I was teaching a class in Chicago, and the whole room erupted with a terrible response to the news that was being reported. The Nursing students were acquainted with death,but this sudden killing was more than they could handle. It did take almost one week for the gloom, and sadness to go away from Chicago, but for some reason 50 years seems like yesterday to me.

Patricia Young, 77

San Luis Obispo


My dad had recently accepted a position with the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. and our family was a recent transplant of New Englanders to Alexandria, Virginia. On that fateful day, I was in 4th grade and we had just finished lunch and were frosting cookies as an art project when the principal came on the P.A. system requesting all teachers to report to his office immediately. Our teacher returned back to our classroom 10 minutes later and she looked like she had been crying. She then solemnly announced that the President had been shot and that school was cancelled immediately.

When my brother, sister and I got home from school, my mom had the television on which was a rare daytime occurrence. Our dad arrived home from work early too, indicating that D.C. had become a ghost town with barely any cars or taxis on the roadways, and people on the streets were scarce as well. Our parents then explained to us in detail what had happened to our country. It was shocking and hard for us all to comprehend. I felt so bad for Caroline and Jon-Jon in losing their father.

That Sunday, our father took the family into the city to view the arrival of the President's casket at the Capitol Building. We were among the thousands of mourners who lined the streets to pay our last respects to our fallen hero. As the horse-drawn wagon passed by, the silence was profound with only the metal of the horses hooves being heard. Families, both black and white, quietly grabbed each others hands to create a brigade of commonality, joined by our loss and grief.

Robin Crawford, 59

Paso Robles


I was a 27 year old graduate student attending the University of California at Berkeley. On that fateful morning, around 11:00 am Pacific time (about 1:00 pm Dallas time), I was walking on campus from one building to another after attending a class. Then I heard other students talking that President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. When I heard that sad news, I immediately walked to Hilgard Hall on campus, where my office and my lab was located. Then we listened to the radio broadcast from Dallas (not too many TV's on campus in those days). All the listeners were saddened and numb and kept listening to the news bulletins from Dallas and Washington D.C. for the rest of the day. That was a defining moment for all the Americans as well as for foreign students like me.

I came to USA as a graduate student from India in 1961. In India, President Kennedy was extremely popular as he represented the dynamism and leadership of America.

Krishnakumar (aka Kris) Morey, 77

San Luis Obispo


Sometime in the early afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963 I drove from Seeger Memorial High School to West Lebanon Elementary School in West Lebanon, Indiana to work with my sixth-grade band.

It was my second year of teaching. When I arrived at the school, all of the teachers were gathered in the hallway crying. They informed me that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I was stunned. I just stood there with them wondering what to do. Finally it was announced that the school district had canceled school for the remainder of the day.

I then left the school and drove to Bloomington for an alumni event at Indiana University. Everything was canceled so I dove home while in shock. Just three years earlier, some future band director friends and I had driven all night in the snow from Bloomington, Indiana to Washington D.C. to attend JFK’s inauguration ceremony and parade. We stood in the cold across the street from the president's reviewing stand.

I was a great experience seeing the new president and hearing the wonderful bands.

50 years later, all those painful memories are flooding back. I am not looking forward to November 22.

William V. Johnson

Arroyo Grande


I had just put my baby in his high chair, and a potato in a pot to boil for his lunch.

I remember the sun streaming in through the red and orange striped curtain at the glass door of the tiny kitchen in our house in Van Nuys.

I was listening to KNX radio, a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. I enjoyed hearing Mike Roy talk about food every day at noon, and keeping up with the news. It was a very ordinary morning until the news blast came in about a shooting in Dallas. I had known the president was going to Dallas. And I had known it was risky. I was already a bit of a political junkie, and a Kennedy devotee.

While I had been too young to vote for him, I had gone to see him at a rally in SF at a huge stadium while I was a student at Berkeley. We rode over in a packed bus and sat way up in the nosebleed section. But I saw him. And I had seen Bobby on a campaign stop in the student union.

When the first news broke, I immediately turned on the small black and white television in the living room and picked up the phone to call my sister-in-law and my husband, at work.When Walter Cronkite’s face appeared on the screen, I had a desperate but sinking hope until I heard his words. The world stood still. I sat stunned, in agonizing shock, tears streaming from my eyes, holding my 15 month old son as the potato burned black in the pan. I don’t remember what he ate for lunch that day.

I carried him next door to Lottie’s, for the comfort of her company. I didn’t think I could bear being alone. Much older than me, older even than my mother, she and Herman lived in a small rented house. He took a lunch pail with him to work each morning. They were a sweet couple. I stayed for hours.

The rest of that day is a blur, just like the weekend spent on the couch watching events through my tears, a box of Kleenex nearby. We ate. We slept. We grieved. I remember going up to the corner store and seeing someone who did not seem to be grieving the way I was. I was shocked and angry. I wanted the whole world to share the pain, and it seemed that it did.

After that day in November, something was lost inside having to do with unbridled hope and unfettered idealism. It was a shattering event. Sadder than losing grandparents, about as sad as anything that I had yet endured. Nothing I had ever learned could have prepared me for this. We were all so young.

Susan Pyburn

San Luis Obispo


When my mother dropped me at Saint Patrick's Catholic School on the morning of November 22, 1963, I had no idea that President Kennedy was in Texas, that a motorcade through Dallas was scheduled to begin in a little over an hour.

Our third grade teacher, Mrs. Galvin, took the class through early lessons. The warm San Diego sunshine beamed through the windows, distracting me with anticipation of morning recess. But the bell never rang. Our principal, Sister Mary Cletus, interrupted our current lesson, took Mrs. Galvin aside and spoke to her in hushed tones. When Sister faced the class, I knew something was terribly wrong because her usually jovial face was ashen and there were signs that she had been crying.

"Children," she said, "I have to tell you that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas this morning and we are awaiting more news." Before leaving to deliver her announcement to the next class, she asked us to pray.

For the first time in my eight-year-old life, I was the recipient of devastating news. A feeling like electricity coursed through my body. I loved Kennedy, probably because my parents and teachers admired him, because of his Catholicism and because he was the first President I ever became aware of. And especially because I had shared a personal connection with him.

Saint Pat's didn't have an audio-visual program in those days. Within ten minutes, two eighth grade boys, followed by a nun, carried a portable television (probably from the convent) into our classroom. After they plugged it in, the Sister held the rabbit ears so the picture would be less snowy. I watched the news broadcast with great interest while some kids horsed around, inviting reprimands from Mrs. Galvin. Eventually, Walter Cronkite turned to the camera and delivered his now-famous, heart-breaking announcement.

Sister Mary Cletus returned to inform us that our parents were being called to collect us because school was cancelled until further notice.

A few kids were picked up right away. Waiting was unbearable. I desperately wanted to escape the room which housed the sadness of Cronkite's report. My wish came true when Mrs. Galvin called on me and Frank Prowse to carry the trash can outside and to empty its contents into the dumpster. We took out time, enjoying the warm sunshine and the deserted playground.

Two older girls emerged from the lavatory, crying uncontrollably. This is the moment that I think of when I think of that day because this is the moment when I was shaken from the temporary comfort of shock and denial. Suddenly, I understood the finality of Kennedy's death. I would never see him again.

Six months earlier, at the tail end of my second year, my father left work in the morning to liberate my sister and me from out classrooms at Saint Pat's. President Kennedy was in San Diego and a motorcade was scheduled to run through our North Park shopping area before heading east to San Diego State College. Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks along University Avenue. We stood on the corner where his convertible approached the main drag and turned right. From atop my father's shoulders, I saw Kennedy from a distance of about six feet. I remember feeling the sunlight. "Hello, President Kennedy," I shouted, waving so vigorously my father had to tighten his grip. The President acknowledged my greeting by offering his trademark smile and by pointing his index finger in my direction. Besides the joy of Christmas morning, I could not remember being more delighted.

I've never seen another President in person or wanted to. The spirit of blind faith and innocence inside the boy on his father's shoulders continued to dampen throughout the Sixties with every unanswered question concerning the assassination. And then came more assassinations: Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the students at Kent State. I turned to the cynicism of Rock stars, Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. These were the people with whom I could identify. I refused to vote until finally breaking down and registering at the age of twenty-seven. Anger is gone but I'm still jaded. Like many of us, I suppose, a part of me died on that sunny morning in late November.

Tom Corona, 58

Los Osos


I feel a connection with the Kennedys.

I was born in Springfield, MA and was a reporter for The Charleston (WV) Gazette when John Kennedy ran in the 1960 Primary. I covered a speech by Teddy Kennedy and ran into Bobby Kennedy in the Charleston Press Club and shared a drink when my cousin was visiting from Massachusetts. I voted for John both in the primary and general elections.

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was the mother of a one-year-old, a writer for the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce and was literally walking down a major street during lunch when I heard an announcement from some loudspeaker that the President had been shot.

I hastened back to the Chamber and was distraught to hear obviously politically partisan staff members expressing joy over the news. I had tears in my eyes and was angered by their lack of humanity.

For my husband who was a theatre director that was opening night for his Bloomington Civic Theatre production of “A Raisin in the Sun”, a powerful drama about a black family moving into a white neighborhood. While many “events” were being cancelled, he made a moving opening night speech on the importance of the play’s message to President John Kennedy’s values in his Presidency.

Unbelievably, the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce did not observe the National Day of Mourning. I had to work . . .

Kathy Smith, 74

San Luis Obispo


In November, 1963, I was a graduate student at the University of Oxford in England. On the morning of Friday, the 22nd, I went to the city police department to get a bicycle license. At the station was another American, a Texan, large, fat, and garrulous, angrily demanding that the police withdraw their refusal to allow him to keep and carry his "little handgun" (illegal in England, of course). "You never can tell," he said. "A man has a right to protect himself. A man needs his gun."

That evening I had dinner at the Oxford University Graduate Society, where the guest speaker was to be from the South African Embassy in London. No way, I thought, even with a liberal infusion of the wine that preceded and accompanied dinner, could I sit through an hour of his subject, "Why Apartheid Benefits All Races in South Africa."

Suddenly the Graduate Society President rose and clapped hands for attention. "We have just learned," he announced, "the very sad news that the American President, John Kennedy, has been murdered by a gunman in Texas."

I left the dinner at once and went back to my college in tears.

Kevin R. Cadigan, 75

Los Osos


Where was I when I heard of the assassination of President Kennedy? My husband, our three young children and I were in Mogadishu, Somalia. George, my husband, was a Foreign Service officer posted to the Embassy in Somalia in early 1963. That was well before Al Queda and the jihadists demolished the country. Mogadishu was a rather sleepy backwater where not much happened.

So we were more than surprised when in the middle of the hot, dark, silent night we were awakened by someone shouting and throwing pebbles at our window . Still half asleep, George fumbled his way to the window and peered out. He recognized a very disheveled Walter Pieve, our { drunk? } next door neighbor and an attache at the German Embassy. He was shouting " Wake up, wake up, your President has just been killed!"

At that point our phone began ringing . It was our Embassy summoning George to report immediately. Our children , fretful and frightened, were crying. I was shaking and crying. Somalia had no TV or radio so we could not get news.

When my husband arrived at the Embassy he was too busy to call and tell us what happened so it was mid-afternoon Somali time before my worst fears were confirmed. 50 years is a long time but I will never forget that terrible night and the voice of Water Pieve calling out of the darkness " Wake up ! Wake up!

Emmajean Miller, 91

Los Osos


It was a late November night. Three of my friends and I went for pizza at the old UNO downstairs pizza place located in the Chicago loop. (I was in Nursing School in Chicago at the time.) We had fun, laughing, talking and drinking beer. When we left, it was foggy outside, the mist covered my eyeglasses. The pizza place was packed, as were the stairs leading up and out into the open night. The fog kept me from being able to follow my companions into the night mist. I became separated from them.

What I remember most is passing by two men standing to my right, holding glass bottles of beer, intermittingly drinking and holding up their bottles shouting, "Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray, ASSASSINATE KENNEDY TOMORROW!" I will never forget hearing the sounds of those clanging beer bottles against the shouts.

I thought nothing of it because I was worried that I would not find my friends. After walking through the parking lot, I again ran into my original group, still looking for our car. As I approache, I remember asking, "Did you hear those guys?" I repeated what I heard them say. My friends neither heard nor saw anything that I was talking about. As we drove back to our student nurse residence, I forgot about it, assuming it must have been drunken talk by a bunch of older students.

The next day, I attended noon chapel, carrying out my usual commitment of playing the pipe organ for chapel. During the Prelude, just before the actual service began, the Chaplain ran down the center of the isle panting, came to the podium and crying, spit into the speaker, "PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT, PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT! I remember falling towards the organ keyboard, making an alarming organ blast. The entire student body cried out in unified shouts of pain. I was beside myself remembering the night before and the three guys clanging beer bottles and shouting: ASSASINATE KENNEDY TOMORROW!

Later, I again asked my friends if they were SURE they did not see or hear the guys the night before. They did not.

I DO remember finding out many years later via a TV Discovery Channel program that President Kennedy and Jackie were indeed in Chicago the day before their trip to Dallas. According to an old Mafia criminal in prison, the President was supposed to be shot in Chicago, but the Mafia found out that security was too tight and so the plans were changed to have him assassinated the next day in Dallas. Supposedly, according to this prisoner, Oswald was the hit man. Ruby was ordered to kill Oswald by the Mafia. They were both very low men with Mafia connections and each was paying the Mafia back for favors they owed. The prisoner said the Mafia wanted to quiet President Kennedy because Bobby Kennedy was putting too much pressure on the Mafia.

Who knows the full truth?

I just know that I still carry 50 years of guilt from not reporting the sound and message of those clanging beer bottles, held by two drunken men, shouting into the mist.

Gloria Bruch, 71

San Luis Obispo


I was living in Yokohama Japan ay the time of JFKs death My husband was in the Navy at the time . It was already Saturday morning. I listened to Armed Forces radio in the am they had rock and roll every Saturday but that morning all they were playing as this sad and somber music. I did not what to think. Finally after a while they announced what had happened. There was a plane headed to Japan with cabinet members that got turned around. We were all worried that we were going to be attacked

Judy Gorton, 72



That particular day, I had taken a day off from work to travel to Los Angeles to attend the UCLA vs. USC football game at the Colliseum the next day. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Security National Bank on Quintana Road in Morro Bay, I had my radio tuned to KSLY radio, San Luis Obispo. Seconds before I turned the ignition off, I heard on the radio, "the president has been shot." KSLY was at that time the rock and roll station in town, and was known for outrageous commercials. I assumed it was just another crazy commercial. At that point I turned off my car and went into the bank and withdrew my money for the trip to L.A.

Everyone in the bank was acting normally. It was business as usual. I got into my car and headed toward SLO. I had my radio tuned to KSLY all the way to SLO and I entered onto highway 101 south, headed to L.A. The trip from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo there was no mention of any news headline.

Just before I made the bend in 101 where it meets the ocean before Shell Beach, a special news bulletin announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Texas, and that he was dead.

I immediately pulled to the shoulder of the freeway just before the Shell Beach exit. I sat there for perhaps ten minutes. As I sat there on the side of the freeway, I wondered how many in the passing vehicles already knew that President Kennedy was dead.

I assumed there would be no college football games on Saturday, so I returned home to Morro Bay. I spent the entire week-end watching the coverage on television, and it all seemed a blur, except for one memorable moment. I was in the bathroom when I heard my mother yell out, "Get in here, someone just shot Oswald."

Some memories fade with time, and others are as if they happened yesterday.

Leon Massey, 71

San Luis Obispo


I grew up in the small state of Delaware. When my mother learned that JFK was going to land at the Wilmington, DE airport early in his campaign, we drove up and saw him walk through the terminal. As a lifelong Republican my mother broke ranks and voted for him in the election. I knew she admired him as president.

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, I was in my 7th grade homeroom when our teacher announced, just prior to 2pm, that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Up to that point in the day I was really excited to go home and had plans to celebrate my mother's 50th birthday. Instead, it was a very sad homecoming. We watched all the reporting on TV, the funeral and the aftermath. My Mom and I had a bond in grief over Kennedy's death. It was a such a sad day and I don't believe we celebrated my mother's birthday in any way. It was just to sad, so we cried for the loss of Kennedy instead.

Karlyn Musante, 62

Los Osos


On the morning of President John Kennedy’s assassination, I was on a pier at the Naval Base in San Diego. My ship, the USS Cavalier (APA-37) was tied to the pier.

As a junior officer this was my first duty station aboard the troop transport. I was the ship’s personnel officer. The skipper wanted to have a formal inspection of the ship’s company before declaring liberty for the officers and men that would follow.

It was a beautiful day on Nov. 22, 1963, as more than 200 sailors, all in dress whites, stood in formation waiting for the captain. I followed along behind him with a clipboard to write down any remarks regarding the inspection.

Within a few minutes of starting the inspection, a sailor came down the gangplank and walked up to me and handed me a message to give to the captain. Basically, the message announced that President Kenney, the commander in chief, had been shot in Dallas and his condition was unknown at that time.

The captain read the message and dismissed the crew.

A short time later we received another message that the president was dead and that Lyndon Johnson was the new commander in chief. Maintaining the chain of command is always important to all branches of the military.

I made myself copies of those two messages and kept them for several years. I would often show them to my students. In fact, that is when they disappeared – from my desk in my classroom at Atascadero High School.

While I was a student at Cal Poly, my first time to vote in a national election was when Kennedy faced Richard Nixon. I cast my vote for Kennedy. It was a glorious feeling that lasted only three years.

Lon Allan, 74



I remember no other moment or have any other image of my fourth grade class room but the one of my teacher coming back from the principal’s office, her head down, her hand covering her mouth, as she struggled to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot.

I have many memories of the house my family lived in in that small, middle class neighborhood outside of Washington DC in 1963. I remember the wonderful trees in the yard, the field that held the rundown barn, the streets we rode our bikes on and the hoola hooping contests we held in the Bells front yard. The Bells lived next door, the Stewarts in the next house. Susie Stewart was my best friend; she was one of thirteen kids and was the first person I ever knew who was older than some of her aunts and uncles.

Susie’s family was very different from ours. We suspected, years later, that it might have been one of her brothers who painted “ni--er lover” on my father’s car because he worked for a liberal congressman who supported the Civil Rights fight.

I, like most students of the nation, was sent home that day. I was greeted by my mom who wept and tried to talk to us about what happened. I was young and scared and confused and walked outside to wander in the yard. I think the sadness in my house was probably too big for me to handle. I wandered alone for a while, trying to fit what happened into my little girl brain. Trying to understand what it meant, what it could mean next.

I went to see Susie. I wanted to be with my best friend. One of her big sisters answered the front door. I remember her hesitating letting me in, then she led me through the living room. She led me right past Susie’s father and two of her older brothers who were laughing, leaning against the fire place, cans of beer in their hands. They toasted each other as I passed. They looked at me and laughed louder.

It scared me so much, the look on their faces, their happiness. How could this be? No one was happy that day. No one. Or so I had thought until I walked through my best friend’s house and witnessed a sadness I had never witnessed before. The sadness of hatred.

I don’t remember if I made it to Susie’s room. Maybe I left. Maybe she and I played for a while. Maybe we talked. I don’t remember. But I will always remember the terrible lesson those men taught me that day. A lesson I guess I had to learn. I was raised by parents who taught us about equality and love. I didn’t know that children just down the street could be being taught such totally different lessons.

Christine Ahern, 59

Los Osos


We were living in Yokohama, Japan; my father was a pilot for Japan Air Lines. Every morning my parents would turn on the transistor radio by their bed to the Armed Forces Radio Network. On the morning of Friday, November 22, 1963, I woke up to my mother crying. I went into their bedroom, and they told me that the president had been shot and died. My parents were Republicans, but in those days, the president was respected as the Commander in Chief of our country. School was cancelled that day; I did not go to my 6th grade class. It was hard for us to be so far away from home during that tragic time, and the world would never be the same. Sallie Weatherford, 61

San Luis Obispo


November 22, 1963 happened to be the due date of our first born child.

I had seen my obstetrician the day before and was advised to stay close to home because the baby’s birth could be soon.

My labor was just beginning when there was a knock at our door. Two of my neighbors who knew of my work to elect the President broke the news that our President had been shot and was taken to Parkland Hospital in critical condition.

It was devastating news for me and my husband who had left work early to be with me. We spent the next twenty-four hours watching the coverage until it was time to leave for the hospital to welcome our new baby boy into the world.

The joy of having our first child somehow overshadowed our loss, but I think most of us who loved JFK will “carry the grief to our grave,” as one writer put it.

Carole Chimarusti, age 78



I just turned nine years old and today was going to be the coolest day in my life. My baby brother was born three days earlier and today my dad and I were going to the hospital to bring him and my mom home. I got to skip school that day and that was an added bonus. We were living in Los Angeles and when we got to the hospital at about noon I immediately knew something was wrong. I could see folks running around and there was even some people crying. As we walked towards my mom’s room, we passed an area where nurses and doctors were listening to a small radio. My father asked what was going on and a doctor said President Kennedy had been shot.

I don’t think I really understood what was happening because as I reflect on the days that followed I have vivid memories about being upset that I could not watch my favorite cartoons. For four days all that was on TV was coverage on the assignation of our President. It wasn’t until years later when I studied the history of that time that I realized what tragic day November 22, 1963 was.

Horace Morana, 59

San Luis Obispo


I remember where I was when the first jet hit the World Trade Center, when Challenger exploded, when Dwight Clark made "the catch" in Candlestick, when Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal against the Soviets in Lake Placid, when the 2003 earthquake hit Paso Robles, and when John Kennedy was shot. Some of these events elicited shock, outrage or fear; others are memories of pure elation. Nothing to this day comes close to having the impact of the president being shot. On one Friday afternoon, everything we thought we knew and believed in was turned on its head.

I was a shy, anxious 7th-grader in my third month at San Luis Obispo Junior High School. I was the kid who tried to be "invisible" most of the time. But it was the third week of November and the Thanksgiving break was coming up. Blessed relief! I was a skinny 12-year-old and afraid to talk to girls, and glad it was Friday. My 4th Period class, just before lunch hour, was Music Appreciation – hard to believe it was a required course in 1963. At some point during the hour, a neighbor-friend of mine who was a "hall monitor" came into the classroom carrying a note for the teacher. This was not common, and my friend Joe wasn't smiling. I hardly recall the teacher's reaction or how he read the awful message. No one could have had an inkling of news like that. All we knew was that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas while riding in a motorcade. There was no word on what his condition was. And we all went to lunch not knowing.

I usually ate my sack lunch by myself, but I felt like I should stay near a few kids that I knew. Grim faces, rumors quietly floating around, some girls crying. We had to maintain some normalcy. Who knew what was happening to our world? We were all kids growing up in an idyllic little town that was disconnected from the "world" we saw on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite every night. The Cal Poly football team airplane crash of 1960 was a much bigger story than the Cuban Missile Crisis. So it seemed.

I had Math right after lunch and we all hurried to class, needing to know about the President and not caring a damn about fractions or equations. I feel for the poor teachers of 5th Period classes that day, who had to deliver the tragic news. It hit me stone cold. I didn't cry – I think I went into a shell, really. I felt numb. I'm sure the rest of the school day was cancelled and buses called in to pick up kids early. It's all a bit hazy. I rode my 10-speed home, folded and delivered the newspapers on my Telegram-Tribune route, and parked myself in front of our black and white Zenith TV. I don't remember my parents saying much. We watched the replays of everything on CBS, including Uncle Walter's tear-choked announcement that the President was dead. It was like a car wreck that you couldn't look away from. And it was that way for the entire weekend.

But it was still Friday evening. And my folks, like the parents of many other 7th-grade kids, had enrolled me in a ballroom dancing class that fall. Ballroom dancing! Surely they would cancel that Friday's class at the Vet's hall. How could anyone expect 12-year-old boys and girls to go learn the Fox Trot after the assassination of their President? Well, they did. No cancellation. I was dropped off and joined the other shell-shocked kids for perhaps the most surreal evening of our lives. Fellini meets Hitchcock. No one talked. We were all robotic. American kids pretend to dance and go home to cry. It was 1963.

That Sunday we watched the first, and only, live murder in television history. Lee Harvey Oswald. Jack Ruby. Bang, bang, bang. After that, I would never believe there wasn't a conspiracy. Never. I grew up questioning just about everything. But I kept it to myself because I was still living in an idyllic little town. And soon enough it would fade away like a bad dream and I would have to learn how to make friends, including girls. Life would sweep many things away, but it would never completely sweep 11/22/63 under the carpet.

Larry Roberts, 62



I was 21, a Cal Poly wife, working as a Social Worker. I had not paid much attention to politics, but I was enamored of the young president Kennedy and was eager to see what the future held under his guidance. it was a time of hope and optimism...On November 22, 1963 I was downtown in the Bank of America making a deposit; one moment everything was quiet and normal, and the next moment the radio was blasting "The president has been assassinated...shock and hysteria ensured...everyone walking around aimlessly, in years and disbelief. I walked outside into the sunshine and I knew life in America would never be the same. A light had gone out. On that day, I became a committed liberal, reminding myself every day, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

Wendy Deaton-Carsel, 72



In 1963, I was an 8th grade student at St. Mary's Catholic School in Whittier, California. On Nov. 22, my 8th grade class took a field trip to the local paper, the Whittier Daily News, about 6 blocks away. We walked.

About halfway through the tour of the newspaper offices, it was probably between 11 and noon, all hell broke loose. Teletypes were going off all around us, phones were ringing off the hooks, and staff reporters were running madcap, in some cases right over the top of us youngsters.

I clearly remember seeing some of my friends hiding under office desks. I had no idea what the commotion was, but I knew I had to get out of the building.

Exiting to the sidewalk, I decided to walk back the short distance to the school. I was alone and confused. When I reached the school, I turned up the ramp that led to the entrance to the classrooms. At the top of the ramp, the door to the principal's office was wide open. Leaning on both hands over the school's radio-.P.A. system was our principal, Sister Bartholomew, a Dominican nun. Her head was down, her eyes shut; she was crying. Her heart was broken. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic President of our country.

I walked into my empty classroom and sat alone at my desk and waited. All these years later, I can't even type this story without being overcome by tears. It was the saddest day of my life, and I was just a kid.

Tony Merrill, 63



I was attending the local Junior High School in San Jose. The school activated the Civil Defense sirens and executed a school evacuation. We gathered in the court yard of the school and were told that the president had been shot and that we were to go to our homes until further notice. I remember that my social studies teacher at the time was not a fan of JFK. We had been taking a social studies test that day and one of the questions was who is the president of the united states. I remember answering JFK and when I got the graded paper back that answer was marked as incorrect.

Michael Taylor, 64


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