Editor’s note: Throughout the week, the Tyler Morning Telegraph will be sharing the memories of where East Texans were when they found out about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“I was working as an engineer in Dallas in the Brook Hollow Industrial District off Stemsons Freeway,” the Rusk man said. “We piped in music, and I was in one of the labs doing some prototype work when it came on over the speaker that the president had been shot. I (misunderstood and) thought someone had tried to spit on him, but in a few minutes I saw a few of the other engineers in the hallway, and that’s when I found out the president had been shot. I had to ride by the hospital that afternoon, and by then we knew he was deceased.”
Glenn Bourque, 62, was in junior high in Denaham Spring, La., when President Kennedy was shot.
“There was an announcement over the loudspeaker, then they let school out,” he said. “That’s the part I liked. I didn’t really understand who he was at that time.”
— Rebecca Hoeffner
Don Blevins, 75, was watching the news in a now-closed Tyler grocery store when he learned Kennedy had been shot.
“I lived in Springfield, Ill., at the time; I was visiting Tyler when he was killed. I had seen him just a few weeks before in Illinois.”
— Rebecca Hoeffner
James Brady, owner of Brady’s Coffeeshop in Tyler, was in second grade when Kennedy was killed.
“I remember people telling us, but I didn’t understand the importance of it until I got home and saw my grandmother upset. That’s when I realized how big it was.”
— Rebecca Hoeffner
Former Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith was at sea when he heard the news.
“I was in the ‘gun tub,’ that’s where we had the anti-aircraft guns, aboard the USS Bennington aircraft carrier. It was broad daylight, and we were just off the coast of California. All of a sudden we went to general quarters, and they said, ‘This is not a drill. This is not a drill. This is not a drill — general quarters, general quarters.’ Of course everyone panicked, we all went to our battle stations — we were prepared for battle.
We didn’t know what was happening, and they didn’t say anything for a long period of time.
“Aboard that ship it was as quiet as it could be. There was no sound. No one said anything. Then, the captain came on the PA system and said, ‘The president of the United States has just been assassinated, and we will remain at general quarter until further notice.’ We stayed on alert for about 24 hours, and we stayed at our battle stations until they told us we could leave, and that was hours and hours after the announcement. The really spooky thing about it was no one talked. We didn’t ask each other, ‘I wonder what is going on.’ It was perfectly quiet, and it was spooky.”
— Faith Harper
Tyler Morning Telegraph Sports Editor Phil Hicks wasn’t yet school age.
“I had just turned 4 three days earlier so my recollection of that fateful day in Dallas is somewhat vague.
“My mom had said that morning, ‘President and Mrs. Kennedy were in Texas.’ She was wondering what Mrs. Kennedy would be wearing that day.
“My father always came home for dinner — my mother was from Alabama, so that is what we called it instead of lunch. He would eat and then watch cartoons with my brother and me.
“But that day cartoons were not showing. I remember my mom weeping and my dad telling me President Kennedy had been hurt; and our parents hugging us.”
Mike Lantz, federal court clerk for the Eastern District of Texas, writer and teacher, was 5 years old when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
Lantz said his mom took him to the airport to see Kennedy one summer in Fort Smith, Ark., and he remembers the president smiling and waving at the crowd as he rode past in an open vehicle. The president was dressed in a dark suit and sweating profusely. His mother kept saying over and over, “We got to see the president today. The president waved at us.”
When Kennedy was assassinated, Lantz and his family were living in Little Rock, Ark.
“I remember watching the news on television with my mom crying, and also watching the president’s funeral on television, and mom crying as if she had lost a brother, which also made me feel as if I had lost someone close to me,” Lantz said.
It was a sad and overwhelming event that he never forgot, because although he never personally met Kennedy, “my mom and I got to see him in person, and that seemed awfully close to the same thing to me, and especially to my mom,” Lantz said. “Those who didn’t live through that time have no way to imagine the grief this country endured during that terrible event. For my family, it seemed a personal loss, and it’s one I won’t ever forget,” Lantz said.
Pat Turner, of San Antonio and a former Tyler Morning Telegraph sports writer, said he was in the fourth grade in Alice.
“I had just come home for lunch that day. My mother was in the other room watching ‘As The World Turns’ when CBS broke into the report. I heard my mom gasp and tell me President Kennedy had been shot.
“I went back to school shortly after and they announced an hour later the president had died. I always liked JFK and I don’t think it really hit me until that night. I didn’t care about politics at all, but I knew he had a daughter close to my age and a little boy. It was sad hearing their father wasn’t coming home to them. It was very quiet around our town and people were glued to their television sets.”
Turner added, a “strange thing the following night, Southwest Texas (now Texas State) was playing Texas A&I (now A&M-Kingsville) in nearby Kingsville. We went to the game because I had a cousin playing for SWT. Very somber atmosphere, nothing like you would expect for two Lone Star Conference rivals.
“I never forgot that weekend.”
— Phil Hicks
Mary Griffith, staff writer Kenneth Dean’s mother, was in 10th grade the day of the assassination.
“I had just seen President Kennedy go by my street on his way to the airport the day before. He was on his way to Hobby Airport (in Houston) to go to Fort Worth and Dallas. The day it happened I was at Stephen F. Austin High School. An announcement came over the intercom. Our principal was saying our president had been shot and killed. School was immediately dismissed. We all cried and were in a state of shock. It was a very sad day. We lost a great patriot that day.”
J.D. Osburn, retired Tyler Morning Telegraph vice president, said he was leaving classes from Kilgore College when he heard the news on the radio.
“I had just finished class for the day at Kilgore College and was heading back home in Longview when the news came across the radio,” he said. “I remember feeling very scared because I did not know what was going to happen in America. … I still have a very clear picture of leaving campus and heading home and thinking about what was happening.”
“That memory will never leave me,” he said. “I then stayed tuned to the TV watching everything going on. Will never forget John Jr. giving the salute to his dad. It is as clear today in my mind as the day it happened.”
Phillip Williams, a correspondent for the Tyler Morning Telegraph and owner of Williams Furniture Store in Gilmer, “was not quite 10 years old” and in the late Thelma Watson’s fourth-grade class at Gilmer Elementary School when the principal, Rex Price, announced over the PA system that ‘I heard something on the radio and I thought you might be interested.’”
“He then went on to tell us that President Kennedy and Gov. Connolly had been shot in Dallas. Mrs. Watson asked us to pray for the president. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Price (who is still living) came over the loudspeaker to tell us the president was dead — and the sixth-graders up the hall cheered.”
“‘I’m ashamed of you,’ Price said — rightly so. (It’s been said that schoolchildren elsewhere had this same reaction because they knew they would be getting a holiday from school.)”
“Since I was so young then, I did not quite understand the enormity of what had happened.
“A half century later, though, those events remain vivid in my mind.”
Virginia Austin, of Mineola, “90 years young,” was in a barn on the Huntsville, Ark., ranch she lived on in 1963 when she heard the news.
“I keep a radio in the barn. It soothes, the horses and calves,” she wrote. “I was feeding 12 calves from bottles. I dropped a bucket of milk, my knees were weak, and I fell down, started crying.
“The calves came to me. I think they were crying, too. Even the horses were acting up.”
“I was in fifth-grade class at Douglas Elementary School in Denton, Ill., and the principal came into the classroom and called the teacher out and told her and then she came in and told (us) and we were allowed to then watch it on TV,” Rod Kaspar, TISD athletic director, said. “It was a pretty interesting situation.”
The day of Kennedy’s assassination had multiple meanings for Whitehouse resident Nancy Coats.
Her first child had been born earlier that month, and it marked her first wedding anniversary, which she and her husband celebrated that evening.
The 76-year-old said she was at home when she heard about Kennedy, and it was “unbelievable.”
John Deibel was building an apartment property in Fort Worth during the Kennedy visit.
“I had gone to Fort Worth early Friday morning to check the job since Dolly and I were going to Athens that afternoon to attend the grand opening weekend of The Spanish Trace Inn,” he said. “I returned to Dallas that morning via the toll road and Stemmons Freeway. I passed the school book depository about 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the president. It was a gorgeous morning, and I had hopes of getting a glimpse of Air Force One landing at Love Field.”
He said the opening went on as scheduled, “but somber to say the least.”
“I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on the TV in the lobby of the inn on Sunday morning. … Little did I know that seven years later, I would take over the reins of the inn, which ultimately led to our family moving to Tyler,” he said.
Pat Wheeler lives in Dallas, played golf at Robert E. Lee High School and SMU. He is also a former Tyler Morning Telegraph sports writer.
“I was a fifth-grader at Birdwell Elementary and still vividly remember the events of that day.Our class had just returned from lunch in the school cafeteria when we were greeted by a somber Mrs. Cooper, who was usually cheerful and upbeat. She told us that President Kennedy had been assassinated and that we were being dismissed to go home for the afternoon.
“One of the students cheered when he heard the news and was lovingly scolded by Mrs. Cooper for such an inappropriate response. I then remember walking home from school in a daze and trying to make sense of what I had just heard. It felt odd to be going home at that time of day.
“Stranger still was going to see my older brother Mike play football that night for John Tyler against Marshall at Rose Stadium. The atmosphere was so subdued that it seemed, even to a 10-year-old, surreal.I remember the American flag flying at half-mast and can still recall certain details of my mother’s outfit that night — her pretty dark red sweater.
“‘Mom,’ I said, ‘You are wearing the other team’s colors.’ I was gently told to just be quiet. Funny, but I can’t remember the score, whether John Tyler won or a single play.”
Louie Avery, of Texarkana, was a 14-year-old living in Tulsa, Okla., and attending Roosevelt Junior High.
“I don’t remember where I was at, but I was in front of a television when Walter Cronkite came on and announced there had been a shooting in Dallas and that the president and governor had been shot,” said Avery, now 64 and sports editor of the Texarkana Gazette. “I remember being glued to the announcements and everything else on TV being taken off all three network stations.
“I wasn’t into politics then, but I did think Kennedy was cool,” he said, mostly because of the rumors about him and Marilyn Monroe. “That day got me to thinking about the missile crisis in Cuba, and how close the election was in 1960; and wondering how (Richard) Nixon would have handled that situation if he had won.”
JACK SKEEN JR.
Judge Jack Skeen Jr. was a 17-year-old senior at Robert E. Lee High School when he learned of Kennedy’s death.
“We had a big pep rally in the gym that Friday morning because our football team was playing Texarkana High that Friday night at Watty Myers stadium in Texarkana,” he said.
The game would decide the district champion, so all of the students were excited and looking forward to the trip to Texarkana.
“When we got the breaking news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, it was like time just stopped. Everyone was emotional and very upset.We actually could not believe it,” Skeen said.
Later in the day, a decision was made by both high schools to play the game in Texarkana that night.
“I remember standing in the stadium looking at the United States flag flying at half-mast while the national anthem was played by the bands.
“Even 50 years later at 67, I have never forgotten that feeling,” Skeen said.
Jimmy Armstrong, longtime coach and educator in the Tyler and Van school districts, was teaching and coaching in Dallas in fall 1963.
He was teaching social studies and coaching eighth grade football at Browne Junior High School. One of his players and students was Alan Tippit, son of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Armstrong said the social studies classes at Browne JH were allowed to watch the parade route of President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade on TV. They then viewed the broadcasts to get news of JFK’s assassination.
“While in class, Alan was called to the office, but we did not know why until the next day,” Armstrong said.
The elder Tippit was a decorated, 11-year veteran police officer with the Dallas Police Department who, according to two federal government investigations, was shot and killed by 24-year-old former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. Tippit had stopped Oswald for questioning about 45 minutes after the assassination of President Kennedy.
“It was the saddest Thanksgiving that year,” Armstrong, who resides in Chandler, said.