Editor’s note: Throughout the week, the Tyler Morning Telegraph shared the memories of where East Texans were when they found out about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Read all of them at TylerPaper.com
“I was in first grade St. Gregory Elementary School. We were in class when an announcement came over the intercom that the president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been shot,” the Bullard woman said.
“Immediately there were screams from all over the school. Nuns were running up and down the hallway, hugging each other crying and screaming and gnashing their teeth. Many were screaming, ‘Oh no, oh no, this can’t be happening ... What shall we do?’ We were all crying, too. Everybody was crying. It was a state of pandemonium. They called all of our parents and had them come pick us up early that day.
“The next day there were black cloths on all the doors, and lots of sniffling nuns with handkerchiefs stuck up their sleeves and red eyes. It was quite tragic for a 6 year old.”
Robert Rhodes, 72, of Tyler, worked in human resources for GE, Trane and American Standard in Tyler a total of 43 years, retiring in 2008. He was 22 when Kennedy was killed.
“I was leaving a midday class at The University of Texas, with my thoughts focused on spending the weekend at my home in Van,” he said.
“Groups of students were gathered around six or seven cars outside the classroom building listening to radios. I asked someone what was happening and was told, ‘President Kennedy hasbeen shot.’”
“I dashed toward my car parked several blocks away, where I met a fellow student from Van, who was to ride home with me.
“We immediately turned on the car radio for updates. At 1:05 p.m., the announcer said in a breaking voice, ‘President Kennedy is dead.’”
After a pause, he said, the station started playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by “Hail to the Chief.”
“My friend and I spoke few words to one another all the way home, choosing instead to listen to history unfold,” he said.
They stopped outside Waco for a hamburger on the way.
“That hamburger stand has been renovated over the years, perhaps more than once, but it is still there.
“For me, so are the sad memories from that day in 1963 that linger to this day.”
Benjamin Berry, 63, a local jeweler, lined River Oaks Boulevard in Fort Worth the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, to see President Kennedy’s motorcade along with his Irma Marsh Middle School classmates. The president waved at crowds gathered along the road, he said. River Oaks Boulevard was similar to Broadway Avenue in Tyler and allowed the motorcade to cruise along and acknowledge the crowd, he said.
Berry remembered the excitement among his schoolmates.
Hours later, a voice came over the school intercom explaining the president had been shot. The excitement turned to trauma, he said.
“I just remember all the girls crying after they came over the speaker to say he had been shot,” he said. “It was a shock because we had just seen him and waved to him a few hours before.”
Tom Russell, 69, a local music teacher, was living in Wiesbaden, Germany, when Kennedy was killed. His father was an Air Force officer, and like every American, he said the president’s death was a shock.
A greater surprise was the German reaction, he said. The days after Kennedy’s death, Germans would approach Russell’s family at restaurants and stores to express their sympathies and their love for the American president, he said.
At night, hundreds of Germans lined the streets with candles in memory of the dead president, he said.
It was Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,” (I am a Berliner) speech that endeared the president to Germans as the Cold War waged and the Berlin Wall divided countrymen, Russell said.
“That speech really resonated with the people there,” he said. “They took his death as hard as we did. But seeing their reaction was something I won’t ever forget. It wasn’t just our loss.”
“I was a grad student at the University of California at Davis,” Dr. Larry Lowry, 74, UT Health Northeast professor, said. “I remember the TV coverage and was overwhelmed with grief at this unbelievable event. I cried. JFK represented all that I believed in and was, in my opinion, the hope for a better America and world. I truly believe that we would be in a much better world had he lived. He was the last president that I voted for with passion.”
“It just kind of took the life out of you, to tell you the truth,” said Billy Hall, member of the TISD Athletic Hall of Fame and former Robert E. Lee coach” “It was very sad … It was on a Friday, and there just wasn’t much life; we couldn’t believe it.”
Benny Rogers, the Trinity Valley Community College sports information director, said he was 4 in 1963 and living Malakoff.
“I was at my grandmother’s house. I remember my parents and aunts and uncles coming there in the afternoon and how upset everyone was.
“Of course, I really couldn’t comprehend what happened. In fact, I remember the day only because of something that happened earlier that morning while grocery shopping with my grandmother. A man in front of us in the line collapsed, and the owner of the store picked me up and rushed me to my grandmother’s car.
“I thought everyone being upset that afternoon was related to that. As I got older, I gained an understanding of what that day was really about.”
“Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, my husband, Paul, and I met for lunch at the lovely dining room of the Blackstone Hotel. They always made delicious gumbo every Friday, 60 or 75 cents a bowl — a great bargain for young couples like we were, raising three girls on not much money. A man ran into the room from the lobby, yelling ‘Oh my God. They have shot Kennedy in Dallas!’ We were all horrified, and then I heard a man behind me say, ‘Oh my God! They shot the wrong man!’ I turned to him and said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘They should have gotten LBJ!’ I’ll never forget it. We went home and turned on the old black-and-white TV and stayed glued to it for the next few days. I have friends who bought one of the lovely mirrors from the dining room when they tore down the Blackstone. Whenever I see that mirror hanging over their fireplace, I think about that day.”
Tyler resident Patricia Jacks was 20 years old at the time and working for the Internal Revenue Service in Dallas. As a government employee, she was encouraged to go down and watch the motorcade pass through downtown.
She and her coworkers walked a few blocks and lined up with others who were excitedly watching for the president.
There were several rows of people watching and the atmosphere was warm and receptive, she said.
“We were just lined up on the curb and … the cars just drove right in front of us,” said Ms. Jacks, 70, who works as the administrative assistant at All Saints Episcopal Upper School. “It was really (exciting).”
By the time they walked back to their office, though, the shooting had already happened and when she heard about it, she was stunned.
The office let employees go home and Ms. Jacks said she just watched the television to learn more. She was married and had a young daughter at the time.
“It was so surreal, ‘Did this really happen?’ she said of her feelings at the time. “Of course, it’s all over the news and then you just watched every step of it. That’s just all there was on TV.”
As she learned more about what happened and Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest at the Texas Theatre, it was difficult for Ms. Jacks to comprehend that all of this was happening in her hometown and some of it in the Oak Cliff neighborhood where she lived.
“I remember hearing things like the nation blamed Dallas and I thought that was so wrong, because the one thing I remember was how warm his reception was,” she said.
— Emily Guevara
Sonya Wilkinson, of Chandler, was a third-grader in Waco when Kennedy was assassinated.
“They let us out of school early,” she said. “That’s all that was on television for the whole weekend.”
Because of young age at the time, Ms. Wilkinson said she did not understand but remembers everyone was sad.
Jimmy Wilson, of Quitman, was working at a Dallas feed mill when he heard about the assassination on television and heard more on the radio in the car on the way to his home then in Dallas from work.
He remembers hearing that Kennedy was taken to the hospital, where it was later announced that the president had died, and that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president.
“Where I worked, everybody felt bad about it,” Wilson said “I felt real bad. I thought he was a great president, the best one since Ike Eisenhower.”
JD Osborn, 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 head as the day it happened."