November 22, 1963

If you were alive on November 22, 1963 — and over, say, 5 years old — you understand how dramatically, and traumatically, America shifted that day.

If you weren’t, there is no way you can comprehend it.

The murder of President Kennedy was a horrific, galvanizing moment in time. It happened 50 years ago today, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

JFKI was in 5th grade. Since September my friends and I had walked to and from school. We gathered on High Point Road, cut through the Staples High School athletic fields and parking lot, sauntered down North Avenue, walked across open farmland, and arrived at Burr Farms Elementary. We were like the “Stand By Me” boys: talking about kid stuff, reveling in our independence, figuring out each other and the world in a world that would soon mightily change.

Minutes before school ended that beautiful Friday, the teacher from next door burst into our room. “Kennedy got killed!” she yelled. A girl broke into spontaneous applause. Her father was a leading Republican in town.

Our teacher slapped her face.

Usually, our teacher wished us a happy weekend. That day the bell rang, and we just left. No one knew how to interpret her reaction. We’d never seen a teacher hit a student before.

Then again, we’d never heard of our president being murdered.


As my friends and I gathered for our ritual walk home, we suddenly had Something Big to talk about. For the first time in our lives, we discussed news. We had no details, but already we sensed that the world we knew would never be the same.

That vague feeling was confirmed the moment we walked down the exit road, into the Staples parking lot. School had been out for an hour, but clots of students huddled around cars, listening to radios. Girls sobbed — boys, too. Their arms were wrapped around each other, literally clinging together for support. I’d never seen one teenager cry. Now there were dozens.

Walter Cronkite on CBS, announcing the death of President Kennedy.

Walter Cronkite on CBS, announcing the death of President Kennedy.

At home, I turned on the television. Black-and-white images mirrored the scene at Staples a few minutes earlier. Newscasters struggled to contain their emotions; men and women interviewed in the street could not.

The president was dead. Now it was true. I saw it on TV.

My best friend, Glenn, slept over that night. The television was on constantly. The longer I watched, the more devastated I became.

John F. Kennedy was the first president I knew. My father had taken me to a campaign rally in Bridgeport 3 years earlier. I could not articulate it then, but I admired his energy, was inspired by his youthfulness, and vowed to grow up and (like him) make a difference.

Now he was dead.

Bill Mauldin captured the grief of a nation.

Bill Mauldin captured the grief of a nation.

Saturday was rainy and blustery. I watched more TV. Like most Americans, I was obsessed by this unfolding tragedy. Like them too I had no idea that the impact of that weekend would remain, seared in my brain and heart, 5 decades later.

Sunday was the first day I cried. The raw emotions of all the adults around — in the streets of Westport, and on the television screen — finally overwhelmed me. I cried for the dead president, my fallen hero; for his widow and children; for everyone else who looked so sad and vulnerable.

Then — right after noon — Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Once again I sat transfixed by the TV. I was stunned, and scared.

Monday was a brilliant fall day. President Kennedy was laid to rest under a crisp, cloudless sky. The unforgettably moving ceremony was watched by virtually everyone in the world with access to a television.

To my everlasting regret, I did not see it live. Glenn said we could not sit inside on a day off from school. Rather than risk being called a nerd (or whatever word we used in 1963), I chose playing touch football at Staples over watching history. I was in 5th grade. What did I know?

The coffin, at Arlington National Cemetery.

The coffin, at Arlington National Cemetery.

The next day we went back to school. The Staples parking lot looked exactly as it had before that fateful Friday. Our teacher never said a word about slapping the girl who cheered President Kennedy’s assassination.

Thanksgiving arrived on schedule 2 days later. At our dinner — like every other table in America — the adults tried to steer the conversation away from the awful events that had consumed us for nearly a week.

Life Magazine coverIn the days and months to come — as the country slowly, painfully, pulled itself out of its collective, overwhelming grief — I devoured everything about President Kennedy I could find. I saved Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post. I ordered the Warren Commission report. Like so many others I still have it all, somewhere.

In the years that followed my admiration for the young, slain president grew, then ebbed. But it never died. He remained my political hero: the first president I ever knew, cared about, was mesmerized by, and mourned.

When President Kennedy was killed, journalist Mary McGrory said, “We’ll never laugh again.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan — who worked for JFK — replied, “Mary, we will laugh again. But we will never be young again.”

Fifty years ago this morning, I was a young 5th grader without a care in the world.

Walking home that afternoon, I could never not care again.

( will stream the original news broadcasts minute-by-minute in real time, just as they were originally delivered, beginning at 1:40 p.m. this afternoon. For more information, click here.)

35 responses to “November 22, 1963

  1. Bravo Dan — beautifully said. Thank you for your thoughtful and open insights.

  2. I don’t remember the glee of the girl who got slapped at my school, I grew up in Wilton, but I do remember being on East Avenue in Norwalk during the afternoon on the day of the funeral and there being very little traffic, it seemed ghostly to me. I was in 7th grade but I vividly remember the events, and until you mentioned Jack Ruby I didn’t recall that we saw that on tv, I believe it was a live broadcast.

  3. Beautifully done, Dan. A lovely tribute.

  4. Dan.. I can’t believe how you recalled every detail but I know we have all the books and newspapers saved somewhere in the house.
    We were glued to the TV for days and still can’t believe the tragedy.

  5. Beautiful

  6. Danny,

    Thank you!! Your words mean so much today!! I was in my 6th grade classroom at Assumption School at 1:40 pm that day!! Sister Superior’s words over the PA system of Mr. Kennedy’s death are as clear today as they were that day 50 years ago!! I can clearly see the faces of my classmates that were sitting near me, I can hear their words of prayer as we prayed as a class for our slain President. 50 years have passed, but actually it was only yesterday!!
    Thanks Danny!! Your words mean so much today!!

    Tom Wall

  7. Beautifully written. We found out around dismissal time at Long Lots Jr. High when I was in the 7th grade– I think some kids may have had transistor radios. My family was also glued to the TV for days. It would be difficult to forget the image of Oswald being shot right in front of us on live TV and everything that followed.

  8. Your story is beautifully written. I wish I could remember more from that day but I do remember vividly a few things. I was in 7th grade at Bedford. The hallway was crowded with lots of kids standing at their lockers when Mr. Van Zant came running down the hallway screaming that Kennedy had been shot. It was surreal and I believe we were all stunned. I did see Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV and that was even more unbelievable as there just wasn’t any violence on television at the time. So sad then and still so sad today.

  9. Dan..I was probably one of those teen agers you saw at Staples as you walked home from school that awful day. It was an X period day and so I was in a rehearsal that Friday afternoon. Mr. Weigle came to the stage and said the president had been shot and then shortly after that he returned with the stunning, horrifying news that Kennedy had died. People just wandered outside and no one seemed to care about proper dismissal, teachers and students walked around in a daze. I wanted to call my family, miraculously there was a pay phone no one was using and I called my mother, she had not heard the news and both of us wept. Then I sat out on the lawn with friends for a long time. I found a four leaf clover that afternoon which I kept until it finally fell apart. The Choir sang in a memorial service on Monday and many of us just wept through most of it. It is difficult to capture the hugeness of the feelings experienced that day and even still today.

    • I was at Staples with you Jane and like you remember the event just as vividly. In my mind the details of half a century ago remain clear to this day.

      We had just received our report cards, as I recall, and we were wondering in the halls comparing grades. I had looked out the window and saw our principal Stan Lorenzen walk out of the building and towards his car in the parking lot. A few moments later the public address system crackled on and the Vice- Principal (Was his name Jacobsen?) came on and in very halting address said, and I remember it as clearly today as if it were moments ago:

      ” I regret to inform you….(pause) . that there has been an attempt on the life….of” (long pause….he cleared his throat)

      (and suddenly I though, why would anyone want to harm Mr. Lorenzen?)

      “….The President of the United States.”

      There were screams from around me. 2 girls started to wail. People punched lockers. One of our class’ real intellectuals said “This is not possible, it can’t happen. No one would want Johnson to be our president. Johnson is Kennedy’s insurance policy!”

      We all rushed to the math room where there was a radio and it was turned on. People came in from the hallway. Consciously or not everyone stood with tearstains on their cheeks…some crying out loud, some inaudibly. Everyone was in shock and time moved in slow motion.

      We listened to the radio in complete disbelief. Very few people said anything…and then slowly we all just drifted out of the rooms, out of school and somehow got home.

      I remember sitting for the next three days in front of the old black and white TV, and for the first time my parents never once said “Turn it off, you’ve watched enough.”

      A few years later class members contributed to have a bronze plaque made for the wall of the office as you entered the school. It captured that moment with the quote from JFK’s inaugural address which has become cliche today, but was fresh and new and truly meaningful then:

      “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

      • Thanks Adam and Jane for your poignant recollections of that awful day. I was there too, a sophomore sitting in my home room in the shop building daydreaming about the upcoming varsity football game against Darien for the state title. Both teams were undefeated and the NYT was billing the match-up as “Connecticut’s Game of the Century:. I was also thinking about our JV season finale against Norwalk. Seconds later those daydreams were shattered when Nancy Arnold ’66, the current asst attorney general of CT, burst in the room with the news that JFK had been shot. Then came the PA announcement that you described so well, Adam, with Mr. Jacobsen filling in for Stan Lorenzen (I’d forgotten that detail). The rest is a blur. I set out to locate my sister Suzy (’65, like you and Jane) and our exchange student from Germany, Isabel Seider ’64. Iz loved JFK and had met him in a Rose Garden ceremony a few days before she arrived in Westport. Our daughter Isabel, now age 19, was named for Iz as I remember her that day, standing in Cancer Plaza with tears streaming down her face, sobbing. .

      • Adam, I believe the plaque was a gift from the Class of 1964. It sat on the outside of the school for years. In the modernization of 1978-81 — which connected the 9 separate buildings — it was taken down. A few years later, a search turned it up in a storage room. Mollie Donovan led an effort to remount the plaque. Today it is still on the outside wall of what was the front of the old school — but it’s enclosed by the central courtyard between the lobby of the new school and the guidance suite, visible only by whoever is walking in that courtyard (usually no one).

  10. I was in my senior year and a member of the school debate team at Forest Hills High School in Queens, NY. I was in a debate practice assigned to argue for the proposition, ‘Resolved: The U.S. Congress should approve President Kennedy’s proposed Medicare plan to provide health care for the aged.’ Word came during practice that the President had been assassinated. The debate stopped and class was dismissed early. The debate in the country over Kennedy’s proposal was loud and acrimonious. Unfortunately, it took his death and the advent of Johnson’s Great Society to secure passage of a Medicare program. BTW, today, fifty years later, I am a beneficiary of that program.

  11. I was in Tom Wall’s Assumption School class but didn’t remember it was Sister Superior who told us. What I remember most vividly is watching TV that Friday night with my father as the President’s plane arrived back in Washington and seeing Mrs. Kennedy get off the plane. The TV was black and white but the stain on her suit was unbelievably powerful.

  12. I was going to school at the Temple Israel because our Weston school had burned down. I loved Kennedy, he said we were going to the moon! How great was that.

  13. Well said Dan

  14. Beautifully written, Dan. I was in 7th grade at Bedford and remember the announcement came over the intercom by the principal. Being as young as I was, I was not much into politics, but Kennedy fascinated me. I watched his news conferences, and loved him. We were all glued to the TV that afternoon and all weekend. I saw Oswald murdered as it happened and also watched the funeral. I saved all the newspapers too, but eventually gave them to a nephew of mine, and I doubt he still has them. Our country was never the same after that terrible day. I hope I have some time to watch CBS this afternoon. 50 years later, and it seems, in some ways, like yesterday.

  15. Thank you Dan. I was in the parking lot at Staples that sunny afternoon. Rhoda Harvey and I moved about from group to group of young people trying to help them with ther sorrow and with ours. A friend from Vermont this morning writes “May we all pause for a moment today for a moment of prayer for peace.” And in so doing, maybe, I thought, bring back some of the climate of hope we felt during the Kennedy years.

  16. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Those of us over 50 who remember who he was and what we’ve lost, must resolve to carry his work forward because there will never be another like him to do it for us. We must do it ourselves. As he said, poignantly, “Life is not fair.”

  17. President Kennedy certainly inspired me when I was a young boy. I still have and treasure a letter on White House stationery to me from Special Assistant Ralph Dungan, which was in reply to a letter I had sent to the President in 2nd grade.

    So, it was a real shock hearing the news at Coleytown El 50 years ago and, like Ann B, some of my most vivid memories from that terrible day are of sitting in my den with my family, being glued to our black & white TV, while watching the President’s plane arrive in Washington and seeing the coffin being taken off, Jackie getting off the plane, and then watching President Johnson deliver a short speech on the tarmac. The whole setting almost seemed surreal.

    Your photo of the Life Magazine cover brings back the memory of how we saw all of that long weekend–and all TV news–in black & white and then saw everything days later in full-color photos in the issue(s) of Life that we had a longtime subscription to.

  18. Douglass Davidoff

    Thank you, Dan, for the remembrance. Thank you, also, to all the other Westporters commenting on Dan’s beautiful post.
    I was six years old and a student in Mrs. Huck’s first grade at Bedford Elementary School, now the Town Hall. I had come home a few minutes earlier on the school bus and was wandering down the street from my house at 9 Loren Lane in Sniffen Estates off Clinton Avenue.
    I was looking for a friend to play with.
    The neighborhood bully found me at the corner of Loren Lane and Sniffen Road.
    “YOUR president is DEAD,” he said, taunting me with a new degree of power because he knew I was a Kennedy fan.
    I ran home.
    I just blogged about the whole experience of JFK’s death from my six-year-old perspective at

  19. My grandmother had a ritual of taking her grandchildren to Washington on their 13th birthday. She believe we should see government up close and personal. She also skipped breakfast, having coffee in her room so I would go to the restaurant on my own for breakfast. We stayed at the Mayflower. I was sitting by myself when the hostess came over to ask if I would mind sharing the table as they were very busy. Times were different then and I said no problem.

    The person who joined me was Senator John Kennedy. The most personable and charismatic person I had ever met or would ever meet. When I told him why I was in Washington he gave me special passes to visit the Senate, he made an appointment to get us a special tour of the FBI (something I was interested in.) A couple of days which will remain for ever in my memory.

    The day he was shot I was on the floor of the NYSE. The traders on the floor froze, my legs became weak and I can remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My “best friend” (even though I never saw him again after that trip) was gone.

    I don’t know how others who have written comments feel but adding to the discussion makes me feel better. Dan, thanks for initiating the discussion…

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      Peter, your wonderful recollection is validation that those of us who remember him are indeed correct in recalling the memory of a wonderful human leader who was one of us and we are one with him. I wish they made them like that these days. Haven’t seen anyone in 50 years come even close to JFK, except, maybe Bobby but we lost them so close together it was as if they were one.

  20. Yes, Peter, I agree that writing about the day avails us a bit of comfort. It is striking to me how easily one is drawn back to that day, that the intensity of the feelings and memories can be re-experienced with such vividness. I also think it’s interesting I have no memory of receiving a report card that day. What a wonderful story about meeting Kennedy at the Mayflower, what a treasure of a memory.

  21. Beautifully recalled, Dan. I was in 4th grade, a Newbie at Saugatuck Elementary (the Real One, now an old folks home – too appropriate). The news began as a rumor, at lunch I believe. Then Principal Bill Amunsen announced it over the P.A. and disbelieved rumor became fact. We were let out of school early, in shock. Like you, this is my first concious awareness of contemporaneous news and it still ‘happened yesterday’.

  22. 50 years ago today, I was in Mr. Norris’ Music Class at Christ the King (Marist) High School in Middle Village, Queens, New York when Brother James Damien, the Principal, came on the P.A. with the news that the President had been shot and then later that he had died. This was staggering news for us and for our Catholic school. Few things in my life do I remember as clearly as that moment and the days that followed. I actually watched Jack Ruby gun down Lee Oswald on live TV. I watched the funeral. I watched it all and remember it like yesterday.

    Thanks Dan! Great job!

  23. Thank you Dan ……………The world changed that day.

  24. Our teacher in 6th grade at Coleytown was called out of the room, came back moments later and stood by the door.. head down, shoulders hunched over.. she was red faced. She said Kennedy was shot. She was called back out of the room. Moments later and two women were in the room and stood in front of the class. The loudspeaker came on and our Principal Lynn O’Dell made the announcement that Kennedy had died. We were all in such shock and were silent for a long time.

    My mom was wailing the next day saying that she knew “they” wouldn’t let a Catholic be president. The entire world stopped and we were all glued to the TV for days. The Oswald murder was dramatic but didn’t overshadow the funeral of JFK. That shot of John John saluting his dad was seared into my memory. When John John died, younger people couldn’t believe all of the fuss, but those of us who mourned the first time, mourned again.. like it was yesterday.

    The nation was obsessed over the assassination for a long time. I think we still are. I had breakfast with a client today who said her first cousin was a nurse in trauma at the Hospital where JFK was brought that day. That woman is now gone but my client said that her cousin recounted that scene was very chaotic and that the staff was kept in the dark about everything. (this isn’t the cousin, but I found it fascinating)

  25. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Of all the places my family lived, we happened to be living in Houston, Texas then. I was in kindergarten. It was lunchtime. There was an announcement in the cafeteria. Although so young, it was very,very clear to me that something was terribly wrong.

  26. Charlie Greenwald

    Fantastic, Dan. You write so well- it reminds me of how I felt after Newtown. Thanks for a wonderful insight and account of your experiences that day.

  27. David Stalling

    I was about three weeks shy of my third birthday when President Kennedy was shot and killed. I don’t know if I actually remember any of it or if bits and pieces were just deeply burned and imprinted into my brain during the days, weeks and months that followed. How could a child not be at least somewhat affected when surrounded by so much sorrow?

    My mother loved JFK and talked taught me a lot about him, lessons often accompanied by grief and tears. I remember leafing through issues of Life magazines and a photographic history book of JFK that remained on our bookshelf for years. I sometimes heard my parents and other adults talk about where they were when they learned JFK was killed. It as one of those rare, tragic events — like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 — that gets so ingrained in people’s memories that for the rest of their lives the questions often arise: “Where were you, what were you doing?”

    The image that stuck strongest in my head is the photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. (“John-John”) — less than a month older than me — saluting his father’s casket. It’s a powerfully emotional photo; emotions that poured forth from me when JFK Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999.

    I also remember watching the movie PT-109, about the ship John F. Kennedy was commanding in WWII, and the heroic actions he took in saving the lives of his crew after they were struck by a Japanese destroyer. (Yes, this was back in the day people actually often served their country and put their own lives on the line for our nation before getting into politics.) For years, I pretended to be JFK and played out various versions of PT-109 in an old boat we had sitting in our backyard.

    Like many people, I’ve often wondered how different the world might be if the tragic events of November 22, 1963 never happened.

  28. Patricia Kingsley SHS '78

    I was three when President Kennedy was killed. It is my earliest memory and the most vivid of my childhood. My mother and I were alone in the basement playroom watching TV. I was playing with dolls while my mom did the ironing. Then the news report came on – the President had been shot. Then the news that he was dead. I remember seeing my mom crumple into a chair. She didn’t just cry, she sobbed. It was the first time I had seen her cry. I think my strong memory is more a reaction to seeing my mother cry than to the bigger event that was unfolding.

    I remember watching the funeral procession on TV. Again, as a three year old I’m not sure what I thought of it all, but I remember the sadness that pervaded the house. And then John John saluted. He was my age and this was his dad.

    Growing up, President Kennedy was always a hallowed name in our house. We had all the books, we had the original Life magazine displayed with the cover photo of Jackie, Caroline and John John standing on the steps watching the funeral procession go by. I always felt a certain satisfaction at the fact that my dad had the same initials as President Kennedy – JFK. And of course, I was heartbroken when JFK Jr. died.

    The strength and poignancy of John F. Kennedy’s words all these years later is amazing to me. I don’t know if my son will ever grasp the gravitas that the name “Kennedy” evokes for people my age and older, but hopefully he can look beyond the mess of politics today and find guidance in JFK’s words: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”