November 22, 1963

Today is Friday, November 22, 2019.

If you were alive on Friday, 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 56 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.

JFK NYT

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.

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.

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

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 JFK’s 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, more than 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-six 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.

52 responses to “November 22, 1963

  1. Thanks for sharing this detailed account. I too remember this day vividly although I was only in Kindergarten. We were sent home from school early and I arrived to find my mother watching TV and crying. I remember watching the funeral. And although I was very young, I felt great sadness for Jackie and her children. I think these events made me aware for the first time of how my sense of security could be disrupted in a few moments, and not to take it for granted.

  2. I remember every moment of that horrible weekend. Sister Jean came into our 3rd grade class that day to announce JFK’s death and our school closed for the day. We watched the events on TV all weekend, including the shocking assassination of Oswald right before our eyes. I still marvel at the many theories about whodunit. Years ago, there was a weekly radio broadcast by a professor of investigation journalism at University of Hartford, George Michael Evica called “Assasination Journal.” Professor Evica also penned a research guide “And We Are All Mortal.” It was a fascinating, detailed study of the many aspects of what happened, the weapon, the wounds, and who may have been involved. There’s an exhibit “The Sixth Floor” in Dealy Plaza, that is worth visiting if you’re in Dallas. Thanks for the tribute, Dan!

  3. Marty Jaramillo

    Dan
    A beautiful story to start my day. Thank you.
    Although I was not born yet. The story has always captivated me.
    We could all use a little JFK in our lives.
    Be well
    MJ

  4. Charles Taylor

    Beautifully said Dan! I was a junior in college in KY. We were playing touch football when a student ran up and said the Presidents been killed in Dallas.

  5. This is such a beautiful and touching post – thank you, Dan.

  6. Louis Weinberg

    Thanks Dan. Well done.

  7. Mary Schmerker

    Thank you Dan. You captured the day and the mood perfectly and with genuine emotion. I also vividly remember the fateful day. I was one year out of college and working for the Girl scouts in Hartford. Our boss had taken us out to lunch to discuss a problem and a solution. When we returned the person who had remained behind to answer phones said: Kennedy was shot. We were all in shock. I was scheduled to meet with a Girl Scout Troop in Hartford who were about the same age you were, Dan, 5th and 6th graders. Some were African Americans and all were devastated. Everyone, the girls, their leaders and I were in shock. I wish I could remember what we said to those girls . I don’t other than our President had been killed. No one even blinked when schools closed early or events cancelled and children sent home with out notice early. It was a simpler time. We have changed. I went home to Westport that evening. There I was finally able to watch a TV and the coverage. I also still have the Time Magazine , NY Times and NY Herald Tribune. My boss in Hartford said she would never go to Dallas. I don’t know if she kept her word. I have been to Dallas but never to the visited the place where history for ever changed. We were given Monday off so I did watch the service and funeral procession. I still have seared in my brain the picture of Jackie Kennedy dressed in black, Caroline and JFK Jr. in their coats and JFK Jr. saluting his dad’s casket.

    • Thanks, Mary. It definitely took Dallas a long time to recover. I went to the 6th Floor Museum the first time I was in the city. It’s a fascinating tour, and when it ended at the “sniper’s nest” in the School Book Depository — and I looked out at the motorcade route — I realized there was no way Oswald could have acted alone. The sightlines (with the trees constantly trimmed back), the winding road, the angle — all of it were way too difficult for an average marksman, and the type of rifle he used. The 6th Floor Museum is definitely worth a visit, whenever you’re in Dallas.

      • It’s interesting—because I don’t recall ever discussing this with you before but, having visited Dealey Plaza, I had the exact opposite conclusion. It seemed so close to me in person—even closer than it had appeared in film footage.

      • Michael Pettee

        A few things:
        I have been to Dealey plaza and the book depository three times. Each time I walk away with the same impression: there is no way he could have done it alone.
        I was home from Burr Farms with the measles or something that day. I was playing outside and Mary McArdle who lived across the street on Morningside Lane came running home from school and frantically told me the President had been shot. She went to Saint Luke’s and they were let out of school early that day.
        As our language has evolved, the phrase “grassy knoll” for me can only be that place in Dallas.
        My 22-year-old son has taken an interest in the whole thing. He’s convinced of a plot which is wider than a lone assassin.

  8. Beautiful and touching recounting of the day. I was also in 5th grade. What I remember most is the odd grey color of the sky as I walked home from school on West End Avenue.

  9. Dave Gottschalk

    What a wonderful piece of journalism
    Beautifully written and moving.
    Having been only 3 at the time, you gave me
    a true sense of what that moment was like
    for a youngster. Terrifying yet captivating.
    Great work – keep it up!

  10. Beautifully done, thank you!

  11. Working in DC at time I felt the impact of that day more than many. A nightmare I revisited with your reflections. It was a time that could have been and when i see the orange clown on TV I get extra sad. Especially today.

  12. Thank you. Beautifully written!

  13. Eloquent and evocative. Thank you Dan.

    (I, too, use the McGrory/Moynihan exchange when describing that day. It breaks my heart each time.)

  14. Thank you Dan.

    I have but one minor addendum to your story about that tragic day if I might. While you correctly quoted and attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan his response to Mary McGrory he, actually, later that afternoon said something even more memorable and profound which I have never forgotten. On a street in NYC he was stopped and asked for a comment by a reporter, he paused, collected his thoughts and said: “The Irish know that life is eventually going to break our hearts. I guess that we thought we had a little more time.”

    In that single sentence describing those of us who are Irish, he captured for all time the pathos of that day and the essence of what it means to be Irish.

  15. I was born the day after JFK was assassinated. I would have been named Christopher, but my parents who immigrated to the US from Holland felt they should honor Kennedy by naming me after him. I am honored.

  16. Excellent, Dan. Thank you! I had never heard John Patrick Moynihan’s eloquent comment re the Irish (John Suggs). Beautiful! Mary Condon

  17. Michael Elliot

    Dan, vivid recollections of a most impactful day for a 9th grader at Coleytown Elementary. I will never forget being dismissed early and not really understanding why. Upon arriving home my mother was sobbing. I had never seen my parents cry. It was a frightening time. We were all glued to the T.V. for three days. Like many I was watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Recently I was in Austin, TX and visited the LBJ library, it was as if I was back in 1963. I have to make time to get to Boston and the JFK Library. A journey back in time.

  18. Such a beautiful tribute, Dan. It brought back all the feelings I had on that day.

  19. Patrick Kennedy

    Dan, great piece. Thank you! Patrick j Kennedy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  20. Peter Gambaccini

    This is brilliant evocative writing, Dan. I was choked up by the time I reached the end. There was no official announcement that afternoon at Long Lots Junior High, and as I went down the hall on my way to walk home, I only heard vague mutterings and got a sense of some rift in the normal order of things. When I reached the parking lot, a woman was sitting in her car with the door open and her feet on the ground, and it was only when I heard her car radio and sensed her shock that I realized what had happened. I walked home alone, not sharing any thoughts with any friends.

    Everything else stopped and faded into the background, of course. I spent the next three days watching events unfold on TV. Jackie’s sorrow was something I hadn’t seen before. Dallas seemed like a faraway place, not part of my world, and probably a little scary, with so many stern-faced officials still wearing cowboy hats. Violence had entered our world so abruptly, and so permanently, that when I watched Ruby kill Oswald as it happened, I wasn’t surprised in the least.

    No one ever remembers the day Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died.

  21. Beautifully told, Dan. Thank you. I was in the 4th grade and nothing’s been the same since.

  22. Dan, you really are an amazing writer and your ability to tell a story makes me think that you have Irish roots. Like many, I will never forget 11/22 and how one inconsequential and troubled man changed human history.
    I have to respectfully disagree with you about conspiracy. After a lot of studying and multiple visits to Dealey Plaza (I used to work nearby) I am convinced that there was only one shooter.
    Imagine if the morning rain that day had continued into the afternoon and the hardtop was on the car. But for a weather pattern…

  23. Dan, Thank you for today’s piece. You described those days perfectly. I can still get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

  24. Me, too.

  25. Thank you for expressing the thoughts of everyone who loved JFK. I have something to add to that: My stepson was born that day, when the nurse came out to give my husband the news of the baby’s birth, she said it in these words: “President Kennedy was just killed and you’ve just had a son.”
    Today we are remembering sadly, and at the same time, celebrating happily. Sometimes the love for both of them has been too great to bear. Thanks for your remembrances Dan.

  26. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    On November 22, 1963
    I was 20 years old and in the USN stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Brunswick Maine. I was sitting on my bunk talking with other guys when it was announced that President Kennedy was shot. We ran down to the recreation room and watch history unfold on television.
    A tragic day for all Americans.
    Sincerely,
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

  27. Dan,

    I remember the day as well…even though I was only seven. I came in from the Kings Highway Elementary bus to our home near Longshore and walked into the kitchen and my mother had the radio on and she was crying. She turned to me and said “somebody shot the president”. The next few days was a similar experience for me as you describe for yourself!

  28. Dan, perhaps titanically your best writing which as we all know is saying alot… just the little details as to getting to Burrs Farms School are priceless. Bravo, bravo.

  29. Thank you Dan.. your incredible hour by hour account of that awful day is exactly as I remember it .. the bus ride home from Long Lots and finding my Mom crying in front of the TV.

  30. Deb Rosenfield

    Dan, your beautifully written memory of that day brought tears and memories flooding back just now. I was in elementary school, 6th grade at P.S. 5 in Woodmere, NY, a stone’s throw from Idlewild Airport (now JFK International). (In fact, from the back deck of my parents’ house, we were able to watch planes landing and taking off and could see the men in the air traffic control tower with our telescope.) We were in the regular Friday assembly in the school auditorium when we were asked to line up and head to the basement because the President had been shot (his death hadn’t been confirmed at that point). During these years of the cold war, we had routine “bomb shelter” drills, like other kids had fire drills, as it was assumed that, in a war with Russia, Idlewild would be one of the first sites to be bombed. So, we elementary schoolers walked, single file, to the basement, sat on the concrete floor, backs against the wall, knees up, heads down, while awaiting further instructions and information. Finally, we were told that the President had died and that the buses would be coming early to pick us up and take us home. Ordinarily, our “bomb shelter” drills were not scary if we didn’t link them to an enemy attack, but that day, because the initial news was scarce and rumors were flying (such as LBJ had died, too), we were all terrified. When I read about little kids today going through active shooter drills, I can just imagine what goes through their heads if they stop to think about why they are doing the drill
    .

  31. Born in 1970, this has always been hard for me to imagine. This piece really crystalizes it- beautifully written, Dan. And when I walked into Dealey Plaza for the first time, I came to same conclusion as you- but interesting that it’s still debatable.

  32. Hanne Jeppesen

    I was 18 years old, and living in my native Denmark. At that time I was staying with my aunt in Copenhagen. It was around 7:30 p.m. when we heard the first bulletin (we were watching TV) and then a little later we got the awful news. I will never forget my aunts reaction “My God they killed him”. The next morning I took the train to spend the week end with my parents (30 miles south of Copenhagen). That Saturday I went to a Jazz Club as planned with friends, and although we danced and enjoyed the music all we talked about was the Kennedy assassination, even though it had happened far away and we mostly in our teens and early twenties. The rest of the week end my parents and I did what American’s did, we sat glued to the TV.

    Thank you Dan for writing this insightful blog, it help us remember our past history, not matter how unpleasant and tragic, which sometime I think we tend to forget.

  33. Raymond O'Sullivan

    You were 5 years old in the 5th grade?
    If you were alive on Friday, November 22, 1963 — and over, say, 5 years old……I was in 5th grade.

    • I don’t know how you could misinterpret what I wrote, Raymond. Those sentences are in completely different paragraphs — separated by 2 other paragraphs.

      People who were under 5 could not remember the assassination. Most people who were 5 and over that day do.

      I was in 5th grade that day. I never said I was 5 years old.

  34. Thanks, Dan for that moving memory. I’m still astounded at the little girl laughing and then the teacher’s response!

    Mine is a similar memory, and I also remember being sent home from Bedford Elementary School early that day after the announcement came over the PA and teachers were crying in the hallway.

    I was in the 1st grade in Miss Huck’s class and walking home alone as a six-year-old was a bit unusual but some of the buses weren’t running on schedule. It was hard to grasp the full reality as a six-year-old but by the time I got home after stopping in at the Meritt Superette, my parents had both gotten home and were tearing up in front of our black-and-white TV rolled into our kitchen.

    Then followed the assassination of Oswald and the funeral. Our family was glued to the TV for the whole weekend. Even so young we will never be the same.

    When I think of my childhood, this is always one of the 1st memories that pops up of walking down Main Street then I think about. I can’t believe that was 56 years ago! Thanks again for this post.

    • When I think about it. Voice text🙄

      Dan, I agree that when one surveys the scene in Dallas, it would be hard to conclude that Oswald acted alone. No way.

      Kennedy was my first and probably my only beloved president. I loved him so much as a little girl. Today would be a good day to watch Oliver Stone’s JFK movie. “Don’t forget your dying king. This is a government of the people for the people and by the people. Never forget that.” Not exact quote but close enough.

  35. A small portrait of JFK hangs in my office, captioned with his statement that “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Kennedy’s spirit shines brightly in the millions of Americans who continue to ask what they can do for their country.

    Thank you, Dan, for sharing your memories of, and reflections on, November 22, 1963. I am sharing this piece with my children because of the moving way that your narrative humanizes this moment in history and highlights the enduring power of inspirational leadership.

  36. I was in Lagos, Nigeria, in the Peace Corps. That afternoon I was with a friend. Someone came running into his apartment with the news. We congregated in the hall, and I believe I later went to the Peace Corps Rest House to be with other volunteers that evening. Was there a TV? I don’t remember, but I do remember the feeling of grief. We were all in Nigeria because of his creation, the Peace Corps!

  37. Linda Grabill Parker

    Thank you , Dan . I’ve always admired your writing , and this is superb. I shared your feelings precisely – although I was a 21year old working in the men’s work clothes dept in JCPenney in Denver , Co – I was utterly heartbroken and sobbed at great length.I was devastated again with MLK’s murder and RFK -the train carrying his body to DC was one of the saddest moments of my life .More wars , tragedies , disasters – and then 9/11 – I screamed bloody murder when I saw that 2nd tower fall .All of these nightmares begin with a weapon .( a box cutter of all things )We owe it to our nation to initiate serious gun control measures- we have a moral responsibility to do this , I believe . Thank you for your time , Dan

  38. Cathy Smith Barnett SHS '66

    I remember that day vividly. I was in 10th grade at SHS. It was Friday afternoon and we gathered in the gym to have our pictures taken. There seemed to be an unusual bustle of activity as I overheard bits of conversation that President Kennedy had been shot. I walked to the auditorium alone for Girls Glee practice for the Christmas Candlelight Concert just a few weeks away. A couple of girls were sitting in their seats crying and others seemed upset and shaken up. Then I heard someone say that Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I was stunned and everything was a blur until I got on the bus to go home and I suddenly had a feeling of deep sadness. At home I watched TV and there was nothing else on the major 3 networks. There was no way to escape this news and everyone seemed to spend the whole weekend glued to the TV. Then we witnessed Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald and I wondered how this could happen here in the USA. I thought we were all safe especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis when Kennedy stood up to Kruschev and made him move his missiles in Cuba aimed at the US. For me JFK’s death was the end of innocence, it was the end of Camelot.

    • Hanne Jeppesen

      By the time RFK and MLK was killed l was living in Westport. I too remember the funeral train, very sad. During the Cuban missile crisis l was still living in my native Denmark, we followed it carefully, my Dad was a great admirer of JFK and how he stood up to the USSR, being in somewhat close proximity he worried about being invaded, my parents had already lived through 5 years of Nazi occupation.

      Listening to the speeches by all 3 men JFK, RFK and MLK, and how eloquent they were and comparing them to the President we have now can’t help thinking how low we have fallen and what happened. Sad and disturbing

  39. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Thanks to you,Dan & everyone, here,for sharing that day.
    I was in fifth grade at Temple Israel (they’d just opened their facilities to us fifth and sixth graders in Weston after the horrific Hurlbutt school fire,October,1963.)
    I came home early,that day (my parents both at work) and I felt so lost;
    I then went to my next door neighbor’s ,where I sat with their mom (& her mom) in front of the tv in the basement..we were crying,sitting there.
    That night, my parents were both crying; I’d never seen them cry, before.
    Another lifetime ago.. all these entries here always a reminder of that sad day.

  40. Hanne Jeppesen

    At the risk of boring everyone with my comments, I would like to add this. I was 15 living in my native Denmark when Kennedy was elected. Before that I did not pay much attention to politics, especially US politics, I knew Eisenhower was President, but that was about it. My dad as I mentioned in another post, was a big fan of President Kennedy, when JKF and Jackie started to appear in Danish magazines, my friends and I started to pay attention, especially to Jackie, before Jackie, we thought of American women as either Mamie Eisenhower or movie stars, she was very different and we studied her clothes, her hairstyle. I remember when she went to Paris with the President, I remember Kennedy’s speech in Berlin. We were captivated by this handsome, charming young couple and their children, so when the President was shot, we grieved with Jackie and her children. My Dad worried more about the political aspect, but seem to think Johnson would follow some of the foreign policies of Kennedy.

    I came to Westport as an au pair in early 1967, I went back to Denmark at the end of 1968 for an extended stay, before heading back to the US. By then I was opposed to the Vietnam war, my Dad was not, he felt the communist should be stopped wherever possible, we got into a big argument, which I think similar what took place in many American households. Of course by then both Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy had been assassinated, and my generation had become delusional about politics and the war. As Tom Hayden said many years laterr “We became a generation of what might have been”. So true.

  41. Dan,
    A beautifully written and very thought provoking recollection of a most sad, poignant time in our history. Thank you for sharing your memory
    of that horrible historical day with us.

    Scott

  42. Thank you for sharing Dan …

  43. Barbara Sherburne, '67

    Dan, thank you so much for writing this excellent piece of journalism. I think it’s one of your best. Your memory of details is amazing. I am two years older than you are, and I can’t remember things as clearly as you do. I was in seventh grade at Bedford Junior High, and a message came over the PA system saying that the president had been shot. I can’t remember if we were dismissed right after that or not. As many other people have said, I was pretty much glued to the TV for days. My mom was an avid supporter of Kennedy, and that is probably why I was familiar with his press conferences and knew about his family.

    I love your selection of photos and the illustration by Bill Mauldin. I saved practically everything written about Kennedy in newspapers and magazines for a long time, but I sent all of them to my brother, and he probably doesn’t have them any longer.

    I believe Oswald did not act alone. There is a compelling chapter in Cyril Wecht’s book, Cause of Death. The chapter is “The Great American Murder Mystery: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” My brother was able to get Cyril Wecht to write a note in his book, and he wrote: “To Barb – Who agrees with me, even though her brother, George, doesn’t. With best wishes! Cyril H. Wecht.”

    Thanks again, Dan, for sharing your memories.

  44. Beautiful remembrance Dan. You captured perfectly how we felt – the shock, anger, and most especially the overwhelming sadness – at the loss of our hero.

  45. Excellent post Dan! I remember the somber atmosphere and Walter Cronkite in that black & white newsreel. (not that day .. I was only 2.25 years old!) He was a great man! Both of my young Republican parents had voted for him. They valued his change he was trying to bring.