Alle-Kiski Valley readers share memories of John F. Kennedy
By Valley News Dispatch
Published: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
In everyone's life, there has been at least one, “Where were you when you heard ...” moments.
For the Greatest Generation, it was Dec. 7, 1941, soon to be known forever as “Pearl Harbor Day.” Many who remember that day were just sitting down to Sunday dinner when the bulletin flashed from their radio.
For the Millennials, it's Sept. 11, 2001, when Al-Qaida attacked America. Many were in school and watched the terrorism unfold on their classroom television.
For older Baby Boomers — those aged 55 to 65 — it's the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Most were in class that Friday afternoon. Schools then might have had a television in the building, but not in the classroom. Radios were forbidden and the Internet didn't exist. Most people heard by word of mouth.
Teacher delivered the news
I was in third grade at Leechburg Elementary School when I first heard the news. Our teacher, Mrs. Wieble, quietly told us at the end of school that something terrible happened in our country and to go straight home and talk with our parents.
When I got home, my mother was sitting in front of the TV with tears in her eyes and explained what happened.
The only thing I remember about the funeral procession was the sound of clamping horse hooves and the riderless horse with the empty boots.
Denise Fiorina Brzezinski
Irony runs deep
I was coming back from Pittsburgh after taking my enlistment physical and oath for joining the U.S. Air Force. I had the car radio on and before the Fort Pitt Tunnels, the music was interrupted with the announcement that President Kennedy was shot.
When I got home to Natrona, there was a letter waiting for me.
It was from President Kennedy saying I had been drafted into the Army.
Called away from work
I will never forget Nov. 22, 1963. I was working for the Davis family doing odd jobs. I was hosing the garage floor when Mrs. Davis ran up and said, “President Kennedy has been shot.” She told me to stop what I was doing and come watch the special newscast on television.
Mrs. Davis had two guests, Pittsburgh TV personality Rickie Wertz and a Mrs. Murray, whose husband was WTAE newscaster Don Murray. “I guess my husband will be working real late tonight,” Mrs. Murray said.
Everyone was glued to the TV for the next few days and saw Lee Harvey Oswald's murder and Kennedy's funeral.
Who can ever forget seeing John Jr. salute the carriage carrying his father's body?
He saw a teacher cry
I was in the ninth grade at Plum Junior High School in biology class. My teacher, Miss Patty, left the room and came back crying. It was the first time I ever saw a teacher cry.
‘The whole world wept'
It's amazing, I turn 60 this year. I can't remember what I did five minutes ago, but I can remember that day.
I was only 10 years old, but I was an admirer of JFK. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Hill, told us the president had been shot and that we were being sent home.
That evening, we watched it all on TV. In our house, it was CBS with Walter Cronkite. We watched the plane land and the casket being lifted out. Mrs. Kennedy's suit still covered with her husband's blood. We just stared in disbelief.
Sunday morning, I turned on the television. In those days, you had wait for the TV to “warm up.”
I sat there and saw Jack Ruby come out of the crowd and shoot Oswald. I'm shocked. The day of the funeral, Monday, was a sad day for America and the world. Businesses were closed, so were the schools. We cried. The whole world wept that day.
Didn't get to take a test
I was 16, in the 11th grade at Tarentum High School. It was my fifth-period Algebra II class, taught by Charles Campbell, and we were about to take a major exam. I was agonizing because I hadn't prepared and worried that I would fail.
When Mr. Campbell entered the room, he said, “In a couple of minutes the bell will ring and you are to return to your homerooms very quickly, very quietly and very orderly. There will be an important announcement and you will receive further instructions.” By the look on his face, we could tell something was seriously wrong.
And I was absolutely overjoyed that the exam was cancelled.
Once in our homerooms, Principal Wade Whitlatch made the somber announcement over the intercom system. “President Kennedy's motorcade was fired upon in Dallas, Texas. He was wounded and has been taken to Parkland Hospital. No other details are available at this time. We are cancelling classes for the rest of the afternoon so that you can be with your families and watch on television the events of today unfold into history.”
Coming out of the building, there was a funeral procession coming up Ross Street. As the hearse passed, we could see an American flag covering the coffin.
There was complete silence as the realization and significance of the day and that moment started to settle on all of us.
Classmates took bets
I was a sophomore at Kiski Area High School and had just turned 15 two days earlier. The principal came on the P.A. system and told us that the president had been shot and then put on the radio for us to hear it live. Three girls started crying their eyes out and I felt like doing the same.
Two straight D students behind me started laughing about it and taking bets on whether Kennedy was going to live or die! Can you believe that?
The most prominent memory for me after that was little John-John saluting his daddy's flag-draped coffin and LBJ being sworn in looking like he didn't give a damn. I wondered back then if he had anything to do with it.
By the way, the one joker that day died a horrible death. I always thought it was partly due to his reaction that day.
Commotion in New Ken
I was remodeling Berkey's Men's Store on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington with a co-worker, Ed Mozzy. We saw lots of people running around and gathering on the street so we ran to see what was happening.
We found out the bad news about JFK.
Even lockers were quiet
I was a junior in high school and I was in my shorthand class when the announcement was made. Students were instructed to return to their lockers and leave the building.
I can still recall how quiet it became.
Even the lockers did not seem to make noise.
Quiet rush hour in D.C.
My memory of that fateful day was one of extreme disbelief and sadness. I was employed by U.S. Navy in Arlington, Va. The reaction was stunned silence, tears and disbelief. We were permitted to leave work. That sure was a quiet and somber early “rush hour” in the D.C. area.
When we found out his body was being returned to the nearby Andrews Air Force Base, we tried to go to show support.
We were 19- and 20-year-olds — we had to be there for our President. Unfortunately, we were turned away.
The end of Camelot
I was 21 years old, happily married and pregnant with my second son. It was my last day of school at Citizens General Hospital School of Nursing. When I got on the bus in New Kensington, I heard a lady tell another lady that the president had been shot in Dallas.
My heart froze. I loved our president, as did most Americans. He had a wonderful sense of humor, was very humble and not afraid to laugh at himself.
When I got home to Lower Burrell, I turned on the television and called my mother. We cried on the phone. For four days, we were glued to the television.
There was a young family in the White House and life was on the right track.
All of a sudden, LBJ was president and Camelot had ended.
‘Go back to your dorms'
I was a freshman at Clarion State College. The professor in this class gave some opening remarks and we were to watch a movie. He left the room, but returned a short time later, turned on the lights and turned off the projector.
He walked quietly to the front of the room and said, “This American Government class is cancelled for today.
“If you want to know how democracy really works, go back to your dorms and turn on your TV.”
With downcast eyes, he left the room.
Susan K. Blackburn
Called to alert
I was stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany where I met a wonderful fraulein — now my wife of 47 years. I was at her parents' house in their kitchen playing Chinese checkers when we heard on the television that President Kennedy was assassinated.
Then I had to leave and go back to the base.
We were called on alert for a week.
I was on guard duty at QuJonBu, South Korea and it was cold. My relief was about 45 minutes late.
When he arrived, he said the president had been shot and killed. Flags were at half staff and honor guard ceremonies followed.
I felt then as I do now: we lost the best president a country could have known and had. God Bless America.
Bob Illinsky Sr.
‘Everyone please keep calm'
I was in the good company of my eighth-grade English classmates in the “old, old” Apollo Elementary School at School and Grove streets. The P.A. speaker crackled.
Then, the announcement: “The president has been shot. Everyone please keep calm.”
Emotions ran the gamut from the stoic to the visibly and audibly upset. Periodic updates kept us apprised of the events in Dallas.
Then we all departed the old school to consider the significance of the afternoon's events.
I was working at Kelly & Cohen (appliance store) in Natrona Heights. The girls I worked with had a cake for me, as my 20th birthday was the next day. We were having a nice time when the news came over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. Everything stopped.
Everyone was crying. It was a sad and unsettling time.
The TV networks showed everything about Kennedy. When there wasn't anything to show, they played funeral music. My sister and I campaigned for JFK and were so happy when he won.
We kept all the local papers and collected as many magazines as we could — Life, Time, Newsweek, Photoplay, etc.
Nov. 22, 1963, was my birthday and the only birthday I was pregnant.
It was a warm day and sunny, for November.
‘Haven't you heard?'
That may the saddest day in the history of the United States. I lived in Bellaire, Ohio, and was at work for Columbia Gas in Wheeling, W.Va. Our payroll clerk came down the hall into my office and said, “Haven't you heard? President Kennedy has been shot.” We could not believe it.
He had campaigned on Wheeling Island and my friends and I had gone and also watched the motorcade. He was sitting in the back with a spotlight on him. Awesome!
Following his death, someone erected a huge billboard on a building across from Columbia Gas. It was all black with white lettering.
All it said was: “Nov. 22, 1963.”
They stayed to see him
My admiration for John Kennedy began in 1960.
I was in the Air Force, stationed in Maine. When my wife and I heard Kennedy was coming to the Lewiston-Auburn Airport the night before the election, we decided to go. It was a cold November night and the plane was two hours late, but we stayed.
We got to see the next president about 24 hours before he was elected.
It was 52 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. In 1963, I was working for my father, a contractor. We were building a house for (car dealership owner) Frank Bures Sr. in South Buffalo when Frank came in and said, “The president has been shot.”
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