Connellsville couple recalls seeing assassination as newlyweds
EDITOR'S NOTE: Gary and Patty Kissinger were newlyweds when President John F. Kennedy was killed. Patty Kissinger recalls that fateful day and the days following.
The memory of President John F. Kennedy as the shining knight of Camelot has been tarnished since his death a half century ago in wake of the scandals about his personal life that became public after his assassination.
But on the day that he was murdered in Dallas' Dealey Plaza, JFK wore the Camelot mystique like a golden mantle upon his shoulders.
The public followed every move that the Kennedy family made. Women — especially young mothers — strove to act and look like Jackie, the elegant First Lady whose fashion flare ran to narrow skirts and pillbox hats.
Young Patty (Koval) Kissinger was among those who admired the First Lady and Jackie's handsome, tousled-haired husband who radiated charm that equaled his dignified diplomacy.
The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination coincides with the 50th wedding anniversary of Gary and Patty Kissinger, who were married on Oct. 26, 1963 — less than a month before Kennedy was killed.
At the time, the newlywed Kissingers lived in an apartment in Wyano, Westmoreland County.
Recalling Nov. 22, 1963
On the day of JFK's murder, Patty Kissinger was working in the office of Pittsburgh Plate Glass in South Greensburg.
“One of the other girls ran up the stairs, crying, and told us that Kennedy was dead,” she remembered.
Silence. Total silence. That's Patty Kissinger's recollection of Nov. 22, 1963. “They let us go home early,” she said.
During the tragedy, Patty Kissinger and her sister went to Greensburg, where newspaper boys were hawking a special edition of the Tribune-Review.
“That was the first and only time that I ever saw an ‘Extra, extra, read all about it' newspaper,” she said.
Some of Patty Kissinger's PPG friends rode a bus to Washington, D.C., to witness JFK's funeral.
“I was married, so I didn't go,” she explained, “but everyone was glued to their televisions for the next three days. We were transfixed.”
On Sunday, Nov. 24, Patty and Gary Kissinger's landlady invited them to her apartment for lunch. They accepted, thinking a change of scenery would do them good.
The landlady's small black-and-white TV was on in the kitchen.
“We had just walked in when Jack Ruby pulled out a gun and shot (Lee Harvey) Oswald dead. We couldn't believe our eyes!” Patty Kissinger remembered.
Watching JFK's somber funeral on Monday, Nov. 25, Patty Kissinger was awed. “It amazed me how quickly they put it together in such great details and with such great pageantry.”
She marveled at Jackie's calm demeanor. “She was so strong and dignified. I still remember the riderless horse with boots in its stirrups, and John-John's salute. I'll never forget Jackie's blood-stained suit.”
In the assassination's aftermath, the nation remained on watch for weeks. “Everyone wanted to know how Jackie and the children were making out,” she said.
Believes a conspiracy
Patty Kissinger, like millions of Americans, never accepted that Oswald had acted alone.
“I just can't imagine that one person could bring down the President of the United States,” she declared. “I've always thought that Jack Ruby killed Oswald to shut him up so he couldn't testify in court.”
When JFK's marital affairs and alleged mob connections came to light afterwards, Patty Kissinger conceded that it left her disillusioned. Yet, the JFK legend lingers in her heart with bittersweet fondness.
“Jack Kennedy was so vibrant. My entire family just loved him. He was a breath of fresh air after President Eisenhower,” she said.
President Lyndon Johnson, sworn in after JFK died, was a disappointing successor, Kissinger added. “He was so different than JFK; rough-speaking and not as appealing. There was a mystique about the Kennedy administration.”
A native of the village of United, Westmoreland County, Patty Kissinger, 72, graduated in 1959 from Hurst High School in Mt. Pleasant Township. She and Gary moved to Connellsville shortly after the birth of their twin daughters, Beth and Amy, in 1964, and have lived in town ever since, where they also raised Gary Jr. (“Chip”), Laura and John.
The kids are all grown and married with their own families. Thanks to them, the Kissingers had plenty to celebrate on their golden anniversary — including nine grandchildren whom they love to spoil — plus one on the way.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.