‘Our president is dead’: Memories of Nov. 22, 1963

We asked Herald readers to share their vivid memories of Nov. 22, 1963. Here are some of their stories:

It seems like yesterday

I remember the day well, as I was stationed with the Air Force in Amarillo, Texas. We went on immediate alert with our B-52s and KC-135 tankers taking off. The sky looked black from the smoke from so many aircraft going aloft, one after the other.

At this time, we had no idea what could happen next. For Americans, we must not forget our military’s resolve to protect and defend this great nation from all our enemies. What a sad time for our nation. Fifty years have come and gone, but it seems like yesterday to me. I have visited the site. What a solemn place to reflect about what could have been.

— Mike Martin, 68, Everett

At salon, hair suddenly forgotten

I was working at the Day and Night Beauty Salon in Edmonds. We had the radio going and they announced that President Kennedy had been shot.

I had just rinsed one lady’s permanent wave rods. Another lady came out from under the hair dryer. People started crying.

And then they just left and went home. One lady still had a cape on and her rods. A lady in curlers just grabbed her purse and left. I’m sure they came and paid later. I’ll never forget that lady in those permanent wave rods and that cape, getting in her car.

We just ended up putting a sign on the door. We closed up and went home. We watched everything on television. Everybody was just in a trance.

Everybody loved the president. People had his picture on their wall in their living rooms, just like a family picture. They loved him.

— Sharon Bagley, 70, Everett

Up all night in Tunisia

My memories of the infamous day in November 1963 are different from the millions in the United States, who remained glued to their televisions.

In 1962, after graduating from nursing school, I found a job in the emergency room. My classmates and I had followed the election and first year of the Kennedy presidency. The world was full of hope and promise.

The Peace Corps was newly established. On a lark, I went to the central post office in Akron, Ohio, and took the civil service exam, a first step in the selection process for Peace Corps volunteers. Two weeks later, I received a call asking if I would want to go to Tunisia. A group of nurses would be going to Peace Corps training in 10 days. Of course the answer was yes. I had to look up Tunisia in the encyclopedia to see where it was.

I remember that night in November very clearly. Eight American nurses were living in a nursing school in Tunisia. Late that night, a Tunisian man who had befriended us arrived at the door saying President Kennedy was dead.

None of us could believe what he was telling us. We stayed up all night trying to tune the radio to the Voice of America, which eventually confirmed the story. President Kennedy’s face was on the front pages of Arabic papers in the morning.

After learning that Jack Ruby shot (Lee Harvey) Oswald, there was more disbelief. We all worried about what was happening in the United States.

Our Tunisian colleagues shared in our sorrow. The American Embassy had a beautiful ceremony at the American Cemetery in Carthage amid all the white crosses. There were no dry eyes — a great remembrance of a great presidency and a hopeful time.

— Judy Vielhaber Joly, 72, Bothell

Ordered to remain at sea

In November 1963 I had been in the U.S. Navy one year, having graduated from high school in Port Angeles the previous year. I was stationed on the USS Oklahoma City, CLG5. The hull number stands for “cruiser, light, guided missile.” We were completing yard overhaul in Long Beach, Calif., and had gone out on sea trials off the coast.

Our schedule called for us to return to the port of Long Beach by early the afternoon of the 22nd. When the announcement was made that President Kennedy had been shot, the ship was ordered to remain at sea. With the subsequent death of the president, we stayed at sea until late that night when it was determined that President Johnson was now commander in chief, and there was no threat to overthrow the government.

It was a very sad time for many of us that day, as Kennedy was a decorated World War II U.S. Navy officer.

— John C. Beam, 69, Mays Pond

The first time I saw Daddy cry

I remember Nov. 22, 1963 very clearly. I was in the living room of my parents’ house in Seattle cuddling my 2-month-old son and watching “The Secret Storm” on CBS. The program was interrupted with an announcement that there had been a shooting in Dallas, and President John F. Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Hospital. I prayed and waited.

The moment that will live in my memory forever occurred next. Walter Cronkite came on the air, removed his thick black glasses and glanced at the clock with tears welling up in his eyes. He announced to America that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I waited for the man who could always comfort me — my father. He came home from work and gathered the family around him. We all hugged. And he said, “President Kennedy is dead.” It was the first time I ever saw Daddy cry.

— Michele Cozad, 69, Arlington

No math was learned that day

I was an “older” student at Western Washington State College in Bellingham. I commuted daily from Everett after dropping off my three younger daughters at Immaculate Conception School.

That historic day I noticed as I walked toward my second class that students were strangely silent, some listening intently to transistor radios. I entered the large lecture hall to my history class. The likeable young professor stumbled slightly as he reached to adjust his microphone. He lifted his head, looked directly at his large audience, and with tears streaming down his face said, “Go home. Our president is dead.”

I turned to go to my car. Instead I changed directions and entered my calculus class. That dour professor had reminded us often that attendance was a factor in his grading. He stalked into the classroom shouting, “Sit down and turn off those damned radios.” No math was learned that day.

— Edith Bennett, 93, Everett

Images too imprinted to forget

I was a freshman at Everett Junior College. I was with a bunch of friends in the student union building, and we heard that the president had been shot. Details were few, but we knew it was serious. I had a test was scheduled, so I made my way to the classroom.

Dr. Branham, my English teacher, made the difficult decision to go ahead with the test. I don’t remember anything about the test. All I remember was that I was the first one done. There was one thing on my mind as I rushed out to the student union building. My friend Brent Ingram told me the president had died. I joined millions of others glued to television that gloomy weekend.

I remember seeing Lee Harvey Oswald crumple as Jack Ruby seemed to come out of nowhere and fatally shoot him. My mother and I discussed what an important time we were witnessing.

Dealey Plaza is one place I’ve visited that looked exactly like what I expected it would. I guess those images were so imprinted in my mind that I’d never forget them. Our tour guide said that every day was November 22, 1963 at Dealey Plaza.

— Jack O’Donnell, 68, Everett

Silence in the classroom

I was 13 when JFK was assassinated. I was in eighth grade at St. Ann’s Catholic School in Bartlett, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis. Our class had just had lunch and recess. Our next class was history.

Class that day consisted of reading about the end of the Civil War. We each took a turn to read out loud. When it was my turn, I was reading about the assassination of President Lincoln when we heard the announcement over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. There was silence in the classroom, along with a few of us crying. We all prayed that our president would not die.

I remember how it felt the next few days — like a black veil was thrown on us. Five years later, fear and sadness fell upon our city as we faced another assassination.

— Linda Hunter, 63, Marysville

A torch passed

I was a sophomore in college in San Francisco in 1963. I was walking across campus between classes when I saw a group of people gathered near a radio at the entrance to one of the buildings. As the crowd listened, I heard those amazing words coming over the airwaves: “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas, Texas.” Soon, the broadcaster had a new message: “President Kennedy is dead. Our president is dead.”

I started walking, ending up in a nearby shopping center. Wandering into a fabric store, I asked an older lady clerk for a small piece of black cloth. I told her it was for an armband to commemorate President Kennedy. Tears came to her eyes. She cut off a perfect size of black fabric and tied it onto me, refusing to take a penny in payment. Then she hugged me — a complete stranger — and told me that now it was my generation’s job to take care of the country.

— Sheila Chraft, 69, Marysville

We just couldn’t understand

I spent the first 16 years of my life in a tiny town called Hopkins, outside of Columbia, S.C. I was the third of six kids raised on our 36-acre pecan farm.

I was 15 and in my Home Ec class when the loudspeaker came on telling us the president had just been shot. Everybody acted kind of uneasy. Then the loudspeaker came on again and announced the president had died.

My Home Ec teacher started crying, and we didn’t know what to do. Word came to each class that they were sending everyone home.

I spent the rest of that day in front of our little black &white TV. Later, I saw Oswald get shot in the stomach and grimace as he fell. In the next few days, we watched the funeral, Mrs. Kennedy and her kids kissing the coffin. I bawled more than I ever have since. It was all so sad, and we just couldn’t understand why.

— Jean Uhrich, 65, Marysville

A state of disbelief

I graduated from high school and began college in 1960, and followed the presidential campaign with fascination. I saw both candidates give campaign addresses in San Diego.

My grandfather had been a 1912 classmate of Joseph P. Kennedy at Harvard. My father and John Kennedy both attended the 25th class reunion in 1937. Due largely to the Kennedy influence, I decided to major in history.

On June 6, 1963, President Kennedy received an honorary Ph.D. degree and gave the commencement address in the Aztec Bowl at San Diego State College, which I attended.

At about 10:45 a.m. PST on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, I was on break between classes at San Diego State College when I first learned of the assassination attempt from students listening to a transistor radio. I walked to the Daily Aztec school newspaper office, which had TV, and saw staff and students hovered around it in a state of disbelief. At about 11 a.m. we watched Walter Cronkite make the fateful announcement. I will never forget that moment.

Classes were cancelled. As I walked to the parking lot, I observed the flag being lowered to half-mast.

Upon return to classes the following Tuesday, I recall my 20th century American history professor walking in and stating “Thank God for Lyndon Johnson.”

— Ronald Moody, 71, Everett

We just held each other

On that unbelievable day, I was a 9-year-old happy girl in school. My mom, dad, younger brother Marc and I lived in the redwood mountains above Santa Cruz, Calif. My mom had run the campaign headquarters for Sen. Kennedy during the election. I tried to think of something that would console my kind and creative mother. The words didn’t come at that time. We just held each other.

My mother found a way to heal. She was an accomplished painter, published poet and writer. She composed and illustrated a collection of poems that have always been a guide to appreciating life for me. The book is “Poems in Memory of President John F. Kennedy,” by Concheeta Vesmer. It was published in 1964 in Santa Cruz by Mission Printers. A copy of the book was sent to Jackie Kennedy. My mom received a thank-you letter.

My mother, Concheeta Miller, passed away a year ago after a brave battle with cancer.

— Terri Rawdon, 59, Marysville

There were no strangers that day

On the bus on the way to Seattle Community College, I heard about President Kennedy’s assassination. The whole world was in shock.

At school, I headed to class, where we were to take a test. It seemed no one at school had heard yet. I whispered to the teacher. She told me to take the test, and she would consider that my concentration might not be the greatest. She said she would tell my classmates after the test.

Downtown Seattle was absolutely bizarre — no cell phones in those days. People were walking everywhere, even in the streets. There was no such thing as a stranger that day. There were very few cars. It was like the world had shut down.

It was in the days when the president was loved and adored, and we cared greatly about his wife and children.

— Sue Johnson, 68, Lake Stevens

Twice a messenger

A 13-year-old on Nov. 22, 1963, I was in Mr. Rutherford’s classroom at Brookside School, San Anselmo, Calif.

As the school messenger, it was my job to answer a certain ring on the bell system by going to the office and dispatching whatever needed to be sent to the appropriate classroom. The bell rang that morning — the only time that it did all of my eighth-grade year. I went to the office and was given the news that President Kennedy had been shot, which I carried first to my own class and then to every classroom, with the instruction for teachers to turn on their radios.

I returned to class in time to hear that John F. Kennedy had died. And I was left with a picture indelibly etched in my mind of Mr. Rutherford, tears in his eyes, as he slammed the heel of his hand on his desk, muttering something.

My dad came in from work that afternoon, saw me rolling my copies of The San Francisco News-Call Bulletin for delivery and said, “You’re carrying big news today, son.” And for the second time that day, I was.

— Ed Armstrong, 63, Mill Creek

Fear and confusion in the air

I was 20, living in Edmonds. I was talking on the phone to my future husband, discussing the weekend we planned to spend with another couple. My mother suddenly appeared in the doorway of my bedroom telling me that the president had been shot.

I was stunned. These were the days when we felt the government was strong, mostly honest, and would always be there to care for us. John Kennedy was our savior. I couldn’t wait to vote for him when I was 21.

When Walter Cronkite reported it as a “head wound,” my mother and I started to cry.

That weekend can only be described as hell. My fiance and I went to our friend’s home as planned, but were glued to the three TV channels available.

It was dark and rainy. A blanket of depression was everywhere. Stores were full of people red-eyed and crying. You could feel fear and confusion in the air.

When Ruby shot Oswald on camera, people could hardly believe their eyes. It was the same feeling I had when I watched the plane crash into the second tower on 9/11.

It’s hard for me to watch documentaries or read articles about the assassination, but I feel drawn to them anyway. I find myself hoping that at the last minute someone or something will intervene to change history.

— Nellie Cant, 70, Everett

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