Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Locals remember Kennedy, in their own words

on November 22, 2013 10:55 AM

“In September 1963, I enlisted in the Army. I was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training. On the day of the shooting, I was the barracks guard for the day while everybody was at the rifle range. The first sergeant came in and asked if I had a radio and I said ‘no.’ He then said that President Kennedy was shot. I was shocked. The whole post went on alert. … I will never forget.”

George Barto, Blairsville


“I was at Homer George’s Chainsaw Shop getting my saw repaired. It came over the radio that the president had been shot. We waited for the result, which was a total shock. Very heartbreaking.”

Max. L. Wilson, Home


“My father, Charles F. Schall, was a patient in a room of the Kittanning Hospital. I was in the room with my father. A nurse came into the hall and said ‘President Kennedy has been shot.’”

Victor E. Schall, Elderton


“I was in 10th-grade history class at Indiana Area Junior/Senior High School. The terrible, shocking news came over the loudspeaker announcing ‘the president of the United States has been shot.’ The horrific news hit us students as if we had been shot. With tears rolling down our faces, and reeling from what we heard, I remember thinking how this event made history as we were in history class.”

Marge Letso, Smicksburg


“Our teacher turned on the black and white TV mounted high in a corner of the classroom (in Jersey City, N.J.). We saw the news being broadcast about it all. I remember watching the newsperson, Walter Cronkite, with sunglasses on because he had been crying as he was reporting the event.”

Rich Croce, Indiana


“I was a 13-year-old eighth-grader sitting in music class in Hilton, N.Y., when it was announced that President Kennedy was shot. Just minutes later the music teacher told us that the president was pronounced dead. A boy turned to me and said, ‘Johnson, I guess that makes you president.’ When the reality of the news set in, we were all upset and no more flippant comments were made.”

Timothy Johnson, Indiana


“I was 16 years old and a junior at San Luis Obispo High School in California. My mother told me to save the newspapers about the president’s death because someday I could look back at them. I have a Life magazine, special edition, that was released right after the shooting. It cost 50 cents at the time.”

Janice Reichert, Indiana


“I was in fourth grade at Brush Valley Elementary School. … I remember our class coming in from recess to find our teacher, Barbara Beck, with her head down on the desk sobbing. She then told us that our president had been shot.

“It was very sad for me since I had personally seen John Kennedy campaigning for the presidency in Indiana County. He was riding in a red convertible and stopped at Shinglers’ Grocery Store, in Brush Valley, to shake hands with residents.”

Donna Clements, Indiana


“I was in the seventh grade and in a study hall in the library of the Homer-Center Junior/Senior High School on a Friday when the news came over the school speakers. We were all told to report to our homerooms, were all dismissed and told we would be notified as to when school would resume. A classmate of mine was having a birthday party the next day, which still went on, but it was a subdued celebration.”

Dave Kotzur, Homer City


“I was 10 years old in the fifth grade at Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School in Levittown. We were taking turns reading out loud from our history books when the secretary, who was listening to a small AM radio in the office, opened the PA system for the entire school to hear the radio announcer tell the students that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Complete silence overcame the class. The teacher told us to put our heads on our desks and remain silent.

“After school, we all walked home and I remember Walter Cronkite telling the world that it was ‘apparently official’ as he looked up at the clock, took off his glasses and said, ‘President Kennedy has died.’ Something that I will never forget.

Dennie Koscho Sr., Heilwood


“Later that evening my boyfriend, now my husband, and myself found ourselves in front of what was then the only courthouse. Three years earlier, I had stood there for hours to see the candidate JFK, and see him I did — and shook his hand. On the night of Nov. 22 there were only murmurs from the many who had gone ‘uptown’ to seek conform. The sorry was so strong. It would not be equaled again nationally until 9/11/2001.”

Josie Cunningham, Indiana “I was a junior at Indiana Area Senior High when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was sitting in Eleanor Blair’s English literature class writing a book report on ‘Gone With the Wind’ when the PA system came on. We thought someone was playing with the system at first, then we realized they were playing the national newscast over the system.”

Debbie Bell, Schertz, Texas


“I was only 5 when JFK was shot in 1963. I was a kindergartner at Horace Mann. I remember that school was let out early that day because of the tragedy. I seem to recall, but can’t say for certain, whether they told us the president had been shot. I just remember that it was a big deal for school to have been let out early. I do recall my parents explaining things to me later that day after I got home from school. That’s something I will never forget.”

Bruce Weber, Raleigh, N.C.


“I was in third grade, 8 years old. I went to Risinger School in Myr-Walt, Homer City, a six-room schoolhouse. Our teacher, Mrs. Wertz, was called out of the room. The fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Harris, told her that President Kennedy was shot and killed. Mrs. Wertz came back in, crying, to tell us what had happened. I remember one girl crying because her dad was in the service and she was afraid that meant he was going to war.

“My dad, Ed Kolish, worked at The Indiana Evening Gazette as a pressman. He brought home copies of the paper’s three-day complete coverage of our nation’s tragedy, which I still have today.”

Carole (Kolish) Woods, Indiana


“On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, it was payday and I worked in the Justice Department building for the FBI as a clerk typist. Several workers and I were having lunch across Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., at the 4-Boys Restaurant, which is now the FBI headquarters.

“When we returned to work, our supervisor told us that President Kennedy was shot and had died. Everyone was sent home where we cried with the rest of the country.”

Rita E. Turk, Lucernemines


“I was reading my mail and getting ready to watch my soaps when a bulletin appeared on Channel 6 stating the president had been shot. I was stunned. They had updates for a while. … I could not believe it — it took a while to realize it was true.

“For the next few days, my family and I watched the TV coverage. My kids were too small to grasp exactly what happened and the tragedy of it all. We watched Friday, Saturday, the killing of Oswald on Sunday and the magnificent funeral on Monday.”

Patricia Gazda, Clarksburg


“While baking cookies for the holidays on Nov. 22, 1963, I turned on the radio to hear — President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. Shocked, I had to talk to someone. I called my mother-in-law. We oh’d and aw’d in disbelief.

Agnes Wells, Home


“In 1963, I was a supervisor for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 20, I had come home to Indiana for a few days. It was around 2 p.m. on Nov. 22 that I got a telephone call from my chief operator telling me to get back to Washington as soon as possible. My things were thrown into a suitcase and I took off.

“Upon arriving in D.C., I could hardly get through to my apartment. I lived about two blocks from the White House. We young ladies were always thrilled whenever we got a glimpse of Jackie, as we all wanted to look like her.

“Washington was a really busy place after President Kennedy was killed. People parked anywhere they pleased and the crowds were enormous. I was fortunate I got to see the funeral motorcade. The crowds were very quiet and respectful. The riderless horse is very vivid in my memory. The other ladies I was with and I went back to my apartment to watch the ceremony at Arlington Cemetery on TV as we didn’t want to fight any more crowds.

“That was a day that I will never forget. Washington never seemed the same after that.”

Jayne K. Henry, Indiana


“I was 9 years old and a fifth-grade pupil at Third Ward Elementary School in Blairsville on the day President Kennedy was killed in Dallas.  It was an unseasonably mild and pleasant November day where autumn’s fallen leaves still lay on the ground and sidewalks, awaiting the inevitable raking or wind to whisk them away, and my boyhood friend Skip Butler and I often playfully kicked though the leaves on our walks to and from school.  But most importantly to me that fateful November day, Thanksgiving, the purest and most special of American celebrations, to my way of thinking, was less than a week away.

 “Midafternoon, about halfway between lunch at Third Ward School and the end of the school day, our homeroom teacher gathered us together at our desks, asked everyone to please quiet down, and with a solemn tone in her voice, said she had an announcement to make and sad news to share.  Her face was ashen-white and her hands trembled, which in fact frightened me a bit because I imagained that I, or we as a class, had done something wrong and were in some sort of trouble.  Adding to the confusion was the fact that her eyes were red and swollen as if she had been crying.  I knew that look, and it never came with happy news.

 “Fifty years later, I no longer remember the exact words our elementary school teacher used to tell us the president — our president with children named Caroline and John-John, kids just like us — was dead.  Surely she did so with as much grace, dignity and gentleness as she could muster.  Shortly following the news, our class, now strangely hushed and subdued, was dismissed from school for the day and weekend to return home to our families.  And though I couldn’t yet fathom the terrible complexities of the world, I knew in my heart on my solitary walk home that my life, and the lives of the people I trusted and loved, had now been irrevocably changed forever.”

Jeffrey Ottie, Blairsville

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