Where were you? Locals recall the day Kennedy was killed
Everyone remembers Nov. 22, 1963, differently.
Some were in classrooms as children when the news that President John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, was assassinated as he rode through a motorcade in Dealey Plaza in Dallas as part of a five-city campaign tour through Texas. It was broadcast over school announcement systems, some area schools even playing the radio or TV broadcast.
Crowds of people lined the streets to get a glimpse of Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy as their motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza around 12:30 p.m. Both the president and Texas Gov. John Connally, who was seated in front of him, were shot.
Connally would later recover from the incident, but Kennedy, who was rushed to the hospital, was pronounced dead within 30 minutes of the shooting.
It was shortly thereafter that Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination.
Some were doing normal, everyday tasks such as ironing the laundry; others found themselves in locations such as the hospital or at their military stations.
One thing is certain: Though everyone remembers the date differently, everyone alive at the time, seemingly, remembers it.
MEETING THE FUTURE PRESIDENT
Many remember the day Kennedy visited Indiana during his 1960 presidential campaign on Oct. 15. Many have photos of the occasion and have told their children and their children’s children the memory of his visit.
“I was at the front of the crowd assembled at the old Indiana courthouse,” said Janice Dembosky, of Home. “When Mr. Kennedy leaned down to shake hands with people, including me, he gave me the poppy from his lapel because I had asked him for it.”
Dembosky, who still has the poppy as well as a picture her Indiana University of Pennsylvania roommates took of her with it, charged students 5 cents admission to visit her room to see it.
“That was the backdrop for me personally on the terrible day when he was assassinated,” she said, explaining that the news came over the intercom in her structural linguistics class.
“As I walked through the halls and the campus, students and faculty everywhere were standing in shocked silence … many sobbing uncontrollably. Our beautiful, young president, so full of hope and promise, was dead.”
The lapel poppy made an impact on more than just Dembosky. A teenager at the time, Janis K. (Salley) Dunbar, was chosen from Heilwood Township to be a “Kennedy Girl” during the campaign visit to Indiana.
“We were adorned in hats, banners and campaign buttons, and were told to pass out pamphlets to those witnessing this event,” Dunbar said.
“I remember how envious I was when Kennedy removed a poppy from his lapel and handed it to a girl (Dembosky) standing in front.”
Retired Indiana businessman Carson Greene Jr. was a student in Oak Hill, W.Va., when Kennedy came to the school to speak while doing his West Virginia campaign in 1960. He remembers the future president emerging from the right side of the gymnasium in a dark, buttoned business suit, using his right hand to brush back his hair.
After his speech, the students were invited to go to the floor to meet the Massachusetts senator.
“My high school sweetheart and, now, my wife and I were fortunate to get right beside the senator,” he said. “His staff passed out tri-fold glossy brochures with his profile as his picture. After I was given the brochure, I shook his hand and asked him if he would sign the brochure, which he did. I said thank you and he said, ‘You are welcome. What grade are you in?’”
Little did Greene realize, he said, that on that day he met a man who would go down in history.
WITNESS TO HISTORY
“As a 20-year-old Navy Airman stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., in 1963, I had a front-row view as President Kennedy’s body was returned from Dallas,” said Tom Wagner, formerly of Indiana and Homer City. “Jackie Kennedy, still covered in the president’s blood, was less than 30 feet away from me as she entered the ambulance.”
The veteran, who now resides in Henderson, Nev., remembers Jackie trying to open the ambulance door only to find it locked, her husband’s body inside. New President Lyndon B. Johnson, Wagner said, gave the crowd in D.C. a short speech.
“The only thing I remember from his speech was when he said, ‘I ask for your help and God’s.’”
George Barto, of Blairsville, was at Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training when he heard the news.
“On the day of the shooting, I was the barracks guard for the day while everybody was at the rifle range,” Barto said. “The first sergeant came in and asked if I had a radio.”
He didn’t have one.
Barto said that the sergeant told him the news of Kennedy’s death and the whole post went on alert.
Others have items in their homes that still remind them of the day. Bonnie Wiggins, of Indiana, was waiting to have her 10-month-old son’s photo taken at Montgomery Ward on Philadelphia Street when the news was broadcast on television.
“I was numb, but waited and had the photo done,” she said. “That photo hangs in our home, and every time I see it I remember. There’s still emotion after 50 years.”
Even those who were young children at the time can recall the sense of grief that came over them as the news of the 46-year-old president’s death spread across the nation.
“I was 4 years old and living on Water Street,” said Ruth Milner, who still resides in Indiana. “I remember my parents glued to the television set. As a 4-year-old, I felt sorriest for John Jr., and cried when I saw him salute his father’s casket.”
As a 16-year-old in California, Janice Reichert’s mother told her to save the newspapers following the president’s death because someday she could look back on them. To this day, she’s saved copies of the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner and the Fresno Bee, as well as a copy of Life Magazine, a special edition released following the assassination that cost 50 cents at the time.
Working for the Federal Aviation Agency in downtown Washington, D.C., Emily (Bistok) Fister, now of Clymer, was in the office when, all of a sudden, she said, phones started ringing off the hook.
Trying to get around a confused and shocked D.C. was an experience of its own, she explained, saying that she couldn’t get to her apartment because of the crowds — crowds that were large but silent.
On Monday, Nov. 25, 1963, Fister attended the funeral of John F. Kennedy.
“Several of us went and stood on the Arlington Bridge and had a front-row seat to see the funeral procession heading to Arlington National Cemetery,” she said, describing the limo with its dark, tinted windows and the scene of Secret Service patrols everywhere.
“One limo in particular stopped in front of us,” she said, “and the Secret Service opened the door and we saw Mamie Eisenhower.” Fister does not know why they opened the door.
“It was such a sad day in my life and all around me, especially when President Kennedy’s casket, horse-drawn and draped with the American flag, passed by us. It brought us all to tears.
“I forget some details, but I can even remember what I wore that day — a long, wool, green coat, black boots and gloves. Those couple of days changed history in many ways.”
“This was a day that those of us who grew up in the 1960s lost our innocence,” said Greene.