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“Where were you when JFK was shot?” was the question that used to resonate throughout the country as a standard reminder of a time-stopping event nearly every American could recall.
But the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination looming this week is a stark reminder how time has soared ahead.
I still remember.
I was a second-grader at Chilhowee Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn. A school “patrol boy” authoritatively told us younger kids President John F. Kennedy had been shot, after the boy once again led us across the pedestrian bridge over Asheville Highway after school had let out that fateful afternoon of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.
He was fiddling with a wooden abacus I had brought to school that day as we waited for our car pool to come and take us home. (Does anyone besides me remember what an abacus is?)
Kennedy had probably been shot no more than an hour-and-a-half earlier, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, and declared dead at Parkland Hospital in Dallas just 30 minutes later.
Nowadays, most of my co-workers at the Beacon hadn’t even been “thunk up” yet, as my old Paw-Paw used to say. But a handful still remember where they were, too.
Classified ad rep Kim Bleecker was in the first grade at Highland Elementary in Scottsburg, Ind. The principal announced on the school intercom that Kennedy had been shot and killed. Her teacher, Mrs. Carlock, “sat at her desk and cried,” she recalled.
She remembers going home and asking her mom, “Who is he? She explained who the president was. I remember feeling really sorry for Caroline and John-John.”
Newsroom page designer Shelagh Clancy was a third-grader in Buffalo, N.Y., and was at home sick that day when she saw the news on black-and-white TV. It was a scary thing at an age when she had “nothing to do with politics,” she said. “It was just frightening the president got shot. Nothing like that really happened.”
And it was a shock for such a violent act to be aired on national TV, she said. “We didn’t have that kind of violence in public life back then.”
Two days after Kennedy’s assassination, newsroom assistant Janine Piburn recalls the shock as a junior high student back in Holly Hill, Fla., when she saw accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald get shot and killed by Jack Ruby on live national TV during Oswald’s transfer from the Dallas Police Department to the county jail.
The following week, the eight-page Thanksgiving Day edition of The Brunswick Beacon paid tribute as well.
Amid the ads for Thanksgiving Day turkey shoots, the Holliday Drive-In Theatre and G.W. Kirby & Son Food Town (where a six-bottle carton of Pepsi-Cola was on sale for 29 cents), an editorial and a column ran.
Ouida M. Hewett’s editorial was titled “A Tribute to J.F.K.”
“May we pause today and ponder, why is a peace-loving nation as ours so plagued with a disease of hatred such as was performed on Nov. 22, 1963?” she wrote.
Beacon editor Robert Stanley published in his Brunswick Stew column a memorial to Kennedy using Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” He found it fitting, because the poem had been written upon the death of President Abraham Lincoln nearly a century earlier.
Beacon production designer Dorrie Brennan was just 5 and living in Bethpage, N.Y., when Kennedy was killed. She, like many of us who still remember, was too young to comprehend what it all meant.
“I remember my mother and all the neighbor ladies going outside in the street and crying, and I did not know why,” she said.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.