Kennedy Assassination: What changed

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Nov. 22, 1963. President Kennedy's assassination shocked the world and gripped the country in a way few events have. 50 years later, we still look back on it as a turning point.

How would you describe the impact or emotion of that moment? Why does everyone still remember exactly where they were when they heard? Share your story here or tweet #whatchanged.

When JFK was assassinated

50 years after President Kennedy's assassination, how would you describe the impact or emotion of that moment? Why does everyone still remember exactly where they were when they heard?

... when President Kennedy was assassinated, along with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, I think something died in all of us who knew these three men.

- U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Bettmann/Corbis - The Kennedys’ motorcade drives through downtown Dallas Nov. 22, 1963, moments before the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy’s assassination shattered the illusion of control. Who could imagine an American president being shot?

- Robert J. Samuelson, opinion writer [read more]

Walter Cronkite announces the death of President Kennedy. (CBS)

(Herb Scharfman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) - New Yorkers watch a telecast of John F. Kennedy's funeral in a bar.

What would Kennedy say about our fascination with his presidency, and especially the grisly details of his tragic death, five decades on? He could no doubt accept the ego boost with the usual pretense of self-effacement, but wouldn’t Kennedy also find it somewhat sad that we still direct so much psychic energy toward Dealey Plaza?

Hank Stuever, TV critic [read more]

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson takes the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas just two hours after Kennedy was shot. (Cecil Stoughton)

(Associated Press) President Kennedy's flag-draped casket lies in state in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 23, 1963.

Ever since Kennedy was killed, “we have been marooned in one of two equally intolerable spiritual states, apathy or paranoia.”

- Norman Mailer [read more]

(Susan Walsh/Associated Press) - The eternal flame at the gravesite of former President John F. Kennedy burns at Arlington National Cemetary.

Here's what others have said...

Here's what others have said...

“It was many years later, in my adulthood, that I learned my native city was considered a bulwark of right-wing extremist and that there were those who feared the president's safety should he come to Dallas. The Dallas I knew was one of tremendous civic proud, a bright happy place in which to grow up.

My family, my friends and all of my friends' family members were staunch Kennedy supporters so I thought everyone else was too. My mother, loathe to be called to jury duty, took that risk only once in registering to vote just so that she could cast a ballot for the charismatic candidate she adored.

The morning of the day he was to arrive in Dallas she told me she had a feeling something horrible was about to happen. The feeling was so foreboding it made her ill and she went back to bed after getting me ready for school. I was a 2nd-grader at George Peabody Elementary in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, where later that day a police officer approaching the man yet to be identified as the president's assassin would be shot and killed, and where the man we would come to know as Lee Harvey Oswald would be arrested in the Texas Theater. It was years before I could ever go there again.

But I digress. Early that afternoon our principal announced across the PA system that the president had been shot and hospitalized. My nearest classmate to me and I turned to each other and believed, as children do, that we could will the president to live by repeating over and over that he would be okay. When the next announcement came that we had hoped to never hear it was as though the world had come to an end.

The days that followed were so dark and despondent it was though I, my city, our nation and the world would never be happy again.

All these years later those feelings return everytime I remember that tragic time.”

Submitted by Rene' F. November 22 Share

“I was a month away form my 2nd birthday on November 22, 1963, so I have no personal memory of the assassination.

My father, a pastor, had driven from Kokomo, IN down to Indianapolis to visit hospitalized parishoners. On North Meridian Street, Indianapolis' main northbound artery, someone had created a makeshift sign with two sandwich boards, placing it on the center yellow line of the street. The sign read "Please come inside [the church] to pray for President Kennedy."

My father also mentioned that during the funeral, the Mariner's Hymn ("Melita", entitled "Eternal Father, Strong to Save") was performed at the funeral.”

Submitted by Leslie Kistler November 22 Share

“I was an undergraduate at The University of Texas. I was getting ready to go to downtown Austin to watch the motorcade. My reaction was one of absolute disbelief, then anger, then incredible sorrow which remains to this day. I cannot watch pictures of the motorcade without hoping it turns out differently.”

Submitted by john gibson November 22 Share

“I was 11 when this terrible assassination happened and it was before noon when the radio first reported the bad news. I recalled being a sunny day and I was on my way home from an errand and heard the news coming from a radio and instantly felt sad. I was too young to understand the meaning of the assassination but I knew something powerful and awful had happened. Few things in my life had given me such impact and President Kennedy´s death has always haunted me much like when I heard the news about Martin Luther King and John Lennon.”

Submitted by luis lomeli November 22 Share

“I was a young reporter at The Florence (Ala.) Times when the AP wire's bells began to ring. I rushed to the Wire Machine and saw the first words appear written by the AP Bureau Chief there, Bob Johnson. They were: "Bulletin.
"Dallas - President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed him. She cried 'Oh No!' The motorcade sped on."
Johnson's words were based on a telephone call from AP photographer Ike Altgens who was on the scene with his camera. I then thought back six months earlier when I interviewed the President who was at the 30th Anniversary of of The Tennessee Valley Authority located nearby.
I shall never forget either moment.”

Submitted by Bob Martin November 22 Share

“I was a freshman at Lauralton Hall, Milford, Ct. , an all-girl Catholic high school, taught by the Sisters of Mercy, with many Irish students. The principal interrupted our class to announce that the president had been shot and then instructed us to return to our math work. When she left, most of the class burst into tears. I jumped up and stormed to the principal's office, just 25-ft. away, demanding that we all be allowed to go to chapel and refusing to return to class. I couldn't believe she thought "carrying on" was the right thing to do. It was the first of many disagreements with that principal -- who really had no clue what the 1960s were starting to be about. By the time we got lined up for chapel, the announcement came that he had died. So then surely there was nothing left to do but pray. The pictures in my head of these moments remain crystal clear, as they do for so many others.”

Submitted by Nancy Petersen November 22 Share

“When President Kenneday was assassinated I was 13 years old, and living in Italy since 1961, where my father was the U.S. Navy exchange officer at the Italian Naval Academy in Livorno. Because we were seven hours ahead of the central US, the news broke in the late Italian evening, so I have no memory of a shocking announcement interrupting the school day--just my sad, grim dad coming into my room after a short phone call to tell me the awful news. It was surreal and unreal, and because of limited TV broadcasting in Italy at that time, I spent that Friday night glued to my little AM radio, tuning in stations from all over Europe and sometimes hearing bits of Kennedy speeches emerging from reports in many languages.
The Catholic JFK was popular in Italy, and so with the recently-deceased Pope John XXIII he achieved a level of popular veneration there--almost a kind of camp sainthood--along with the pontiff, whose image he would soon join on souvenir plates, pillows, and tea towels. But the immediate reaction from our Italian neighbors and friends was shock, disbelief, and deep sadness. For me, the phrase "the President was killed" kept rattling around in my head: so strange to think over and over, much less dare to say aloud, and I felt haunted for days. We watched the funeral in our grieving capital on a live transatlantic broadcast, which seemed amazing to me at the time, and seeing so many world leaders walking in the cortege moved me profoundly.
Even though we were so remote from the events, the turmoil was still palpable even at that distance. After two years of gradually fitting into the life of our small town, I again for a while felt somewhat self-conscious as an American, but now in a way that also made me feel so sad to be an American, but lucky enough to be among people who took the time to note our loss, to choke a few words of grief, to shake hands, or simply look our way through tear-filled eyes. In the midst of all the pain and confusion, I found myself feeling comforted--and safe!

Submitted by Gordon E. Hogg November 22 Share

“Last night I read through a high-school scrapbook my mother kept for me. It included all the pictures and clippings from the day, seven weeks before he died, President Kennedy stopped in Little Rock to deliver a speech. He was not very popular there, to put it mildly. Remember Central High School de-segregation? The Federal government was suspect. Plus, Kennedy was Catholic. In the fall of 1963 he toured the South to try to turn that negative perception around.
As editor of my (Catholic) high-school newspaper, I talked my way into getting press passes to the event for myself and a friend. Since we were really near the president, we were in lots of pictures, one of which was published in the Arkansas Democrat newspaper the next day. I took pictures and wrote a report for the school paper, all of which were in the scrapbook.
Kennedy's assassination on November 22, following so closely his visit, was a shock to all of us. We were glued to the TV for days. On TV Sunday morning (Nov 24) I actually saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. More accurately, I saw Oswald being brought through a door by two Stetson-wearing plainclothesmen, saw a flurry of activity, heard the sound of a shot, then saw pandemonium break out. Later we found out what had happened.
We watched the funeral on Monday, November 25, too. I was moved to write a condolence letter to Mrs. Kennedy. She (or her secretary) sent a nice, very proper and unexpected, reply. That was in the scrapbook, too.

Submitted by Mike Fitzgerald November 22 Share

“I was in the 5th grade at Henry T. Blow Elementary School on 19th and Benning Road, NE. Washington, DC. School was about to break for the Thanksgiving holiday, when the announcement came from my teacher that the president had been shot. I remember crying and crying thinking it could not be true, not my President John F. Kennedy, The teachers tried to explain what was happening before we went home, by that time the president was pronounced dead. So when school was over I ran home to watch the TV and cried some more. Oh my, when I saw Jackie with the blood all over her skirt I just felt bad wondering about their kids and all they had been through and now this. I remember praying and asking God to make our country safe but reality hit, the country was not safe and that it would never be the same. I believe in many ways that day took away my sense of security. The country was about to change in many ways and it did. I can still hear him in my head saying "Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country" I try to keep that motto alive and active in my life. I will always remember. That's my take!

Submitted November 22 Share

“I was a graduate student and teaching and research assistant at the Univ. of Illinois. My wife and I had just returned to the campus to teach our 1 p.m. classes. Upon entering our respective classrooms, we found students crying. I hurried around the corner to the department head's office to hear a TV reporter saying the President had been shot. A few minutes later the announcer said the President was dead. I recall students and faculty leaving classrooms and pouring into nearby churches.

About a year or so earlier, I, together with some friends at the Univ. of Wisconsin, had seen Kennedy's plane land at the Madison airport. We heard him give a terrific speech before a packed room of students on the Univ. of Wisconsin campus. As he was heading out to get into a limo afterward, I was able to shake his hand as he smiled at me.

I should also mention that while conducting research in Cambridge, MA one summer, my wife and I lived in an apartment near Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. One morning, we saw a couple of fire trucks hosing down a concrete area across the street. My wife called me at work later to say that a helicopter had landed and she had been able to snap pictures of President Kennedy walking toward the hospital to be with Jackie and their new-born son, Patrick.
The hospital housed a special decompression facility. Courageous efforts to save Patrick were unsuccessful.”

Submitted by Carl E. Williams November 22 Share

“I was in eight grade. It had been a difficult week as my mother had gone earlier in the week to NYC for the death of her father - my grandfather. She was expected to fly home on Friday November 22, 1963. The nun in our eight grade class - Sister Carline - suddenly said, "we need to pray" - we all began to pray - and did so for about a half hour. I remember thinking - "Oh my god something must have happened to my mother" - just a young boy who's thoughts were narrowed to the absence of his mother - why else would our nun ask us to pray.

Suddenly our priest came on the PA and Said President Kennedy had been Assassinated. I still remember standing up in disbelief, and hearing some students say "what does Assassinated mean."

November 22, 1963 will always represent to me a dividing line of not only the nations history - but the memory of my own life as well. There are always those type of moments in life. This moment - along with the death of my life partner Jack Orler on July 31, 2005 - are such dates for me. Everything happens before and after dates of great tragedy.

November 22, 1963 was a rainy miserable cold and rainy day in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It ushered in a whole new world - and in some ways its seems like the rain has never stopped. An unbelievable deep loss - suffered by so many - at the same time. There is nothing in human history to compare it to. And for those who were alive to remember and witness the drama of that day it is impossible to fully explain the depth of what it was like - or the loss.

Submitted by John R. Davis - Palm Springs California

Submitted November 22 Share

“My earliest memory was watching the funeral on TV. The riderless, high-spirited horse with the reversed boots in his stirrups and the muffled cadence of the drums as the caisson rolled across the bridge into Arlington. I can hear them still.”

Submitted by Tim Spencer November 22 Share
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