In your words: 24 Valley residents recall memories of JFK assassination, impact

Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

PRAYING FOR THE PRESIDENT: Mother Good, a wimpled nun, told our class that the president had been shot. I was attending Catholic school on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., because my father, a close friend of the Kennedy brothers, was the undersecretary of commerce. At first, there was room for disbelief, room for mistaken media and sensationalism.

But the black coats of the Secret Service swarmed the school grounds, and Maria Shriver and Kathleen Kennedy, schoolmates, stood under the portico, waiting to be picked up. They giggled, because it wasn’t real. But it became real. Knees burned as we, nuns and girls, knelt in chapel, praying that the president would recover. We would have prayed for as long as it took. I remember shock on the Very Rev. Mother’s wrinkled face when she, too soon, told us that he had died.

What then to do with those prayers? She sent us home. My brother, in preschool with Carolyn and John John at the White House, was already back. I wished I understood as little as he did. On television, Black Jack pranced sideways after the flag-covered caisson, empty boots turned backwards in his stirrups. Dignitaries from around the country, formally dressed and quiet, gathered in our living room for days, each leaving to stand in long lines at the Rotunda.

I remember the hour my father took his turn to say goodbye. The adults cried, we all cried, beginning a long ache that I discover, on writing, is still there.

Diana Gordon



EDITOR'S NOTE: Even half a century later, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy feels fresh to so many - including Gazette readers who responded to an invitation to recall Nov. 22, 1963, and relfect on JFK's legacy.


A FATHER’S KEEPSAKE ABOUT JFK: I have no personal memories of Nov. 22, 1963 (I wasn’t born yet). However, my 81-year-old father passed away in March. While going through his things, my brothers and I found a bumper sticker. Very ironic that this year is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination and my father kept this bumper sticker all these years.

Karen Martindell


UNCLES IN THE GARAGE: The assassination of President Kennedy is one of my first recollections in life. I was 3 years old at the time and was driving with my uncle; we were going to a garage he owned. We heard the announcement on the car radio when we were crossing the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge. When we arrived at the garage, my other uncle was there and so was the postman, they had the TV on and I remember Walter Cronkite coming on the air with the announcement. I also remember the postman breaking down in tears. I do not remember much more.

Barry Federman


ON A FOREIGN FRONTIER: It was a sunny, bright spring day in Santiago, Chile, on Nov. 22, 1963. We had been there about three months into a yearlong research trip. I was helping a friend leaving Chile set up a tag sale. As we worked, an acquaintance of his from the American Embassy came by and told us that the president had been shot. “He’s not dead, is he?” I blurted out. “Yes,” he answered, “he is.”

We were stunned. Suddenly, we felt very isolated and alone, so far from family and friends. As people started arriving for the sale, each one approached us, to express their condolences as if we were members of the Kennedy family. One after another, they told us – “I am so sorry for your loss. He was a wonderful man.”

That evening I was scheduled to attend a dinner at the home of Salvador Allende, the Socialist candidate for president. His daughter, Tati, a medical student at the University of Chile, was helping us gain access to the university students I was interviewing for my thesis. I really did not want to hear the anti-American criticisms of the young radicals at the Allende home. But finally I went.

To my pleasant surprise, the conversation focused on the great loss that we shared. Whatever their criticisms of United States policy, these Socialists hoped that Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress would yield better relations between the U.S. and Latin America. We spent the evening listening to the news and sharing hopes that some of the New Frontier ideas could be salvaged.

From the “esquina del mundo” (the corner of the world), it seemed as if the whole world was in mourning.

Myron Peretz Glazer


TAPS AT PRESIDENT’S GRAVE SITE: In November 1963, I was a captain in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia assigned to the 91st Engineer Combat Battalion as the operators officer. On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, I was presiding over a special courts-martial when word was received of the assassination of the president. Days later we received orders to assemble at the Kennedy grave site to assist the Secret Service in securing the area. On this lovely sunny day we did so, carrying no weapons.

My position was about 10 feet from the open grave. Everyone was silent as we listened to the somber drumbeat as the procession climbed the hill. Soon all the dignitaries arrived and we bodily cleared a path through the Congress, Senate and Supreme Court for the family and clergy to approach the grave. After the service the dignitaries and family left, but we stayed in place to secure the area from the overly curious public. We formed for colors as taps was played. How somber it all was. The site is adjacent to Fort McNair, and the bugle there was expertly sounded in all its mournful splendor.

James A. Smith


HOW THE LAUGHTER DIED: My father broke his Vaughn Meader record. That record, “The First Family,” featuring a JFK imitator in spoofs on the Kennedy administration and family, was on heavy rotation in our house. We lived on Cape Cod, which was heavily Republican then, and the Kennedys weren’t popular, even though their summer home was only a couple of villages away from us.

I knew all the jokes by heart. Once my sister and I dressed up as JFK and Jackie. I put on one of my dad’s suit jackets, and she put on one of Mom’s pillbox hats, and we went down to my parents’ hardware store to show them. I recited lines from the record and my sister, just 3 or 4 at the time, answered with a breathy “Oh, yes.”

We couldn’t quite understand why the whole staff was laughing hysterically. But when the assassination happened, my father smashed the record and threw it away. He said it would be disrespectful to keep it.

Norma Sims Roche


HOW MEMORIES CAN MIX: On Nov. 22, 1963, I was on my way to the Gertrude Singer dress shop in Cambridge, to pick up my “going away” outfit for our wedding Nov. 30, when I heard on the radio the devastating announcement that JFK was dead. Our wedding service was tinged by this untimely event, as our rabbi, Earl Grollman, was deeply depressed and saddened. As we are about to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we recall our emotions … a mix of joy and sadness during the week of JFK’s assassination.

Nancy & Bob Kalin


A WORLD’S GRIEF: In 1959 I spent one week with John Kennedy aboard the United States liner America. Well, we were on the same ship, anyway. I was returning from Germany to the U.S. and got on in Bremerhaven. JFK boarded in Southampton, alone. I was beginning a very nice shipboard romance with a Harvard grad named Terry; we were in third class and JFK in first, where there was much more deck space to stretch your legs.

Every night Terry and I would sneak up there to stroll around the deck; JFK walked there, too, but in the opposite direction. Every time we passed each other, he would smile and nod, knowing full well that we were not there legally. Once in New York, Jackie was there to meet him, so we got a glimpse of her as well.

On Nov. 22, 1963, my husband and I were teachers at the American School in Lugano, Switzerland, where it was evening when the assassination happened. By chance the entire faculty was on campus, so that when the news came we were all there for our students (international and U.S.). Terrified of what might happen — it was, after all, the midst of the Cold War — the faculty spent an exhausting night comforting them. The next evening the local people, who were every bit as shattered as we, held a candlelight service for us in San Abbondio, the village church. It was truly a grief shared by the world.

Nina M. Scott


LEARNING AN AWFUL WORD: “What does it mean when someone is assassinated?” I asked my mom. She was sitting in her favorite rocking chair in front of the black-and-white TV mesmerized by what she saw on the screen. It unnerved me that she didn’t answer right away.

Finally, “It means that someone has killed the president.” she said in a monotone which reflected the severity of the event. I sat down by her on the floor, backpack still hanging from my shoulder. It was a lot for my 8-year-old eyes and ears to take in, but I knew it was something serious. My mom didn’t cry much that I remember, but the tears were running softly down her cheeks.

That morning, Mrs. Miller, my third-grade teacher, suddenly, without warning, burst into tears. Miss Weinstein, my soon-to-be fourth-grade teacher, came bursting into the room, and they whispered amongst themselves.

We sat silently, waiting. They didn’t say a word to us. Finally, Miss Weinstein returned to her classroom and we sat motionless. Mrs. Miller dried her tears and resumed her lesson.

So it wasn’t until I got home that I learned what was shaking up our country to the very depths of its being. Another loss remembered at this holiday time of the year compounds the other losses I am feeling; family members who have passed on and who remain with us in our hearts.

Jennifer Delozier


A LEADER’S LONG-TERM GOALS: Fifty years ago we lost our young president, not knowing that we would soon be involved in another Asian conflict, Vietnam, until finally 10 years later we were forced to admit we couldn’t win. President Kennedy’s funeral was attended by many leaders of the world’s powers, most of them involved in colonial administration of conquered nations. Since that time other wars have been waged on behalf of self-government by those who refused to be ruled by big countries far from their own shores.

Sadly, we are still busy trying to control the governments of small far-away nations struggling to be free. We have trouble keeping our own population under control and yet we try to control other nations’ populations. It doesn’t make sense.

President Kennedy’s goals were long term and he didn’t live to see them achieved. He inspired many to hope for achievement. It’s easy to criticize someone who isn’t here to defend himself but like most politicians, he had his personal flaws. He also had many physical handicaps, well hidden from the public. Fifty years after his death we know much more about him and still admire him for his long-term goals.

I remember the news bulletin on Nov. 22, 1963. It was nearly impossible to believe at the time and every morning I had to remind myself that it had happened. President Roosevelt died on my birthday in 1945 and I’ll never forget that day either.

Nadine Gallo


A LETTER IN THE MAIL: I was in Miss Flynn’s fourth-grade class at Center Street School, Easthampton, in November 1963. I had aspirations of being an astronaut when I grew up, as the space was booming, and had written President Kennedy a letter telling him so. On Nov. 22, we were in school when the president was shot. Our teacher came into the classroom crying and told us to all go home, and to run.

Not fully understanding what had happened, we ran home as fast as we could and spent the next several days glued to our small black-and-white TV, watching with sadness. Two days after the assassination I received in the mail a letter, dated Nov. 14, 1963, from Evelyn Lincoln, the personal secretary to the president. “Dear Pamela, Thank you for your letter to the President and for your thoughtfulness in writing. He appreciates hearing from students and hopes your school year is most interesting and enjoyable. The President extends his best wishes to you.”

With the letter came a picture of President Kennedy and one of Jacqueline with Caroline and John. How shocking for me and my entire family!

It’s hard to believe that was 50 years ago as I remember that day vividly. And the letter, and pictures, from the president are still treasured possessions.

Pamela Provoncha Lybarger

Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

Ms. Lybarger is formerly from Easthampton and Northampton.

POWERFUL AS A BOMB: On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, I was a 13-year-old sitting in my eighth-grade class at St. Hedwig’s. The Polish Roman Catholic school was located one block from the new expressway where months before I’d seen President Kennedy riding in an open convertible car when he visited Chicago to meet with Mayor Daley.

Instead of ringing the lunch bell, our principal, a nun, announced over the PA system that the president had been shot. We all gasped and many started to cry. Then she came into each classroom and, in tears, told us school was dismissed so that we could go home to our parents.

At home, my parents kept a framed photo of JFK hanging on the wall. Our family felt a special closeness to the first ethnic Roman Catholic president who surely shared our values. I knew somehow he would prevent wars and help blacks achieve civil rights.

Once home, I watched history unfold on TV: weeping through Cronkite’s declaration that the president had died, seeing Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, witnessing the swearing-in of President Johnson with Jackie by his side; and then, the somber funeral. I’ll never forget one detail.

Yet the moment foremost in my emotional memory was the PA announcement. Even a 13-year-old knew America would never be the same. It was the end to innocence in our government. It was the nuclear bomb the Soviets never dropped — the one we’d been trained to hide from under our school desks in that era.

Bet Power


WATCHING THE TELETYPE MACHINE: I was a freshman at Syracuse University in 1963. On Nov. 22 I was with friends in my dorm when someone in the hallway yelled, “The president’s been shot!” I ran over to the Daily Orange offices, the school newspaper where I was a reporter. A group had crowded around the UPI teletype and as we watched the message came in: “President Kennedy is dead.” The whole campus went into a period of mourning as we gathered around TV sets, some crying, some praying. A few days later we all headed home for a very solemn Thanksgiving.

Paula Foster Spencer


LOOKING FOR SOLACE: I was 34, living in Clinton, N.Y., where my husband, Warren Wright, was chairman of the Hamilton College speech department. Our two older children were in grade school. I was home, playing with our 1-year-old daughter, Heather. When the Campus Chapel bells began ringing I thought (according to tradition) it meant the college team had won some sport. Strangely, the bells kept ringing but I was not alarmed.

Soon Scott and Roxane arrived from school -- terribly excited! “Mom! The president’s been shot! He might die!” I thought they were joking. They rushed to turn on our TV. And there it all was in our living room — ugly, hateful, shocking, painful and very real.

Warren arrived shortly and we all clung to each other. There were no words, just tears. We cried for Jackie, for her dear little children, for our devastated country. And we prayed together.

For days we parents were glued to the TV, pretending sanity in unrelenting chaos. Camelot was crumbling but there were children to feed and nurture. I felt our lives forever changed. I still do. Healing events happened everywhere to comfort the grief-stricken. I found no solace anywhere until I heard the sermon my husband delivered as a lay preacher. His text was from the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, Verse 21. His message was about the power of the presence of love and what can happen when love is absent.

Warren’s words are still in my heart and they are still true in our world — 50 years later.

Nanette Andre Wright Clark


A LEGACY OF INSPIRATION: As one of “Kennedy’s Children,” I feel compelled to offer my memories of JFK’s legacy.

I was 17 years old on Nov. 22, 1963, and I still consider it one of the saddest days of my life. It was my first year of college and I was on my way to French class when I was stopped dead in my tracks with the horrific news. Like the rest of America, I was glued to my TV set for three days and just sobbed throughout. I cried more for him than I did for my mother when she left me at a young age.

He inspired me to go to college and instilled a desire to become a history teacher. He inspired two of my friends to join the Peace Corps. His legacy was to inspire young people to further themselves and their country. Therein lies his greatness! We have not seen the likes of him since and probably never will again.

Dorothy Fradera


NEWS ON THE SHORTWAVE: On May 30, 1963 I left Northampton and the United States, bound for Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was part of a group of 60 young college graduates who had been inspired by the words of President Kennedy to make somebody else’s world a better one. Upon landing in Bangkok we were given our assignments and I was sent to a small province 60 kilometers from Bangkok to teach English as a foreign language at a secondary school.

Life was a lot different from what I had previously experienced but I soon adjusted, thanks to the support of the gracious Thais, co-workers and students alike. Part of my daily routine was to get up in the morning and listen to the news from the Voice of America in the Philippines on my newly purchased shortwave radio. In November the weather was cooler as the monsoon season had passed.

For this reason I got up a little later. On Nov. 23 [we were half a day ahead] I turned on the radio and heard that “Mr. Kennedy was dead.” I immediately thought it was Joseph Kennedy. A few seconds later I learned the very sad news and part of my world seemed to die with him. Every anniversary I remember the moment so clearly, my reaching up to the shelf, adjusting the antenna, finally getting the Voice of America and learning that he was gone.

Fifty years later I am still here trying to never forget the ideals which inspired all of us so long ago.

Robert McCarthy

Robert McCarthy is formerly of Northampton.

HUSH FALLS OVER HIGH SCHOOL: I was a freshman at Northampton High school, in Mr. Johnson’s basement classroom when it was announced over the loudspeaker. It was like the air was all sucked out of the room at the minute we heard our president had died. I remember how eerie it was in the hallways. Usually it was so loud and noisy, lockers slamming, people talking and laughing. All you heard was the quiet closing of lockers and sobbing.

Elaine Tylunas Gaynor

A TEEN’S TWIN TRAGEDIES: I was a student at Deerfield Academy during the final presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy in November 1960. It was tense. Nixon attacking the New Deal. Kennedy inaugurating the New Frontier. Nixon defending Eisenhower and Kennedy remembering Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Most striking, however, was their appearance. Nixon wore a white shirt and his face was poorly shaven. The dark visage of his face contrasted badly with the white shirt, making him look tired, angry and old. Kennedy wore a blue shirt. His face was tanned from the Hyannis sun. He looked so young, enthusiastic and handsome.

And we all remember their voices: one so defensive of the past and one giving us deep hope for our future.

And that is why Nov. 22, 1963, was so hard for us and so tragic.

We all remember where we were that day. I was playing in a Division C championship soccer game at Tufts University. At the end of the game the referee came over to me and said that I had an emergency phone call. It was my dad. He and my mom were supposed to be at the game.

Instead, he was calling to say that my mother had just died of a brain aneurysm at the Yale New Haven Hospital. He told me that my grandmother was on her way to pick me up in her car. A half-hour later she arrived. She said we needed to drive over to Deerfield Academy to pick up my brother, Bobby.

Off we went but I was so distraught all I could do was cry. So my grandmother turned on the car radio. At that moment we heard the news: President Kennedy has just been shot in his limousine riding through the city of Dallas, Texas. We both were stunned. It was just hours after my mother’s death. How could that be? But it was.

All along the Massachusetts Turnpike at that moment people were driving by with tears in their eyes. At every gas station we stopped everyone looked stunned. Stopping to get a cup of coffee, people just looked at each other’s grief and if they could talk simply said, “Oh my God, what has happened to our country? How could this have happened to us all?”

We will all remember where we were that day. For me it was deeply personal. It was the day my mother died. But for America and people around the world it was so deeply personal, too. Because with John Kennedy’s death, it was the day the music died. It was the day we lost that hope we felt for our country and that had first filled our lives during those Nixon/Kennedy debates and had carried us forward those first three years of his presidency. And all those feelings will be felt by all of us this Friday.

The Rev. Peter B. Ives


PAIN IN A TEACHER’S FACE: I was in my eighth-grade history class at Hawley Junior High in Northampton when I heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot. My teacher was Miss Doolittle. On that day, she turned from her desk as another teacher walked into the classroom and bent down to whisper into Miss Doolittle’s ear. I will never forget the look on Miss Doolittle’s face as she turned back to her class. Clearly, she was in shock; her face paled before our eyes. She was quiet for a moment, and then announced to us that President Kennedy had been shot.

We were stunned. President Kennedy was the first U.S. president to whom young people could relate; JFK was young, he was charming, he had a pretty wife, he was a father who had small children. School was dismissed early that day, and some of us used the time to walk downtown. I remember walking with my friends through Newberry’s, the discount department store across from McCallum??s where Thornes is now. A store clerk told us that President Kennedy had died.

We went home. We watched the news. We cried. The hardest part of the next few days was watching images of Jacqueline Kennedy and her children at the funeral procession.

We had lost our president. Those children had lost their father.

Those of us who remember that November of 1963 know that it was an extraordinarily sad time in American history.

Carol Richards Bertrand


MAIN STREET BECOMES GHOST TOWN: The day the president was shot I was working at the First National Bank of Northampton which was at 1 King St. (now home to Silverscape Design). Amelie Merzbach (wife of Dr. Peter Merzbach from Amherst) while in the process of parking her car heard the news on her radio. She came into the bank and was being waited on by Mary Foley who was the savings department manager and told her the news. It was apparently just coming across the news services.

Some time later I walked to the front door of the bank which faced west toward the courthouse and city hall on upper Main Street. Most businesses had closed. There was not a car or a person visible on the street, something that forever will be etched in my memory. Main Street had the appearance of a ghost town.

Robert Daniels


THE CALL TO LIVE UNITED: I recall JFK’s inauguration on a snowy January day when I was 9 years old. Standing before the nation and the world he invited us to serve our nation and to “ask not what America will do for you.” He inspired me to pursue a career in social work and to invest in making my community a better place for all.

I believe that if he and his brother Robert had lived, our country would have become a better place. I wish that Americans would remember other inspiring words from JFK’s inaugural address. “United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do — for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”

We need to observe this solemn anniversary with a pledge to renew our commitment to making America a better society for all.

Seth Dunn


FOR WANT OF GUN CONTROL: I was a young philosophy instructor at C.W. Post College, Long Island University, en route to my ethics class. On learning that JFK was assassinated I felt crushed and thought about the fragility of our otherwise extraordinary government. I have since wondered about the lack of effective gun control. I put this thought into a counterfactual conditional as follows: “If there had been effective gun control, JFK would not have been shot, and he would have gone home to the White House that night.”

Bertram Bandman


A LOST CHANCE FOR PEACE: Of all the legacies of President John F. Kennedy, the most significant for me and, I believe, all of humanity, is the fact that, somehow, he kept the Cuban missile crisis from escalating into nuclear war with Russia. Beyond that incredibly important accomplishment, if he had lived to finish his first term and gone on to a second, I believe he would have found a way to get us out of Vietnam before it was too late. There could well have been no phony Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. No escalation of a so-called “conflict” that I believe the military-industrial complex wanted for no good reason.

No needless death and destruction of the precious lives of so many thousands of “My-My-My Generation.” That includes the north and south Vietnamese, who suffered so much more. The Who sang “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” but then we were. Remembering JFK gives us a chance to realize that we, as a nation and a human family, can find ways to avoid the horrors of war. We must learn from our bloody history and JFK’s legacy, to reject war as a means of conflict resolution. “Imagine” that!

Art Silver


FALLEN HERO: Fifty years ago today, I was in third grade at the Hooker Elementary school in Hadley. This past Saturday, I returned to the former school building, now the Hadley Senior Community Center, and took a photo. I remember the mother of a classmate, Debbi Konieczny, coming into the class and whispering something to our teacher, Mrs. Hilton. They both started to cry and soon after we were informed that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and were sent home.

Two years before, we had a house fire and had put some furniture into our nearby barn. When we were sent home from school the day JFK was assassinated, I remember playing near the partially open side of this barn and hearing noises coming from the back. Because it appeared to be a good hiding place, I remember us discussing that maybe Kennedy’s assassin had fled to here and so we looked for him hoping to turn him in to the police.

From childhood to the present, I am saddened by the senseless assassination of our president. He was our leader and also a son, brother, husband, father and uncle. He looked like a great dad and with a young family and his being a Roman Catholic from Massachusetts, kids like myself were attracted to him and very proud because he was “our guy.”

His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, escalated the war in Vietnam. I believe Kennedy was considering winding down the war. History changed forever in Dallas and we can only wonder what our world would be like today had JFK served out his term and likely a second term. All we can do today is remember, pray and ponder this.

Mark J. Zuchowski


The following was written by Christine Nolan, who on Nov. 22, 1963, was a seventh-grade student at St. Michael’s School in Northampton.

November 22, 1963

The vacated second floor cloak room

Dotted with wooly sweaters and jackets

Reflects a chilly autumn day

Inside the classroom

The commandments begin

You STAND by your desk

Then TURN to face the back of the room

KNEEL on your chair

While Sister scans for pleated blackwatch plaid skirts

that do not skim the seat

Your eyes slide to the right

as you sense her presence near you

The Yardley soap perfumes the classroom air

Outside, the bare branches of the chestnut trees

Invade your peripheral vision

You are holding your breath

There is dead silence

And then her voice cuts the quiet


You and your classmates promptly join in

Making the sign of the cross

As morning prayers commence

You do not know

That this day

This ordinary day

Will be burned in your memory

That on this afternoon

Even the chestnut trees will weep

As you all gather

Again in prayer

For the soul

And the widow

And the children

And the world

That must go on

Without their Catholic president

And Sister will sit at her desk

Head bowed, tears leaking


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