MBU Community Reflects on that Tragic Day 50 Years Ago
Nov. 22, 1963, is a day many Americans will never forget. It is the day our nation lost a president in a tragic event that changed the course of history. As John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas, many Missouri Baptist University faculty members remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. Today they reflect on that fragile day in our nation’s history and on the impact it left for generations to follow.
“My mother would probably have been along the motorcade route …”
LARRY SMITH, DMA, Chair
Choral Director/Professor of Music
Fine Arts Division
I was 6 years old – a first-grader at Pleasant Run Elementary in Lancaster, Texas, just 15 miles from Dealey Plaza.
My mother worked in downtown Dallas and would probably have been along the motorcade route had I not been sick with the chicken pox. She was home caring for me that day.
I didn’t see the actual TV footage as I was in bed in my room, but I heard my mother begin to cry in another room. I don’t know that I had ever heard my mother cry before.
I was too young (and sick) to fully understand and Mom pulled it together to keep me from being worried.
Dad also worked in Dallas, just a couple of miles from Dealey Plaza. He stayed at work until mid-afternoon, Mom took care of me, but when he arrived home she could finally allow her grief to be expressed and she sobbed for a long time.
Dad cared for me and for her – as always. I remember that my parents were deeply distressed by the events of that day.
It was all a bit much for me to fully understand, but what I remember most from that time is the importance of family.
The Kennedy family was shaken, the Smith family was shaken, the American family was shaken, but always there was the comfort of family to endure and overcome the tragedy.
“I noticed the flag was at half-staff”
Senior Vice President for Business Affairs
I was 8 years old and in my third-grade classroom when I learned that the president had been shot.
The teacher had hoped to get through the day without having to tell us what had happened, but I noticed the flag was at half-staff.
I had either never seen or noticed that occur before so I raised my hand and told my teacher the flag had fallen and asked if I should go and tell the school janitor of the problem.
Her eyes moistened as she tried to compose herself. She explained that it was customary to lower the flag out of respect when the country mourns a loss.
Then she told us that President Kennedy had been shot. By the time we got home that Friday afternoon, all three TV networks were covering the story.
I had only seen that happen for presidential speeches and the launching of the Mercury spacecraft.
Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley sought to soothe the nation’s soul. We had three days to come to grips with what had happened before the president was buried on Monday.
I believe school must have been cancelled as I recall sitting in front of our only black-and-white television to watch the funeral procession. It was quite a ceremony; very slow and filled with strange customs.
The casket was placed on an Army caisson pulled by a horse. A horse was led behind the casket and had empty boots in the stirrups facing the wrong way.
Then came John-John’s salute and every eye in the nation it seemed shed a tear. JFK and Jackie were already icons of their generation, but they became legends that day.
President Johnson made quite a few speeches to assure the nation that while one man had been killed, the Constitution provided a plan for succession and the U.S. Government was in control. As was the Democratic Party when President Johnson was elected in a landslide in 1964, winning all but six states.
Had Kennedy not been shot, it’s unknown exactly what actions he might have taken in Vietnam.
Johnson seemed to begrudgingly escalate the war and Goldwater actually suggested using low-grade nuclear weapons though he later backed off of that stance.
It definitely would have been a different war and a different world had Kennedy not be assassinated.
“When I started answering calls, people were just crying.”
DR. PHYLLIS FREDERICKSEN
I remember that day very well. I was a junior in high school and we were in our English class when the principal came over the PA to tell us the president had been shot.
We were told to pray and we did. After school I had to report to my part-time job as a long distance telephone operator (Illinois Bell, I was in Chicago).
The streets were full of people and cars. Police were stopping cars and you needed a good reason to be out.
In those days, we had a board in front of us and plugged in when a light came on to answer the call.
When I walked into the room, the entire board was lit, and when I started answering calls, people were just crying. Some wanted to place long distance calls, others just wanted to talk to someone.
I remember watching everything on TV and crying a lot. It seemed that a light was being taken away. JFK offered so much hope to people, young people especially.
I think we learned that nothing is sacred, that anyone/anything can be destroyed in an instant and that we shouldn’t take things for granted. I don’t think we’ve learned that lesson yet though.
“I became a fairly involved student of the assassination.”
I was in the eighth grade of New Athens Community School in New Athens, Ill. At the exact moment of the assassination (12:30 p.m. CST), I was on lunch break in the gymnasium shooting baskets.
I learned of the shooting about 30 minutes later while in band practice as well of the president’s death a short time later.
Like most American families I suppose, we were glued to the television. It was a fascinating yet confusing time as I recall. The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby further intensified the entire weekend. Very sad watching Mrs. Kennedy and her children, especially on Monday.
I became a fairly involved student of the assassination. I saved newspapers and articles from the event. I read the Warren Report summary as soon as it was made available.
I have studied the event over the years and have read most of the conspiracy works on the subject (as well as a few which defend the Commission’s findings). I have visited the site on multiple occasions and am still fascinated by it.
I know many people feel it was a turning point for our nation and I think that is fairly accurate.
For me, though, the Cuban missile crisis was the first event I remember which gave me a different perspective on our nation and the world.
Certainly our nation seems to have become more volatile following the assassination than before.
“We can dislike people but still love them as our Lord practiced …”
DR. RON BRANDLY
Associate Professor of Education
I learned a great lesson on the day our president was killed.
I was a junior in high school sitting in my economics class. My teacher, a strong Republican, never had anything good to say about President Kennedy.
When word came over the intercom that our president had been assassinated, I thought my teacher, out of respect, would sit quietly at his desk.
He was not quiet. The man sat and cried in front of all of us.
Though he did not like the politics of President Kennedy, he was still his president and he was killed.
We can dislike people but still love them as our Lord practiced and taught us by example.
In the days that followed, I was stuck in front of the TV constantly and was shocked beyond belief when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered on live TV by Jack Ruby. I saw a man murdered in real time on TV.
This was the beginning of some other horrific scenes on TV that changed our view of the world. It actually was “the best of times and the worst of times.”
“You only see a young boy saluting as his father’s casket goes by.”
MARY ANN BOUAS
Scheduling Coordinator, Undergraduate Advisor and Instructor
I know this is telling my age, but I was in the ninth grade walking outside between wings to get to my next class.
A student walked by shouting that the president had been shot. I thought he was just joking.
My next class was PE, so as we were all in the locker room changing, the principal came on the PA system and announced that the president had been shot and had died.
Everyone was so quiet. Not only could we not believe what had just happened, we were also frightened. After all, war had almost started in Cuba not too long before that.
That was the quietest that locker room had ever been while we got ready for class.
When I got home, my parents did not seem too concerned. The next few days just happened as usual.
We had no school on the day of the funeral. Mom had the TV on all day, so I watched much of it.
Mostly I remember sadness, a sadness that lasted long after the funeral was over. A sadness because there was the end of something.
People call it the end of Camelot. I could only think of the loss Mrs. Kennedy and her children suffered.
It was a loss for the nation, too. I think it was a loss of a new innocence found after the wars.
America was a great country. We were first in space, the economy was good, and we had a beautiful family in the White House.
It really wasn’t Camelot. Since then much has been learned about the president and his wife.
There were years of discussion over one shooter or two. I have learned more of the disagreeable politics of the time.
But when you are 14 years old, you don’t see all of that. You only see a young boy saluting as his father’s casket goes by.
“Everyone was full of questions. … It was a somber day.”
DR. LADD FASZOLD
Professor of Music/Accreditation and Curriculum
Fine Arts Division
I remember the day well. I was in my sixth-grade classroom when it was announced over the intercom system. The entire class was strongly impacted.
Since I lived on a military air base, everything was on high alert. The next few days we were all glued to reports by Walter Cronkite about all the events.
Everyone was full of questions. I watched the funeral procession live. It was a somber day.
For my wife, Karen, Nov. 22 was her father’s birthday. Because of the events of the day, her mother would not allow them to celebrate the birthday.
She said, “The nation was in mourning, so we should not decorate and celebrate.” They did eat cake, however.
“It was evident that our country was in mourning.”
DR. CATHY BENTON
Associate Professor of Music
Fine Arts Division
I was in the fourth grade. Our teacher told us the news just before we went home from school. I can still see that classroom in my mind and remember her standing in the front of the classroom.
I also remember that my parents watched the television coverage non-stop and they were upset. I also remember how sad everyone was.
As a young person, it was difficult to see so many adults crying and sorrowful. I also remember watching the funeral and seeing President Kennedy’s young children.
It was evident to me as a child that something really bad had occurred. It was also evident that our country was in mourning.
“It was a day fraught with sadness for our nation.”
In 1963 I was on my college campus in West Virginia walking to my next class when I heard that the president of the United States had been assassinated.
It was a day fraught with sadness for our nation, personal anguish that an act of this magnitude could occur in the U.S.A., and mourning with other citizens as we watched the outpouring of remorse by citizens from all walks of life.
The impact on our nation manifested the end of “innocence” as I knew it to be, as well as the citizenry of the U.S.A.
“It permeated my home, my community and my nation.”
Franklin County Site Coordinator
Assistant Professor of Education
There are always two dates that Baby Boomers can remember vividly. First, the day a man walked on the moon in 1969, and second, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I do remember clearly where I was on Nov. 22, 1963. I was in the fifth grade at Harrisonville Elementary School in Harrisonville, Mo.
My class had just returned from band and choir. Our teacher had a most disconcerting look on her face.
As her eyes filled with tears, she explained that the president had been shot in Dallas, Texas.
No one said a thing. I had never seen my teacher (or any other teacher of the time) cry, and her tears upset the whole class.
She directed us to return to our work. Shortly after, the principal came to our room and told Mrs. McEwon that the president had died. He, too, was visibly shaken. School was dismissed that day and for the next few days.
I always relive this date in history. My birthday is Nov. 23 and I turned 10 years old the next day. Many stores and businesses were closed.
I was to go with my family to the circus in Kansas City that weekend. There was no circus and no other festivities that week.
My birthday was celebrated at home with cake and ice cream with my family.
School did not reopen until the following Monday. As a child, I recall how grim and solemn everything seemed to be.
It permeated my home, my community and my nation. The fact that our nation remembers each year this tragic event indicates how poignant it was for our country.
“We can’t forget the grief experienced that week by millions of us …”
Assistant Professor of Communications
Fine Arts Division
I learned of President Kennedy’s death on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Detroit, around 1 p.m. on that Friday afternoon.
It was announced by an airline hostess on the plane’s intercom system as we passengers were flying over Lake Michigan.
I was traveling to Detroit that Friday afternoon to participate in a weekend new travel destination and orientation training seminar.
All of us on the plane were silently grieving and in total disbelief. The silence continued until the plane landed in Detroit.
Our only questions as the passengers deplaned at 2 p.m. that afternoon at the gate were: How was he killed? Where did it happen? Who took his life? Why-Why-Why?
I immediately called home (Chicago) from a phone booth at the Detroit air terminal to speak with Helen (my wife). She was watching TV news at home with our two children on her lap.
She only knew that Kennedy died in Dallas, Texas, and that police and FBI were tracking down the assassin.
The weekend Detroit training seminar was canceled. I returned to Chicago on the first flight out of Detroit that next morning.
The following week was spent with family – at home – work schedules canceled – as the events unfolded – so well documented by the media then and during the past 50 years – books – movies – personal recollections, etc.
It’s hard to imagine that there are fewer of us alive today, remembering where we were that Friday afternoon in November. But we can’t forget the grief experienced that week by millions of us during those days prior to our country’s national Thanksgiving celebration of 1963.