Remembering a Tragedy

November 22, 2013

by Laurie Jasper

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  On that fateful Friday, November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, TX, his wife Jacqueline Kennedy by his side.  Texas Governor John Connally was also shot and wounded.

In one brief moment, the hopes and dreams of the entire United States became a nightmare.  Young, vibrant, and handsome John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been the country’s 35th president for only two years, ten months and two days.  A decorated World War II Navy veteran, Kennedy was elected twice to the House of Representatives before being elected United States Senator from Massachusetts in 1952.  On September 12, 1953, 36-year-old Kennedy wed 24-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier in Newport, Rhode Island’s social event of the year.  Their courtship and marriage made headlines throughout the nation.  Senator Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957 for his book, “Profiles In Courage.”  When Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960, he and his beautiful wife brought youthful style, glamour and promise to the Washington political scene and the world.  At 43, he was the youngest president to ever be elected, and was the first Irish Catholic president.

For those who lived through that significant time in history, the memories of November 22, 1963 are as vivid today as they were 50 years ago.  Today is a day to recall and remember, whether through this article or the countless news programs and articles commemorating this date in America’s history.  Share your story with family and friends.  For those who were not yet born, ask older family members about this date in their lives.  The following are but a few such recollections.

“I was in the fifth grade at Sacred Heart School in Lowell, Massachusetts,” shared Eileen Lathrop.  “I remember Sister standing up in front of the classroom, looking very somber, and telling us the President had been shot.  She then turned on the television that was in front of the class.  I remember where I was sitting, the nuns were crying, we didn’t know what to do.  We felt helpless.  It was so quiet.  We could feel the sadness in the adults’ expressions; we didn’t feel safe.  It was a terrible feeling,” Eileen recalled.  “That weekend, the family watched the television all day.  My mother never turned off the TV.  I made a scrapbook of all the newspaper articles.  We always followed the Kennedys.  Being from Massachusetts, he was our president, we had such a connection.  Every woman wanted to be like Jackie Kennedy, she was so fashionable, and my mother was very beautiful and fashionable, too.  We were Irish Catholic Democrats.  This changed the way we thought, about how safe we felt in our world.  We talked about it in school, we prayed, there were special Masses for the president.”  In fact, Eileen keeps the memory of her beloved mother and the Kennedys connected.  “My Mom passed away eight years ago, and I have her picture on a barrister bookcase along with different Kennedy books and items that remind me of her and of the Kennedys.  It is a tribute to my Mom but also to my memories growing up.”

For Hudson Board of Selectmen Chairman Rick Maddox, his recollections are similar.  “I was ten years old, and I do remember vividly, I was coming home from school and my father was coming down the walk, holding a transistor radio, and he told me the president had been shot.  We saw this entire event unfold that weekend, it was such a shock.  Now we are inundated with 24-hour news cycles and programs, but then we did not have that.  The whole nation just stopped, just shut down, and everyone watched the news on television, mostly on black and white TVs.  At ten years old I had never really paid much attention to the news, but I did that weekend.  Then, to see Jack Ruby (shoot Lee Harvey Oswald) all play out on TV – that was incredible.  I still remember it.  It was a turning point in history.”  Rick, as do others, wonders what could have been, had this not happened.  “Would we have gone to Vietnam?  What would have been different?” he asks.

Charlotte “Charlie” Schweiss was a student at St Joseph’s High School for Girls in Lowell, MA when she heard the news.  “I was at basketball practice and someone came in and told us the president had been shot.  We all broke down and cried.  It was devastating.  I cried all the way home.  We had the television on all the time; I remember we were eating Sunday dinner when Oswald was shot, right on television.  We stayed home to watch the funeral on television.  I don’t think there were any dry eyes in the country.”  Referencing the musical associated with the Kennedy Years, she continued, “It was Camelot.  The White House was alive with children.  We were living history.  There was a special connection with the president, being from Massachusetts.  It was so sad,” Charlie said.

“I was busy at home with two of my children, Lori (1 1/2) and Emery (3 months old) that day,” recalled Shirley Nadeau.  “My mother-in-law came up stairs to tell me the president had been shot.  I put on the television right away, thinking he would be okay.  Then, we heard the news that he was dead.  I stayed up all night watching the news.  I am from Massachusetts, I followed his campaigns, and he was young and Catholic.  He was the first person I voted for, for president.  We were all just stunned,” said Shirley.  Every year, on the anniversary of the assassination, students at Alvirne High School, where Shirley works, ask Shirley to recall the events of 50 years ago.  “They want to know what I remember, what it felt like to be a part of that time in history.  I can remember it like it was yesterday,” she said.

In 1963, Hudson Historical Society member Ruth Parker was working in her first job after graduating from the University of New Hampshire, at a research lab at United Aircraft in East Hartford, CT.  She recalls there was an announcement that the president had been shot and the facility closed for the day.  “I spent the whole rest of the weekend just watching the news.  I called home, of course.  It is history, and your whole life goes before you.  I was glued to the news; I can still picture the little black and white TV set I had.  I saw Oswald shot by Ruby,” shared Ruth.  In reflecting upon the events of 50 years ago up to the present, Ruth continued, “Every tragic change we go through, we adapt to.  Like it or not, we’ve adapted around the tragedy of the events of 9-11.  Every upheaval creates a ‘new normal’ for the country.”

50 years later, the United States still mourns the loss of President Kennedy.  Who knows what he would have accomplished, had he lived?  To quote John Greenleaf Whittier:  “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”