November 22, 2013

News family remembers horror of JFK killing


PLATTSBURGH — Even a half century later, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is not old news to the Press-Republican family.

A request for memories of that day brought quick responses from employees, freelancers and retirees.

Here's what they had to say:

Lois Clermont, editor in chief: "I was 7 years old and in class at St. John's Academy in Plattsburgh when word came that President Kennedy had been shot. The nuns, who were, of course, huge fans of this Catholic president, were crying. They had us all pray for the president and his family.

"School was released early. I guess everyone just wanted to be with their families, the same way we all felt when the terrorists struck on 9/11.

"I remember watching all the TV coverage with my family. The most vivid memories from the funeral were John John saluting his father, the horse with the boot turned backward and Jackie Kennedy's veiled face — she showed strength and class, but you could see her pain."

Jim Dynko, retired editor in chief: "I was a high school junior at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar when news of the shooting started making the rounds at school. Later in the afternoon, an assembly was called, and Principal Harold B. Smith confirmed the news, that the president had been shot and was seriously wounded.

"Getting home, my family turned on the old black and white television and began watching the saga that would take up our lives for several days. My parents were distraught when it was finally confirmed that JFK was dead.

"A newspaper carrier in Delmar for the morning Times Union of Albany, I saw dozens of lights on in the 100 homes I delivered to at 5:30 a.m. (the next) morning, my birthday. Later that morning I began collections on the route.

"A dark, cloudy, brisk day was the forecast, which reflected the mood of just about all of my customers, whose televisions were turned to one of the three TV channels to view the latest news of the assassination.

"Many of my customers came to door in tears. It’s something I’ve never forgotten and when I think of those bleak days, I still get chills …

PR website administrator Roger Black: "I was in an 11th-grade political science class when Miss Smith, an English teacher, came into the room to tell us that the president had been shot and may be dead. She was in tears, and I remember it was very disconcerting to see a teacher crying.

"The first words out of my mouth were, 'Oh my God, Johnson!' I was only 17 years old but, for some reason, I felt that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was going to be bad for the country.

"The other lasting memory I have was of how quiet the school hallways were after we left class. They were crowded with students, but instead of the usual loud clamor of voices there was only hushed murmuring."

Bob Grady, former editor in chief: "To understand what President Kennedy's assassination was like, it's important to understand, politics aside, what the Kennedys meant to America and the world. In sharp contrast to their archrivals, the USSR's crotchety old curmudgeons, the Kruschevs, the Kennedys were streamlined and magnetic. Even if you hated JFK's liberal politics, you basked in the rich glow of his aura.

"An illustration of that aura appeared on a news clip on national TV the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy emerged from his Dallas hotel, without the elegant Jackie, to greet an adoring crowd of well-wishers. He apologized for being alone. 'It takes Jackie longer to get organized,' he explained, then added with a smile: 'But we don't look as good.' The crowd loved it. Hours later, his brain was blown out, spattered on Jackie's lap.

"I was a freshman at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and was just returning to my dorm after a class. Mark Segretti asked me if I'd heard about the shooting. Shocked like everyone else, I rushed to the nearest TV to see the sturdiest newscaster of them all, Walter Cronkite, take off his glasses, a tear leaking from his eye, to announce that the president was dead.

"Understand, please, that history books cannot do justice to the morose pall that overtook the nation. This was not like McKinley's shooting; it was more like Lincoln's. Camelot was over. Our King Arthur was gone. We'd have to make do with our own curmudgeon, Lyndon Johnson."

Sue Tobias, freelance writer: "I was a junior in high school at Salmon River Central in Fort Covington, sitting in Mrs. Katherine Sullivan’s English class when an announcement came over the speaker that there had been a tragic event in Dallas, Texas, and that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I felt sick all over.

"Not one person said a word for what seemed like forever. Then Miss Sullivan said it was so horrific that we needed to all stop for a few minutes to digest what we had heard. She left the room for a few minutes, and still nobody talked. We all just looked at each other. We had no clue what to expect next.

"Personally, I remember feeling like we probably would be attacked by the Russians next or that Cuba was behind the assassination.

"Everyone was glued to the television at home for the next week, waiting for someone to explain what had happened. The Vietnam War was ramping up in the 1960s, but it was far and distant. This was close and personal. A feeling of desperation and uncertainty hung in the air, no matter where you went for a very long time."

Alvin Reiner, freelance reporter, photographer: "November 1963 was not a good month for me. A week before the assassination, while at the New York State Ranger School in Wanakena, I had fallen into a grease pit, which resulted in three broken ribs and a bruised kidney.

"On Nov. 22, while in an afternoon surveying class, a faculty member, Dave Anderson, called our instructor Dan Castagnazzi into the hallway. While most of the conversation was not heard, several students picked up information that someone had been shot. It was hunting season, and half of our class was in the woods participating in a timber cruise, so as the word spread through the classroom, most of us thought that one of our buddies was the victim.

"Doing his best to hold back tears, Mr. C., a Navy veteran, returned and informed us that President Kennedy had been shot and that he could not teach the rest of the lesson and thus dismissed the class.

"Though the Ranger School was run with a Spartan atmosphere, a television was brought into the school lounge so we could watch the news. This is where we saw Jack Ruby shoot the suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as the coverage of the funeral proceedings.

"I had a personal experience with Kennedy prior to his death, as I had photographed him when he was running for office three years prior. So visions of him mounting the podium and me snapping some frames with my Brownie Starflash came to life. I treasure those photos today."

Staff Writer Lohr McKinstry: “I was a junior at a school in Pennsylvania, and on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, we were all in the school gym watching a last-period basketball game when the shots were fired at President Kennedy. The language arts teacher, Mr. Cherrington, came to the gym and stopped the game. He announced that the president had been shot in Dallas and taken to a hospital.

"The game then continued for a few minutes, until Mr. Cherrington returned. He told us President Kennedy was dead, he had been killed by an assassin’s bullet, and that an attempt against Vice President Johnson was being investigated. The latter was not true, but had apparently been reported by some news organizations.

“The basketball game was halted, and we were all sent home. I remember being in shock as I left the school. No one spoke, and it was the quietest dismissal I’d ever seen. I walked home to find my parents watching TV coverage of the assassination. All three networks suspended programming for days to present news of the president’s assassination, funeral, and capture and subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald two days later.”

Alan Goodman, Circulation Department: "I was a junior at Binghamton North High School. The announcement came over the PA system telling us that the president was dead and school was closing immediately. Since I lived in a rural area, I waited for the bus to come to the school. Other than muffled crying, the whole school was stone quiet. It seemed that everyone had a stunned look and moved like robots.

"When I got home, the television (black and white) had nonstop coverage on all three channels. When my parents got home that evening, I asked what would happen to the country. My dad, who was not a JFK fan, said that, as bad as the assassination was, our government was set up to handle circumstances like this. President Johnson had already been sworn in and the transition was already under way.

"The next few days were (and remain) a mix of images: Dallas, book repository, motorcade, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, commentators on TV crying, flag-draped coffin in the Capitol Rotunda, caisson with the riderless horse with backward boots in the stirrups, a little boy saluting his father, the Eternal Flame."

William Wells, Classified Department: "I was a first-grader at Cumberland Head when the teacher called us all up to get in line and told us that school was closing and we would all be going home. I can’t remember if they actually told us then what had happened, but we knew quickly enough when we got home. My parents were home from work, too, and we all watched CBS News together. I remember the feeling of a shortened day of school and the joy that usually brings changing to feeling the effects of a somber nation. We were glued to the TV.

"Watching Walter Cronkite tear up was a tough one for a little kid. Caroline Kennedy was a few months younger than me, and I remember watching her and her brother, especially Little John, when he saluted the casket the day of the funeral. President Kennedy was a hero to so many, and I’ll never forget that horrible day."

Bob Goetz, retired sports editor: "I was a paper boy at the time, and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, being an afternoon paper, came out with the same-day story. I remember at least three people on my route who were learning about it for the first time when I delivered the paper.

"They were shocked, to say the least. In 1963, people did not watch as much television and certainly not in the afternoon. Nor did they listen to the radio all the time."