Buddy was walking across the Radcliffe Quad at Harvard when a classmate ran up to him and told him the news. For years it made him ashamed to be from Shreveport, which felt to him and to the people he'd grown up with like a far-flung Dallas exurb rather than a part of Louisiana.
Ralph was two cars behind in the motorcade, sitting with Lyndon, who he didn't like, and who he never would have ridden with had the president not insisted. Ralph felt responsible for convincing the president to come to Dallas, in part to try to broker peace between the progressive and hard-shell factions of the state's Democratic party, but mostly because he believed that Jackie would charm the people of Dallas and make it easier for the president to win Texas in the 1964 campaign.
Ralph remembered riding in the motorcade, feeling relieved at seeing the people cheering in the streets. But he recalled looking up at the second-story windows and noticing that the faces there were masks of disinterest, and that some of them looked on with what he perceived as banked hatred.
John was at the Dallas Morning News that day. Later he'd say Jack Ruby had been there that morning, seeing after the ad copy for his Carousel nightclub, but that was just a story he told. Ruby was often in the office on weekday mornings; he liked to hang out at the newspaper and speak to the reporters. Late in his life John sometimes wondered if he hadn't placed Ruby in the office that morning simply because it made a good story.
But he could have been there. The newspaper ran an ad for the Carousel that day. It was right next to the one for the Texas Theatre, which was advertising a double feature, "Cry of Battle" and "War Is Hell."
Claire was picking up her new two-door 1964 Chevelle, two door, white with black interior, at Lucky Chevrolet in McGehee when it was announced on overhead speakers. She immediately went downtown where people were in the streets: "Tears, disbelief and horror."
William was in his eighth-grade science class at Forest Heights Junior High in Little Rock. Someone in the administrative office turned on the intercom. Somber music played throughout the school and a CBS News special report began to play. When the news was confirmed, a collective gasp filled his classroom. Several girls began to sob. One boy--a "hood"--tentatively cheered. William's teacher swept across the room to his desk and slapped him hard across his face.
Vickie was in the first grade. It was the first time she ever saw adults cry.
Matt took lunch at home and got back to the school playground just before the 1 p.m. bell. A friend, Van Gearhart, asked him if he'd heard the news. They prayed in Sister Blaise's classroom after the bell.
They sent Benjamin and his second-grade classmates home from Arkadelphia Primary School early, without explanation. They found out when the bus stopped and picked up the high school kids.
In Toledo, Ohio, Catherine had just gotten home from half-day kindergarten. The news interrupted her cartoons.
Helen found out when she heard the janitor at her elementary school sobbing while he was listening to the radio. She went home and cried for days.
Jimmy was in his business office in Plains, Ga. He went out back to weep.
Bob was in his high school gym class where he saw a kid get punched in the nose after he muttered "good riddance."
Richard couldn't understand the announcement at first. Why was his first-grade classmate Suzanne crying? When he went home, his mother was painting furniture, watching the TV. He stood there for hours watching it with her. He still has that furniture, though it's been stripped and refinished.
Linda was 2 years old; her mother told her she was eating
baby-food green beans.
Joanna says that when they announced the news over the school intercom in Missouri, her fourth-grade classmates laughed and cheered. Her teacher walked out crying.
Sherrel was in sixth grade: "I recall some of the students cheering and Mrs. Mann shushing them, but the classmate I remember most vividly was Priscilla Hire, who broke down into body-wracking sobs, and she and I went to the girls' restroom, where she could not stop crying."
Celia was in a Crystal City, Texas, classroom where they had interned Germans during World War II (though she didn't know that then). They let them out of school early and she walked home "in a hurry, using a confusing shortcut on sand/dirt roads, expecting paratroopers to pepper the sky above me all the way."
Mike was taking an algebra II test at Sheridan High School. His teacher, Mrs. Thornton, wasn't in the room when they played the news broadcast over the loudspeaker. The school had an honor code that forbade talking when the teacher was out of the room. It got even quieter.
Bill W. was in kindergarten in Dallas, but his neighbor's husband Nick wrestled with a man in the Texas Theatre that day. The man tried to shoot him, but Nick stuck the fleshy part of his left hand, between his thumb and forefinger, under the pistol's firing pin.
Bill C. was in his calculus class in Hot Springs when his teacher broke the news. Bill wondered about how a man who seemed "so full of life and strength" when he'd shook his hand in the Rose Garden of the White House four months before could be so easily extinguished. He heard a girl say that "maybe it was a good thing for the country."
Sarah was at home in Dallas, preparing to drive to Austin to have dinner with the president and First Lady that evening. Her friend Irving called her at home and she went to Love Field instead, to swear in the new president of the United States. She asked if they had a copy of the oath of office, and Irving told her they were looking for one. She told him not to worry if they couldn't find one, she would make something up.
Robert was in his barracks at Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany around 7 p.m. when he heard a commotion in the hall outside. A guy was holding a transistor radio: "They shot the president. They shot the governor of Texas."
Fred was in kindergarten in Roselle Park, N.J. His teacher was called out of the room for a minute. She came back, pushing a cart with a TV on it and told her class "somebody tried to hurt our president." They spent the rest of the day watching the news.
Sam sat at the lunch counter of The Shack at Third and Victory Streets in Little Rock, watching the small black-and-white TV turned to Walter Cronkite.
Gail was walking down the hall in her high school when she saw a girl weeping.
She asked her what had happened.
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