It’s a question that’s been asked, again and again, for 50 years now. The generations that fought two world wars elected John F. Kennedy as the 35th president, but it was the nation’s post-war generation, Baby Boomers, who would identify with JFK most keenly and come to carry his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 as the defining event of the times, much the same way future generations would come to regard Sept. 11, 2001.
A president who served a short time (January 1961-November 1963) would come to occupy a prominent place in U.S. history.
Where were you? Everyone seems to recall in an instant. The question, however, is a bit more complex for San Antonians and South Texans. Many who were alive then and are alive today want to talk about Nov. 21, 1963 before they get to Nov. 22. The day before the assassination, after all, was the last full day of the Kennedy Presidency and it was spent largely in San Antonio.
We asked a sample of San Antonians — not all of whom were living here back then — to share with Rivard Report readers their memories. After you’ve read theirs, why not send us yours? You can post your own remembrance in the comments at the end of this article or post your remark on the Rivard Report Facebook page‘s story link. (Note: comments made on our Facebook page are imported to our website.)
Former Mayor Lila Cockrell
On Nov. 21st, I had been seated with the other members of the City Council at Brooks Air Force Base in the assembled audience and listened to President John F. Kennedy’s speech that day, and had felt so privileged to be in that audience.
The next day, I was at home when the phone rang and my fellow City Council member George De La Garza was calling to ask if I had heard that President Kennedy had been shot while in a motorcade in Dallas. I rushed to my television, turned it on, and then sat down in front of it watching the scene unfold. When it was finally announced that the President had died, I continued to watch the ongoing events as Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the President of the United States by Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who was a friend of mine, dating back to the days that Sid and I, and our two daughters, had lived in Dallas and I had served as President of the League of Women Voters of Dallas.
Later that afternoon I had a call from my mother, Velma T. Jones, who lived in Fort Worth. She told me that she and my stepfather, Ovid W Jones, had driven over to Dallas that morning and were standing on the street in front of the Dallas Athletic Club as the motorcade went by, and waved to the President.
They then went into the building to take the elevator to the second floor dining room where they had reservations for lunch, and then, as they got off the elevator, saw a group of people, huddled around a television, saying that the President had been shot. They were stunned, having seen him in the motorcade driving by, just five minutes before. It was a very sad and tragic time in the history of our country.
William G. Moll, Television Executive, Broadcaster
It was noon, Nov. 22, 1963, Austin, Texas, when I picked up my priceless White House Press Credentials to cover President John F. Kennedy’s speech planned for that evening at an Austin banquet. Twenty-five minutes later, driving on I-35 toward my home, I heard on KLBJ Radio, “… the President has been shot.”
For the next 72 hours I went sleepless, working nonstop as a reporter alongside editors and producers to craft what would be the first nationally televised documentary about the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Bob Squier and Al Perlmutter were executive producers of the documentary which was broadcast nationwide on NET (National Educational Television), the precursor of PBS, airing on Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 in primetime.
Bob Squier went on during the ensuing decades to become a pioneer in international political consultation and advertising, essentially “inventing” the way politicians are packaged to appeal to voters. He and Roger Ailes did a “point/counterpoint” feature on The Today Show for several years. Perlmutter became a pioneer in the development of the Public Broadcasting Laboratory, later evolving into PBS.
Our LBJ documentary has been lost in the intervening half-century since the assassination and now long forgotten. That weekend? Every moment of those sleepless 72-hours – never to be forgotten.
Frank B. Burney, Attorney
All week long my parents were talking about the visit to Texas by the President and, particularly, Jackie, at the invitation of President Johnson. On Nov. 22nd, they headed from Corpus Christi to Austin for a dinner with the President and Vice-President that would never occur…
Prior to leaving, they showed me their tickets, and there was an assignment from our third grade teacher to write about a story in the news.
I penned a Pulitzer-worthy manuscript, which my family framed with a copy of the invitation, the tickets for the dinner they never attended, and an article from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times to memorialize this event.
I also enclose a letter [download PDF here] from my father to my brother, who we affectionately referred to as Judge, (do you think my parents wanted a lawyer in the family?–he turned out to be a Jungian psychologist, but that’s another story), about a trip to the White House by my father for an organizational meeting of what would become the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. Interesting inside look at the JFK presidency…
Sheila Black, Gemini Ink executive director
I was two years old. We were in Minnesota, my mother and I (I have no memory of this). It was coldish and I was dressed up a snowsuit and holding my mother’s hand. She was walking across the University of Minnesota campus to the to meet my father, and she noticed people behaving strangely–several people crying, even bending over double or running.
It was the Cold War and she had a panicked thought that a bomb had exploded somewhere and this was it: The End of the World. She ran up to a young man and asked, “what is happening?” He told her President Kennedy had been shot. She says she told me not to forget this…
Fr. David Garcia
I was a freshman at St. John’s Minor Seminary on Mitchell Street behind Mission Concepción on the Southside, where I now am the priest in charge. We all walked down the street two blocks to Roosevelt Avenue to see the motorcade on its way to Brooks. There were about 200 high school seminarians all dressed in black pants, white shirts and narrow black ties. We must have been quite a sight lined up on the street as the president came by.
He looked at us and it seemed that he asked someone else in the car with him who we were. It was a fleeting moment, but one I will never forget. The next day we were at study hall when the news broke and we all spent the next several days glued to the television. Our youth was shattered that day. As the years have gone by, I am more and more grateful I was a part of history on the last day President Kennedy was alive.
Robert Marbut, Alamo Colleges professor, urban studies expert
I was only three years old.
I remember the funeral with the horse drawn caisson and the boots on backwards in the stirrups on the riderless horse.
My mom was so upset, and she had the TV on all weekend.
I kept asking why she was so upset and I kept asking her why were the boots on backwards on a riderless horse.
This is the third oldest memory I have of my life.
David Lake, Co-founder Lake/Flato Architects
I was in school at Highland Park Elementary. I was looking out the classroom windows to the old quarry stone walls and the play fields below. I remember because I was snapped back to the blackboard by the sudden entry of Principal Hague who was clearly not himself. Mr. Hague was a stickler for protocol and this sudden appearance was out of the ordinary. Typically he only appeared after the nuke dive below your desk drill or the tornado rush to hall escapade.
He said, “President Kennedy has been shot. School is closed. Your parents have been called. Please leave the school respectfully in honor of our president.”
When I rode my bike home I was watching the front yard dramas: kids opening their front door and moms coming out to grab them; cars pulling into drives with loud radios and Cronkite sure details and questions; Mothers weeping as they collected kids. The world seemed tilted again, off kilter, like the time Premier Khrushchev was slamming his shoe on the table and photos of fuzzy gray missiles were shown.
The sky seemed less blue because of the evaporation of kids from their yards to indoors. When I walked in my house, the TV was on with a constant looping of the motorcade and the slumping of the president and the anguished look of the first lady reaching out, turning and the
Secret Service man running and Jack Ruby’s “The Guy in the White Hat” and Oswald – and it plays over again.
My mom was crying in the kitchen – she always went there for solace – seeking her routine: washing something, doing something. And me? I’m hoping the world rights itself, while my brother scribbles in his coloring book – all red lines crossing.
Not a good day for our country.