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Three stories of the JFK assassination

Assassinated? Our President? We remember that weekend as if it were yesterday. Where were you on November 22-25, 1963? Here are our memories.

Terry: Our Camelot President Assassinated?

JFK assassination

John-John salutes JFK’s cortege

22 November 1963, Friday, Boulder, Colorado:I bounded into the CU School of Journalism reading room for a late sack lunch. Friday again. Another lonely weekend lay ahead.

Sarah Abrams, now my ex-lover, grabbed me, pulled me into the typewriter lab, and closed the door. Her cheeks were tear-stained. I’d never seen her cry; she was too tough.

“They’ve assassinated the President.” I gave her a blank look.“Kennedy,” she said.

And that’s how I found out. From Sarah. In the J-School basement. At exactly 12:42 p.m. Running into her after we’d broken up two weeks earlier had been awkward. But that afternoon we held each other shamelessly, locked together as one, this time in shock, not lust.

JFK assassinated

Jackie protects JFK after he has been shot

Over that endless four-day weekend—November 22-25, 1963—it wasn’t Sarah I comforted, however. Or who comforted me. After Sarah took off, I called Annie. All afternoon, she and I wandered benumbed through campus, unable to fathom the news from Dallas. Like zombies, we ended up with a dozen other journalism students, all uninvited, at Professor Rhodes’ home, and spent four days crammed into his living room. We sat on the floor, ate cold pizza, and stared silently into the black and white TV set. JFK’s funeral fell on my birthday. But I didn’t tell anyone.

The Endless Do-Loop of Anguish

JFK assassination

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused JFK assassin

All of us—Americans everywhere—came out of that weekend with images burned into our minds: Jacqueline Kennedy as stoic as she was elegant. Little John-John at attention, saluting his dead father. The white horses pulling the President’s flag-draped caisson up Pennsylvania Avenue to the cadence of muffled drums. The riderless black stallion, stirrups holding empty backwards-facing riding boots. Lee Harvey Oswald’s contorted face as Jack Ruby’s bullet struck him. An endless do-loop of anguish throughout that weekend.

We all ached with our own personal grief. Annie’s and mine was the assassination of a visionary president who created the Peace Corps. In 1961, after Kennedy’s inauguration, if you had asked me to state my most important goal in life, I would have said, “to join the Peace Corps,” because JFK had touched me personally when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Within weeks, I had applied, and been accepted to go to Colombia in June. But in April, my father was killed in a car accident. Mom was left hobbled by her injuries, and my brothers and sister were so young, I couldn’t leave them for two years.

I gave up on the Peace Corps, figured they’d never take me after I’d turned them down.

—A Rendezvous to Remember Chapter 2, Hungry Lions, Circling

Ann: Assassinated? Our President?

JFK assassination

Mrs. Kennedy and children at JFK’s funeral

November 22, 1963, Boulder, Colorado: I had been sorting mail when I heard crying in the foyer on the other side of the mailboxes. I was used to girls reacting to their mail, some happy, some heartbroken, but this was different. I peeked out. Two girls were clinging to each other like they’d seen Banquo’s ghost. “You girls okay?”

One of them looked at me like I was a dunce. “They shot the president!”

I strained to form words, “You, you mean . . . Pr- President Kennedy?”

“I don’t want to die!” she wailed.

Incomprehensible! I locked the mailroom, found the dorm mother glued to the TV in the lobby. I slumped down beside her, sat like that until Walter Cronkite announced the president had died “. . . at 1:30 p.m. Dallas time.” I called Terry. He’d been trying to call me. “I’ll be right over,” he said. We spent the three-day weekend together, camped in the living room of our favorite J-School prof, mourning the loss of our Camelot president.

—A Rendezvous to Remember, Chapter 10, Flirting with the Past

Jack (told by Ann): An Act of War, Our President, Assassinated?

22 November 1963, Friday, Camp Whalen, Bavaria, Germany: “Tom and I hang out in the command post. 7:15 or so, we break out MREs for dinner. We’re shooting the breeze, listening to Ray Charles: ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ on AFN. I love that song.” Jack shot me a glance. “The announcer breaks in: ‘We have just received this word from Dallas, Texas . . .’” Jack’s voice dropped. He was steely-eyed, grasping a make-believe mike. “‘President Kennedy has been shot. He has been taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital.’”

Riderless stallion at JFK funeral

A riderless black stallion with backwards boots in the stirrups symbolized the slain president

I knew Jack’s storytelling voice from his letter tapes, but I’d never seen him in action: hands punctuating key points; eyes flashing; body English at full tilt. Edna Mae even stopped fussing at the dishes and rejoined us at the table.

“The radio goes to static. Then silence. No Ray Charles. No announcer. We leap for the volume knob. Nothing. AFN is missing in action.” He turned to me, “Armed Forces Network is our lifeline out there. All over Europe, in fact.” Jeez, as if I didn’t know!“ No TV. All we can do is wait. The radio crackles: ‘President Kennedy has been taken to Parkland Hospital.’ Nothing new. Then: ‘All normal broadcasting is suspended. Stay tuned.’

Was It the First Shot?

We’re up, Tom and I. Was it an assassin? Some nut? A conspiracy? The first shot in war, a modern Archduke Ferdinand?” He fixes his gaze on each of us, one by one. “We. Don’t. Know. We have to assume the worst. Protect our men. And safeguard military secrets.”

Jack looked directly at me, “You may not know this, Ann, but we keep thermite, a mixture of aluminum and iron filings, on top of our safes, on everything of value. You plant a blasting cap in it, set it off, and at three thousand degrees, it’ll burn the whole works—safe and everything inside—right through the floor, into the ground. Everything. If we’re ever overrun, the enemy gets nothing.” That I didn’t know.

He turned to Ed, “We begin securing all our documents, equipment, everything in the command shack that could be of value to the enemy.”

Ed interjected, “And your job is to mobilize your men without creating panic, right?”

“Right. Fifteen minutes pass. A half hour. An occasional bulletin crackles. It’s serious. It’s worse. Mrs. Kennedy is okay. She’s with him. The Texas governor, Connally, he’s been shot, too. Finally, ‘President John Fitzgerald Kennedy died today at 1:30 p.m. Central Time.’”

Jack’s voice commands attention. “This is it. We start setting in the blasting caps.”

—A Rendezvous to Remember, Chapter 10, Flirting with the Past

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