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Iowans Remember John F. Kennedy

Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas, TX, 22 November 1963

Fifty years ago, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Today on River to River, we remember Kennedy by talking with Iowans who remember that tragic day.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason, as well as former congressman Jim Leach, Senator Charles Grassley, Representative Dave Loebsack, presidential historian Tim Walch, and IPR's own Dean Borg, tell us where they were and share their thoughts about the national tragedy fifty years ago.

River to River listeners also wrote in with their own stories of where they were when they heard the news of JFK's death. Here are a few sampled below. You can also hear more listener stories on this Friday's "News Buzz" edition of the show, at noon on 11-22-13.

Credit Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
President Kennedy reaches out to the crowd gathered at the Hotel Texas Parking Lot Rally in Fort Worth, TX, 22 November 1963

Shelley - I was supposed to be napping on the couch in the living room, and mom was making dad's lunch in the kitchen. I remember they were arguing about something, and Walter Cronkite interrupted mom's soaps and made the announcement. I went to the kitchen to tell them, and they ran to the living room to see. I mostly remember it as stopping their argument because they were hugging each other. I was five at time. I also recall that Nana said the rosary nonstop throughout the next few days, and we had the television on constantly. I was sitting on Nana's lap when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Traumatic for a kid that grew up with the Kennedy Brothers picture on each side of the crucifix over the television in our living room.

Credit Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy exit the Hotel Texas after the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Breakfast, Fort Worth, Texas, 22 November 1963

Dan - I was in seventh grade science. We had just returned from lunch and hadn't settled down to business. Suddenly, the PA came on, not with the principal's voice, but with the voice of Walter Cronkite. Of course, in light of the cold war issues, we were silenced by the thoughts of said war heating up to new heights. Anyway, the voice was repeating the news that the President had been shot and had died. Sudden silence, but not for long. Some in the room actually cheered, for this was a heavily Republican county outside of Chicago/Cook County and there was a lot of anger that Mayor Daley's "machine" had stolen the '60 election from Nixon. However, the silence quickly returned as we looked to our teacher and saw this tough disciplinarian sobbing uncontrollably at his desk. The rest of the day was spent in nearly silent classrooms, looking to teachers who were too much in shock to talk to us.

Credit Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Kennedy family members leaving the funeral ceremony for President John F. Kennedy. Photograph includes: (L-R) Jean Smith, Robert F. Kennedy, Patricia Lawford, Caroline Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. East Front Entrance of Capital Building, Washington, D.C.

Jane - I was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, having listened to the 1952 GOP convention on the radio in the dark as I was recovering from red measles.  I persuaded my parents (I think) to vote for Ike twice. When I was a senior in high school in Northern IL, two of my vociferous Democrat friends were asked to usher at a Kennedy campaign event in DeKalb. They asked me and another friend to come along. We agreed and got to shake hands with JFK afterwards and get his autograph.  My main impression was that he was shorter than I had imagined, very tan, and had a wrinkled face even though he was so young.

On Nov. 22, 1963, during Finals Week at ISU, I was frantically typing a paper at my sorority house. One of my friends rushed into my room and told me that Kennedy had been shot.  I could hardly believe it!  Quickly I turned on the radio and continued typing as the news kept coming in.  When we heard that he had died, we all gathered in the Chapter Room and cried. Unbelievably, I then had to go to a final in a Creative Writing course.  Who knows what I wrote.  People were weeping, and some gave up and left.  After that hour, all finals were canceled, and students went home to stay glued to the TV with family for the rest of the break.

Credit Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Judge Sarah T. Hughes administers the Presidential Oath of Office to Lyndon Baines Johnson aboard Air Force One, at Love Field, Dallas Texas. Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, Jack Valenti, Cong. Albert Thomas, Cong. Jack Brooks, Associate Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff (holding microphone) and others witness

Beth - I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade in Champaign, IL. Another teacher stuck her head in our classroom door, and our teacher stepped out briefly. She came back in crying and said the President had been shot, and that we should all pray for him.

We third-graders all bowed our heads in silent prayer. A few moments later we heard over the intercom that the President had been killed. This particular school district was the one in which Madeline Murray O'Hare had recently brought her challenge to prayer in the public schools. My teacher later told my mother she was afraid she would get into trouble for asking us to pray that day. She did not.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River