Nov. 22, 1963: A Day Few Will Forget
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
(This story was first published in the November 21, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
Madeline Kunin was vacuuming in her Massachusetts apartment the day when she heard over the radio station that the 35th president of the United States had just been shot.
“It just seemed unbelievable,” she said. “It was the first time that everybody stayed glued to the television set. The black and white television set day and night to see what was happening. It was really a mass mourning experience. In my generation we identified with Kennedys.”
Friday will mark the 50th anniversary of the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, traveling in a motorcade in downtown Dallas. In one moment, the safety of the country had changed.
Bob Hager of Woodstock had just graduated Dartmouth College and was working at his first job at a news station in North Carolina.
He had just got done covering a local event when he heard the news.
“You wanted to cry,” he said. “It was just so awful. It took your breath away, it really did.”
Hager remembers covering Kennedy’s campaign at an airport in Raleigh, N.C. before he was elected.
“I was a Kennedy worshipper through and through,” he said. “For young people he was so inspirational.”
Later he documented Kennedy for the 30th anniversary of the assassination for NBC nightly news. Just last month he went to Boston to watch one of the debates between Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
“I think for somebody of my generation, like the loss of a loved one, it’s an image that never goes away,” Hager said. “You can hardly speak of it without getting chocked up.”
People were outside, crying in the streets over the news.
John Chester of Woodstock went to nursery school with Caroline and John-John. When Kennedy became president, Chester’s school moved to the White House.
“I remember my parents telling me about it but I didn’t know how to take it in,” he said. Chester was about five when Kennedy died. His memories are vague, but he does remember meeting Kennedy several times.
“We went (into school) sequentially at one point,” Chester said. “I just remember him reaching into his desk and pulling out a lollipop and giving me a lollipop.”
In a 1963 Standard article, seniors at Woodstock Union High School postponed their plays and nearly all churches held special services on Sunday morning after Kennedy was shot.
“Everyone here was stunned—and then grieved as the news of the President’s tragic death became a reality,” the article said.
St. James Church was filled to capacity and bells of all Woodstock churches rang. Schools closed on Monday.
John Alden said a statement on behalf of the Woodstock Republican Committee.
“Party labels and ideologies are forgotten in times of crisis,” he said.
Some wondered if the country would ever recover.
“In my generation we identified with the Kennedys,” Kunin said. “ It was like our roots had been pulled out of the ground. There was so much idealism around the Kennedys. There was this whole hope that this young president with this smile and his enthusiasm could really be able to change things.”
It’s a day few will forget.
“There was great anxiety about the future of the country and what an assassin could destroy,” Kunin said. “I think we healed partially but never totally. I think it left a long-term imprint on this country.”
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