WHEN KENNEDY WAS SHOT : Thirty years ago Monday, President Kennedy was assassinated. For those old enough to remember, the day remains a reference point in their lives.
“I was standing there watching the parade when he was shot. I knew something had happened because Jacqueline Kennedy crawled out on the back of the car. Everything became very chaotic. Some people were hysterical, others were frozen in place. It was shocking. I think the whole city of Dallas felt a tremendous amount of guilt for years that such a horrible event could occur in our town.
“It changed my whole outlook on life. I grew up in an ‘Ozzie and Harriett’ period and to realize that something this tragic could happen right before my eyes--and that our peace and tranquillity could be taken away so quickly--was emotionally overwhelming.”
--Developer Kathryn Thompson, 53, who grew up in Dallas
“The day before Kennedy was assassinated my son was born. I was driving along in Torrance on my way to some accounts when the news came over the radio. I pulled over and so did every other car. I had these ‘It’s a Boy’ cigars to pass out to my accounts, but I ended up not passing any out. Here I was 15 miles high. Then to get this devastating news.”
--Wendell Bainter, civics teacher at Valencia High School in Placentia
“I was in Tehran, Iran. The country declared a national day of mourning. I said to my father, ‘Lots of people die all of the time. What is the significance of this death that they should give us a holiday?’ He said, ‘The U.S. is the strongest country in the world, and it is fighting for freedom around the world.’ He felt very sad that something like this could happen in such a strong country.”
--Esmael Adibi, 41, director of Chapman University’s Center for Economic Research
“I was in ninth grade in Charlottesville, Va., when I learned Kennedy had been shot. It affected me a great deal, because he was the beginning of a new era--especially for black folks, or anyone looking for change. We finally had a voice in the White House, and to lose that so abruptly left a void.”
--Fred Burrell, 43, owner of Burrell’s Barbecue restaurants in Santa Ana and Irvine
“I know exactly where I was. I was sitting at my kitchen table in Beverly Hills having breakfast with (NBC executive) Dave Tebet and he was asking me whether I wanted to do a variety show rather than continue with my series. I told him I would rather continue with the series. We heard something on the radio about the President being shot. I was heartbroken.
“I just thought there was so much hope with him. You know how you get tired of the same old stuff and there’s someone new who excites you? That’s how I felt.”
--Comedian Joey Bishop of Newport Beach, who was master of ceremonies for Kennedy’s inaugural parties
“I was in Sausalito at my boyfriend’s apartment. We got up late and heard a neighbor talking in the hallway to the postman. . . . They were talking about someone big who had just died. We turned on the radio and all they were playing were funeral dirges. We got a feeling that there was something terribly wrong. Then they made the announcement.
“It was a loss of innocence and a tremendous shock. I was young enough at the time not to be jaded and cynical. For the young people, it was an exciting time to have all that youth and vigor in the White House, and it suddenly got cut off.”
--Elisabeth Brown, Laguna Beach biologist and environmental activist
“I remember it very well. I was 25, just out of school with a new baby, and I was working in a hospital ward for the mentally ill. I had all this optimism about the world and the future. I remember a nurse coming up and telling me, and it felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
“All of a sudden, the President of the United States was dead, and all that optimistic spirit I had just sort of collapsed. It took the wind out of my sails, and it did the same for the country. I don’t think we’ve ever regained that sense of optimism as a nation.”
--William G. Steiner, Orange County supervisor
“I was in Anchorage, Alaska, in the armed services when it happened. I was in the mess hall. Everything always happened there. They had called us in there on alert, but we didn’t know why. We didn’t have televisions, but many people had heard the news from their radios.
“It had a psychological impact because a lot of people had their hopes pinned on him. I would say he seemed like a gleam of hope at the time. But minorities are used to seeing the lights snuffed out.”
--James Colquitt, president of the Orange County chapter of the NAACP
“I was in third grade in Cincinnati. There was an announcement on the PA system that the President had been wounded. I remember the teacher starting to get sort of teary-eyed. A few minutes later the principal came on and said the President was dead. We all said a prayer. We all went home early. I remember my mother, who was a Kennedy supporter in 1960, cried for days.”
--Tom Umberg, assemblyman from Garden Grove, who is Orange County’s only Democrat state or federal lawmaker
“I think the only other day (as memorable) in my life was Dec. 7 in ’41. I was in my office in downtown Los Angeles. Someone came in and said the President’s been assassinated and I recall I couldn’t conceive in my mind that he’d been killed. I thought perhaps that someone had taken a shot at him.
“As the news filtered in, we closed the office for the afternoon. I drove out and got my girls out of school (early). I felt they should understand . . . what a national tragedy it was--it sounds almost trite--for all of us, for all peoples.”
--Gary Granville, Orange County clerk
“I was in my English class in 10th grade, in Hamburg, N.Y., when my teacher told us the news. Since I was raised a Catholic, Kennedy was close to a patron saint in our family. It was the first time I saw my father cry.”
--Larry Webb, 45, president of Greystone Homes in Newport Beach
“I was a freshman at Westminster High School. I remember that it was announced over the intercom to all the classes. There was just absolute silence after several people said ‘Oh, no!’ I remember what a terrible feeling I had in my stomach as we walked around the school that day.
“People were just devastated. I remember Kennedy’s death more than any other incident of death I can recall. When Elvis died that affected me, but to see a man like Kennedy taken when he had such a career ahead of him was hard.”
--Tim Miller, 44, regional parks manager for Orange County
“A bunch of fellow students (at UCLA) rushed up and said Kennedy was dead. That was it. Everybody started crying. It was absolute disbelief and sadness. Everything stopped. Classes were disbanded. My cross-country practice was canceled. No one went home, we just stood around together.
“Kennedy was a person who rang the bells of my generation, whether you were for him or against him. We hadn’t gotten that kind of a call before, and I don’t know if there will ever be another one like him.”
--Orange County Superior Court Judge David O. Carter
“I was rushing to work, just pulling up in front of a house to give an estimate (for a moving company) when I heard it on the radio. I sat in the car for 10 minutes, listening, in absolute shock, before I realized I had better get in there or I’d lose the estimate.
“I was just sitting there--with this perfect stranger--watching the television, just numb with shock.”
--Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, who was attending the University of Michigan at the time
“It was something I just couldn’t believe. I confirmed it with someone else, then you know what I did? I went to the nearest Catholic Church.
“You wondered what was going to happen to the nation right at that time. We were left without our leader. It just totally shocked everyone, especially the young people.
--Lt. Luis Ochoa of the Huntington Beach Police Department
“I was in the fourth grade, at least that’s my recollection. I was attending Pilgrim Day School in Los Angeles. I have a recollection that our gym teacher kind of assembled everyone together and announced that the President had been shot and asked that everyone pray for the President.
“My suspicion is that if John Kennedy had lived, the Democratic Party wouldn’t have been as liberal today as it is. People forget that he stood up to the Communists on a couple of occasions. He cut taxes during his presidency. He was kind of a different breed of Democrat than you see today.”
--John R. Lewis, Republican state senator from Orange
“Perhaps no one’s death, outside of my parents’, has affected me so much. It was almost a personal thing. It’s difficult to look back and assume what Kennedy might have done. I know civil rights was on his agenda, but I really think we might have been out of Vietnam a lot sooner.”
--Orange County Public Defender Ronald Y. Butler
“It was a day I recall vividly like it was yesterday. We were, that very day, discussing the three branches of government (at a Miami high school) and the role of the President. I was making allusions to President Kennedy and the things he was doing when the announcement came over the speaker that he had been shot.
“I remember walking over to a window and standing and staring out the window for an extended period of time. No one said anything. It was completely silent. I remember then telling the students, ‘You will always remember this moment because what has just happened is one of the most momentous events in the history of this nation.”
--James A. Fleming, superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, who was a 20-year-old teacher at the time of the assassination
“I met (Kennedy) just a few months before his death. He was visiting Honolulu, where I grew up. I heard he was going to church, so I waited for him nearby and walked beside him.
“He was wonderful. We talked about baseball, and I asked him why he never returned a letter I sent him. At the age of 10, I had a picture of myself with President Kennedy on UPI (news wire). My parents didn’t believe me when I told them I met him until the reporter called them.
“After he died, it seemed like everything changed. It created an empty feeling in me. He was my first hero.”
--Timothy Cooley, 40, president and chief executive officer of Partnership 2010, a think tank for Orange County businesses
“A fellow worker heard about it in his car and came in to tell us. He was a fellow quite adept at practical jokes. . . . At first, we didn’t believe him. Then he started to cry. Tears came down his face. Then we knew it was true.”
--Seal Beach Councilman William J. Doane, who was working as a data processing manager at Market Basket in East Los Angeles when he heard the news
“I was in the gym locker room at Santa Ana High School getting ready for PE. I was 17 and someone said the President was shot. I guess we all felt hurt and numbness. Everybody was shocked to realize that the President could be shot.
“Last November I went to look at his grave in Washington. You look at his grave and wonder what next President will be like him and surpass him. There’s a part of his speech inlaid in stone--'Ask not for what your country can do for you. . . . ' He taught us that you can give, that your country is a community. That’s what he meant to me.”
--Zeke Hernandez, past state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens and a Santa Ana management consultant
“I was in Seoul, Korea, working for an adoption program with many American missionaries. That day everybody was crying. People were so sad. Korean people liked him. Even today you still see families with pictures of him in their houses.
“He worked for everybody, not just certain groups. He had a philosophy that not just government works for you--you work for government.”
--Wendy Yoo, vice president of the Korean Assn. of Orange County and the Korean-American relations counselor at Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center
“Normally, you get two bells when an important story came over the wires (in the newsroom of the Columbia Missourian at the University of Missouri) but this time there were three bells and the Teletype just went dead and there was an eerie silence in the newsroom that is normally buzzing with noise. . . . We all gathered around and the first words appeared: ‘The President was shot in Dallas.’ ”
--Linda Mook, 50, journalism adviser and publisher of the Corona del Mar High School newspaper, the Trident.
“I know exactly what I was doing. Everyone knows, don’t they? I was grinding valves on a ’51 Chevy in Pharr, Tex. . . . seven miles from where Oswald crossed the border . . . two weeks before.
“My neighbor came out and told me and I said it was a terrible thing to say. I didn’t believe her. I think I was 18 at the time. It gives me chills just to think about it. Texans really took it hard that it happened there.”
--Barbara Horn, Orange County Sheriff’s Department office assistant
“I was in my seventh-grade biology class at Willard Junior High School in Santa Ana, and I remember the announcement coming over the class intercom, the principal announcing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. The class obviously came to a stop, but it seemed as if the world stopped too.”
--Irvine attorney Christopher B. Mears
“I was in biology lab in high school, fifth period, and we heard it over the intercom. You just couldn’t believe it had happened--even when you were watching the news on TV--until it became undeniable.
“I think ever since his death, it has been harder for me to be hopeful about some aspects of American public life. I was of such an age, and he meant hope to me in so many ways, that for him to die in such a wasteful way meant that it was hard for me to see things as hopefully again.”
--Stephen Wolfe, assistant U.S. attorney in Santa Ana
“I was leasing cars for George Cashman, who owned the Lakers at the time. I’d just leased a Pontiac to a guy. I walked back to the office (in Lynwood), feeling real good. I’d just closed the deal. Someone was sitting there and the guy says John Kennedy was just killed. I felt like crap. All of us did. I was about 25.
“It was very gloomy. In fact, we all went home. We tried to work, but it was not one of those days that anybody wanted to work.
“Everything almost came to a halt. To me there were two days that we all remember: When John F. Kennedy died, and when Elvis died. In my generation, those were the two days we could never forget.”
--Buck Rodgers, manager of the California Angels
“I was walking to class (at the university of Utah). . . . I don’t think there’s any other time in my life--besides my grandmother and my grandfather passing away--that I felt so empty. . . . I couldn’t believe how everybody just stopped, life just stopped for just a minute.
“J.F.K. was one of my idols. I thought he was a man that stood for integrity and really wanted to do something for people. . . . I really felt that the country was beginning to gather momentum, and--all of sudden--I was so concerned about what was going to happen to the United States of America.”
--Rudy Castruita, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District
“I was at a national meeting on curriculum in Los Angeles. . . . the rumors were just like wildfire. Of course, from that point on we were all glued to television, the meeting was canceled. It stopped just like so much else stopped.
“Most of us had never lived through a national disaster like that before . . . the disbelief, the denial, ‘It can’t be happening to us, it’s a bad dream,’ it was that kind of reaction.
“As a Republican, I had a lot of disagreement with him on a political party basis, but he was so exciting and so different from what we had known. . . . The longer it goes (from his death), the greater he was. Memories tend to eliminate the stuff that wasn’t so good.”
--John F. Dean, Orange County superintendent of schools
“I remember that moment like a bolt of electricity was shot through the room.”
--Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who first met Kennedy on a Navy ship.
“I was in study hall (at Garden Grove High School). I was a sophomore. . . . Somebody came into the room and they were crying and they said that the President had been shot . . . and then there was just this awful silence.
“I remember the rest of the day, everybody walking through the hallway, a lot of the girls were crying. I think a lot of the boys felt like it, but they couldn’t because they were high school boys.
“More than anything else, I think the impact of Kennedy’s death was to begin cynicism in youth. Up until that point, we all had some kind of a sense that America was this incredible place where things just didn’t go wrong, where the good guys won. At the end of the movie, the black hats were dead and the white hats were kissing the girl. And all of a sudden, these dark forces made it clear that sometimes the black hats win.”
--Jim Corbett, American government and history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School