Where were you the day Kennedy was shot?

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2003

Where were you when you got the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot Nov. 22, 1963?

Most Americans, who were alive and old enough to remember, can recall exactly where they were and how they felt about it.

Five Selmians were recently interviewed about their recollections of that fateful day.

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Dr. Mallory Reeves, a physician, and his wife, Martha, had been married four years and were expecting their first child.

Mallory was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy based in Key West, Fla. He and Martha were in the Naval Exchange shopping for the new baby, who was due soon.

All of a sudden, Mallory recalled, the loudspeaker came on and the voice said, following news of the Kennedy shooting, &uot;All military personnel must report to their duty station immediately.&uot;

Martha, a former high school teacher who was tutoring students at home at the time, thought how important it was for her to get home immediately. &uot;We really didn’t know what was going on,&uot; she said. It was shocking, she added. We were horrified that this had happened in the South. And then she remembered seeing Lee Harvey Oswald shot on national TV live

by nightclub owner Jack Ruby at near pointblank range. She recalls weeping and staying glued to the television through the weekend as the drama unfolded. Mallory went back to his duty station as ordered &045; the hospital &045; Mallory said, where there was no TV available, only the radio.

When asked about other national events with similar impact, they both mentioned 9/11 and Mallory mentioned the day Reagan was shot in 1981. Also, Martha recalls connecting Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas with his visit to New Orleans in 1962 where the Reeves were living at the time, and observing then how exposed the president was, his open car in the motorcade, close to the crowds, not a single member of the Secret Service riding within or standing on, or walking by the car. There was similar exposure in Dallas in 1963, she said, but with horrifying results.

Kim Testas, who teaches grades K-2 at Southside Primary School, said that she was 6, at home in Akron, Ohio, and was watching the TV alone when the news flash came on the screen. &uot;I was very sad,&uot; she said. &uot;I didn’t understand.&uot; She has vivid memories of the room in which she was sitting when the news came. Being only 6 herself, she immediately thought about young John, so small, and felt very sorry for him. Her mother came into the room soon, and she remembered her father called from work to tell the family what had happened.

Marcia Edwards, administrative assistant in sheet finishing, at the Riverdale Mill of International Paper, was a pre-teen living in Selma. Her sister was asleep in front of the TV and the news broadcast woke her sister up. The sister came and told her that the president had been shot. &uot;It was a big shock,&uot; she said. &uot;Our family thought a lot of Kennedy,&uot; she said. &uot;Everybody was crying and very sad. Even though I was young, I knew it was a really big thing.&uot; She continued, &uot;For black people it was a terrible loss. He was the first president who had publicly put himself on the side of blacks. It was almost like losing a member of the family.&uot; Edwards, who like many was glued to the TV in the days following, also remembers seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.&uot; &uot;I also recall lots of confusion&uot; at the time, she concluded.

Asked about other national traumas, Edwards, listed the killing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and the murder of Robert Kennedy soon thereafter.

For Edwards, the Kennedy assassination likewise recalled 9/11. Then she proceeded to tell how her sister, an employee in the U.S. Custom House at the World Trade Center &045; but not in either of the Twin Towers &045;

was going to a meeting inside the custom house before the planes hit the buildings.

The sister recalled saying to a fellow worker going to the same meeting, &uot;We ought to take our purses, because the last time we went to this meeting, we had a bombing at the World Trade Center&uot; &045; referring to the bombing which had occurred in the preceding decade. After the Twin Towers had been hit, the employees of the custom house tried to exit the building. They were stopped by a security person who told them to remain inside, according to Edwards. Finally, the employees took matters into their own hands, she said, and forced their way out, only to see the terrible fires in both towers and people hurtling out of windows and body parts everywhere. The sister said, we knew it was major when we saw even police and firefighters running from the burning buildings. One of the towers fell onto the custom house, destroying it.

Julia Cass, journalist and author, said she was a first-year student at Northwestern University and was in a large survey English class with more than 200 students. &uot;We had been having some major conflicts in student government,&uot; she said, and when someone came into the room and told the professor who told the class, Cass’ first thought was that the president of the student body had been killed. She admitted at that time she was not very conscious of national politics. She had grown up in small towns in Minnesota where very little happened &045; certainly not murder. It was not part of her experience. For the president to be shot, that was for her truly shocking. The English class was dismissed and she said that along with everyone else she followed it all on television very closely. She, like most of the others interviewed , recalls the shooting of Oswald. &uot;It seemed like the whole world was falling apart,&uot; she concluded. &uot;It was the beginning of the loss of innocence for America.&uot;

The Rev. Dr. Ron White, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said that he was 9 years old and in the fourth grade. We came in from afternoon recess at the elementary school in Altheimer, Ark., and our teacher told us, first, to sit down, and then in somber tones, &uot;The president is dead.&uot; All of us were stunned, White said, and the class spent the rest of the day talking about the momentous event. &uot;I was especially sad,&uot; he said, &uot;because he was the first president that I was aware of.&uot; He continued, &uot;I was the class expert on presidents &045; even before the shooting &045; and knew a lot about JFK. It really was the beginning of my strong interest in politics.&uot; That interest led to White working in political campaigns, serving as a page in the Capitol in Little Rock and as a delegate to three state Democratic conventions. In his first year of college, White wrote a paper on JFK. Also, for White, 9/11 was on the same level, but perhaps not quite as shocking as the Kennedy assassination. White watched TV constantly following the assassination, he said, and yelled out loud when Oswald was shot.