On this day, November 22, 1963, I was in 7th grade at then West Junior High School in Mesa, Arizona. Today, the school is known as Carson Junior High. Back then, there were only 2 junior high schools in Mesa, today there are 11.
We had just come back from lunch and I was sitting in the second desk from the front of the class in Mr. Vaughn’s math class. It was a Friday and I was thinking about the weekend as we were going fishing at Roosevelt Lake.
Shortly after Mr. Vaughn began his lesson, the PA system clicked on and the principal announced that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had just been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The classroom went silent, except for some of the girls who started crying. I still remember the look on Mr. Vaughn’s face which was a blank and shocked stare into nothing.
I recall feeling suddenly empty and strange and remembered back to when Kennedy was running for the presidency. I still lived in Illinois at the time and my dad took my little sister and me to the local high school to see Kennedy. My dad was holding my sister in his arms as she was pre-school age and he was holding my hand when Kennedy walked by, stopped, patted my sister’s head, shook my dad’s hand and then patted my head and told me to be a good boy. Suddenly that memory seemed so real and yet unreal at hearing the news that the very same man had just been shot and killed.
After standing silently for over a minute, Mr. Vaughn sat down at his desk, trying to figure out whether to continue the lesson or what. Eventually, he went ahead with the lesson. I found out later that they were going to cancel school for the rest of the day, but they couldn’t get the buses there that early so went ahead with classes.
In September 1963, JFK began a speaking tour for what many believe to have been the early stages for his re-election bid.
In early November, 1963, JFK spoke to gatherings of Democrats in Boston and Philadelphia.
On November 12, 1963, JFK held an election strategy meeting where it stressed the importance of winning in Florida and Texas. At the time, there was a feud or division among Democratic Party leaders in Texas and it wasn’t certain if Kennedy could carry the Lone Star State even with one of their own as Vice President.
On November, 21, 1963, JFK and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, arrived in Texas for a whirlwind five city campaign tour. First stop on the tour was San Antonio where the Kennedy’s, VP Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas Governor John B. Connally and Senator Ralph W. Yarborough attended the dedication the Aerospace Medical Health Center at Brooks Air Force Base.
Later the same day, JFK spoke to a Latin American organization in Houston and then ended the day with an appearance in Fort Worth.
On this day, November 22, 1963, Kennedy spoke to a crowd of several thousand in the parking lot of the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth. Next he spoke to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast held inside the hotel. The JFK party then went to Carswell Air Force Base for a 13-minute flight to Dallas.
After greeting a crowd of well-wishers, one of whom presented a bouquet to the First Lady, the Kennedys took their seats in a Lincoln convertible limousine where Connally and his wife Nellie were already seated. The motorcade, with Johnson and his wife riding in another limo, travelled from Love Field in Dallas towards the next speaking event, the Trade Mart, where the President was to speak at a luncheon.
According to the JFK Library:
“Crowds of excited people lined the streets and waved to the Kennedys. The car turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza around 12:30 p.m. As it was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberated in the plaza.”
“Bullets struck the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward Mrs. Kennedy. The governor was also hit in the chest.”
“The car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital just a few minutes away. But little could be done for the President. A Catholic priest was summoned to administer the last rites, and at 1:00 p.m. John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. Though seriously wounded, Governor Connally would recover.”
“The president’s body was brought to Love Field and placed on Air Force One. Before the plane took off, a grim-faced Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the tight, crowded compartment and took the oath of office, administered by US District Court Judge Sarah Hughes. The brief ceremony took place at 2:38 p.m.”
“Less than an hour earlier, police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, a recently hired employee at the Texas School Book Depository. He was being held for the assassination of President Kennedy and the fatal shooting, shortly afterward, of Patrolman J. D. Tippit on a Dallas street.”
The 35th President of the United States was dead and Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President.
Sources for the above includes: November 22, 1963: Death of the President; John F. Kennedy Assassinated; The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection; Three Great Men Died That Day: JFK, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley