Remembering JFK, 60 years later

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 11-20-2023 11:12 AM

The Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy was the kind of event that was so formative, that those who were alive and old enough to remember it can often pinpoint exactly what they were doing when they heard the news.

Patricia Martin of Rindge was a freshman in high school, attending Cheverus High School, a Catholic high school in Portland, Maine, when the shooting occurred.

“The elementary school was co-ed, but high school was for girls only. It was mostly a parish school with a few tuition-paying girls from surrounding parishes. We had been very excited about President Kennedy's election. I still remember that campaign,” Martin said.

Martin said the news was so big that the school day stopped so that students could learn what was happening.

“I remember us stopping class and turning on the TV to watch the news. At some point, the nuns released us to run to the nearby church to pray,” Martin said. “Of course, I didn't care about or understand the politics; I just knew that something really terrible had happened to someone who was our leader and so admirable. It was heartbreaking.”

Judy Unger-Clark of Rindge was 11 years old and a sixth-grader at Hempfield Elementary School in Greenville, Pa., when she heard the news. Her teacher at the time was a teaching principal, and that afternoon, she remembers he was spending a lot of time in the office.

“At the end  of the day, he announced to our class that President Kennedy had been shot and he had died,” Unger-Clark recalled.

She said that weekend, her family was glued to the black-and-white TV.

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“As an 11-year-old, the assassination of our country’s president was hard to understand. Then a few days later, on TV, we witnessed the shooting of the assassin by another individual, Jack Ruby. The news was really scary,” Unger-Clark said.

Deb Mortvedt of Wilton was 5 years old when the assassination happened, and said it is one of her earliest memories. She can recall hearing the official news from the now-iconic Walter Cronkite broadcast, which was the news program her family watched in  the evenings, but said what really sticks out in her memory was watching the funeral.

“I remember everyone was off school, and we watched it on the television,” Mortvedt said. She was the same age as Kennedy’s young daughter, Caroline, and said she watched her through the funeral, including the moment she walked up to her father’s casket and lifted a corner of the flag covering it.

“I didn’t understand all that was going on,” Mortvedt said. “My being Caroline Kennedy’s age, I didn’t understand everything that was happening, but for a lot of us, it was our first experience of death. My grandfather died when I was 3, but I don’t remember any of that – I remember this.”

Nikki Andrews of Wilton was 13 in 1963, and said it was already a moment of transition for her, as she was switching schools from Catholic to public school, and had recently moved to a more-upscale neighborhood.

“I remember the shock as the announcement came over the junior-high loudspeakers – the gasps, tears, even my teacher swore. I kept looking at the sky as I walked home, expecting Russian bombers any moment. I felt unprotected and frightened,” Andrews said.

James Jeffries of Rindge was 11 when the assassination happened, and a student at the Goodrich Street Elementary School in Fitchburg, Mass. He said he remembers the day clearly.

“My sixth-grade class was informed at dismissal time and I distinctly remember my teachers all tearful and trying not to alarm us because the details of the shooting were not known at the time,” Jeffries said. “It was a long walk home.”

At the time, Jeffries was a patrol leader for his class, leading his group of neighborhood classmates and making sure they were behaving safely during the walk home.

“It really was a long two-mile walk home, a tough job for a sixth-grader. The following days were a struggle for all of us and our teachers. Our president was our hope for the future, and losing him that way was the start of a series of world events that would influence our individual futures for the next few decades.

To this day, Jeffries said, he wonders about how that event shaped the course of United States history, and what might have happened if Kennedy had lived.

“I still wonder how the world would have been different if he had finished his first term and inevitable second term. We will never know,” Jeffries said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.