What Were You Doing 50 Years Ago, The Day Kennedy Was Assassinated?

Fifty years ago I was a sophomore at Bath High School near Lima, Ohio. Nearly a year ago I contacted a few old classmates and ask them to write what they recalled about the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

November 22nd, 1963 moments before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a day my generation remembers well.
November 22nd, 1963 moments before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a day my generation remembers well.

How James Augsburger Remembers November 22, 1963

Some months ago I contacted the valedictorian of my high school class, Jim Augsberger. Jim became a renowned surgeon and currently Professor and Chairman

James Augsberger, Bath High School, Class of '66
James Augsberger, Bath High School, Class of ’66

of the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Chief Ocular Oncology Service University of Cincinnati Hospital.

Jim was a decent kid, smart and talented in many ways. There are many things that stick in my mind about him. He did a pencil sketch of me one day while sitting in the school cafeteria. It was flattering. He had many academic achievements, but what I recall the most is his work in industrial arts. The things he made were near perfect. I am not surprised of his surgical ability.

Jim was a good athlete. He had quick reflexes, incredible timing, and a competitor’s heart. He didn’t let anyone push him around (especially me). I think he could have done anything he sat his mind to. He chose to save people’s eyes and lives, good choice.

Here is what Jim wrote about that day:

A recent James Augsburger
A recent James Augsburger

Stunned silence. That’s what my memory tells me. A disembodied voice on the classroom’s loudspeaker announced President Kennedy had been shot, then killed, in Dallas. Friday November 22,1963 had been a routine day up till that time. I was in the 10th grade in afternoon art class when the reports came. I don’t really remember what I thought, what I said, or what I did after hearing the news. I don’t remember talking with my classmates or hearing them converse with one another. I also don’t remember getting home or when how I got there. All I recall about the rest of the weekend is being glued to our black and white TV watching people pass by the dead President’s coffin, seeing the suspected assassin get shot, and hearing the drums of the funeral procession. The entire world seemed gray and solemn. For me it never regained its former brightness. The world and all of us had somehow been changed forever.

How Ronald Risser Remembers November 22, 1963

Ronald Risser, Bath High School, Class of '66
Ronald Risser, Bath High School, Class of ’66

Ron Risser and his twin Don were good friends of mine. They both had a wry sense of humor which endeared them to me. Ron was quiet, but the wheels were always turning. He fed other students lines like a comedy writer, sat back, and watched others get the laugh. He was too shy to take the center of attention.

Ron was the student manager of our basketball team. He was conscientious and orderly in his duties. He was the only guy I let wrap my ankles after a brake my junior year. The night he didn’t wrap them my senior year I suffered another fracture. He was the kind of guy if you asked a favor it was as good as done. I spent a lot of time at his home as a teenager. They were good times.

Here’s what Ron wrote:

A recent Ronald Risser.
A recent Ronald Risser.

Some of the memories of JFK’s assassination are very vivid. Sitting at Bath High School, Art class taught by Betty Springer 2nd floor on the northeast corner of the building. Art class was 2 periods long to give us time to get out materials and to clean up. The crackling of the intercom always meant that something was going on. As soon as it crackled, we always stopped what we were doing and looked at the speaker as if it was a TV.

I believe the first voice we heard was that of Walter Cronkite in the middle of a news bulletin. As he spoke, it took a while to piece his words together…..The president was shot. Dallas. Policeman shot. Motorcade. The intercom shut off and we all looked at each other and at Mrs. Springer. Everyone heard the same thing but I don’t think anyone really grasped at what was said and the reality of the events. After a few minutes, the intercom came back on. More of Walter Cronkite. More Details. Parkland hospital. Gov. Connelly also shot. Words about road blocks and a search for the shooter. The Texas Book Repository.

It seems like we got out of school a little early. We got home and immediately turned on the TV. My Uncle stopped by on his way home from being able to leave work early. A little later Dad came home early. We all watched and said little. Lima radio station WCIT which had no network affiliation, joined the Mutual Radio Network in order to get more up to date information. The Lima News stopped the presses and got out a late edition with all the latest information. At some point we learned that the shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald.

We watched VP Lyndon Johnson being sworn in on an airplane to become the next President., accompanying JFK’s casket, along with Jackie back to D.C. We watched the plane land in DC and saw the casket again. Watching TV over the next few days, we watched the equivalent of a college course in government and political science all rolled into one.

I believe it was Sunday after church that I sat in the living room with Dad and my brothers watching the live reports from Dallas. They were covering the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald from one facility to another. I remember that motorcade pulling into the underground access to pick up the prisoner. For whatever reason, I pulled myself away from the TV to go to the kitchen to report the events to Mom as she fried chicken. Within a few seconds I heard commotion from the living room. The TV was filled with excitement and confusion. Dad and my brothers were hollering. I ran into the living room to find out that Oswald had been shot by an acquaintance, Jack Ruby, a Dallas bar owner. Oswald had seen Ruby as he pulled the gun and uttered the words, ” Jack, you son of a bitch.”

How Connie Lehman Remembers November 22, 1963

I got out of the Army in 1970. There were no jobs to be found. I answered an add to sell vacuum cleaners door to door for Electrolux. The district manager, Carl Hepner, came to my home. He brought his daughter, Connie, with him. She was a vivacious high school student. She later married my cousin, Tom. Over the years my wife and I spent many happy occasions with my cousin, Tom, and his wife, Connie. She graduated from Ohio Northern University with a degree in music and taught piano for years in her home. She was kind, generous, loving, and happy. Sadly this past year she lost her battle to cancer. Before her death she sent me what she remembered about November 22, 1963.

Connie (Hepner) Lehman
Connie (Hepner) Lehman

This is what Connie wrote:

It was November 22, 1963. It was my birthday so I remember it well. I was in the fifth grade passing out my candy. I stood over at the wastebasket and cried when they announced on the loud-speaker that he had been shot. Being a self-centered little kid all I could think about was that it was ruining my birthday. I had a friend that was spending the night. There was no TV on except news stories. It was a horrible tragedy. I remember every time my teacher, Mrs. Hites talked to me about it in later years that I felt guilty for being upset it was on my birthday. She thought I was such a mature young lady to realize what a terrible thing had happened. Yes, I have never forgotten November 22, 1963.

Byron Lehman, pseudonym  Kenton Lewis
Byron Lehman, pseudonym Kenton Lewis

How I Remember November 22, 1963

I was a sophomore at Bath High School. It was a township school east of Lima, Ohio. The school building was new. This was the first year it was occupied.

I was in seventh period study hall. Like most days I was fighting sleep. I laid my head on the desk. The intercom crackled. A radio broadcast echoed from the speaker announcing the President had been shot. Details were sketchy, only that he was in a motorcade in Dallas and rushed to a hospital. We all looked at each other confused. The intercom went silent. About ten minutes later the intercom crackled on again. It was difficult to make out what was being reported because we were coming in on the middle of the story. Everyone sensed it was serious. And finally we heard, “The President is dead. President Kennedy is dead.” We all sat, numb. It was disbelief. The radio station played some sort of dirge. The bell rang for the next period.  We all got up from our desks and moved robotically out of the study hall. The hallway became crowded with students exchanging class rooms.

I recall a few girls in tears. What I remember most was the silence, only the sound of shoes on the floor. That was it. No talking. No anything.

That walk in the hallway felt like I was in the scene from a movie. Everyone around me seemed like mindless extras providing drama for my scene. They had no lines and I had no lines, but the camera was on me.

The last period of the day was Boy’s Health. It was  held in the biology lab and taught by Mr. Schoonover. He was a quiet serious man and seemed moody all the time. He was  muscular about medium height. He had a flat-top hair cut and wore dark rimmed glasses. He walked in the room and looked around. He was somber. “I think in view of what just happened it would be good that we have a period of quiet.”

He walked out of the room and the boys began to whisper and wonder.

I rode the bus home and watched TV the rest of the day.

Sunday I drove to my cousin Jim’s home and we stood in the yard talking about what had happened. Jim was a senior at the same school. By then Lee Harvey Oswald had been captured and in custody.

Jim made a try at humor. “This sure spoils the weekend.” Then he turned serious.  “This is bigger than just one man. I bet the communist are behind it.”

“This is only the kind of thing you read about in history books,” I said.

“And we’re living it,” Jim said.

Recent Byron Lehman
Recent Byron Lehman

Uncle Vern burst out the front door of the house yelling excitedly to us, “You won’t believe this! They shot him! They shot him! They shot the sonuva bitch! I just saw it on TV! It just happened now! Come on in here!”

“They shot who?” Jim said.

“That sonuva bitch that killed Kennedy,” Uncle Vern said.

We went inside and watched the mayhem continue on TV.

Soon things were back to normal. Everything always returns to normal.

That’s what some old school chums, a relative and myself remember about this day 50 years ago.

It is interesting to note that Jim Augsburger and Ron Risser were in the same class when they heard the announcement of the Kennedy assassination.

Normally I participate in a daily writing exercise. But I thought this topic was so important I’d bend the rules a bit in order to submit it.

Daily Prompt: A Bird, a Plane, You!

You get to choose one superpower. Pick one of these, and explain your choice:

  • the ability to speak and understand any language
  • the ability to travel through time (Like go back to 11/22/63)
  • the ability to make any two people agree with each other (have people recall the same event they experienced 50 years ago)

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  1. Thanks, man. Me? Senior, in a stupid pep rally. Stunned, back in class I simply put my head down on my desk. Teacher asked me if I was ‘okay.’ To this day, I simply don’t know. Subsequent life has been one long ‘quest.’
    Yeah, “Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane…………..”

      • ‘interesting’–hah! Talk about euphemisims! More importantly: Why are not more folks responding to your post, and do you continue to feel less exhausted these days?

      • Our ‘age,’ eh? Like inability to blog? Have been talking this week to contemporaries, instantly the same angry/confused reactions of 50 years ago. Even the conspiracy crap. Been there, done that. Puttin’ out my sign: J.F.K. R.I.P. Stay strong, buddy.

  2. Dang, nobody else is blogging. So here my wife’s story. Across town, she, too, was in trouble, spending time in the principal’s office. Sobbing secretaries; her ‘task’ was to inform a teacher who couldn’t be reached via the p.a., then COME BACK! She can’t remember if she did. By the way, we both subscribe to Camus: “I rebel, therefore we exist.’

  3. Great read. I’ve talked to my mom many times about that day, she was also in school (in Canada). Her memories are so intimately close to what you and your classmates remember. The eery silence that befell both yours and how many other institutions and homes across North America. It was always marked as a sad day in our family growing up.

Blather away, if you like.

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