JFK remembered 40 years after his death

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 22, 2003

It became the most controversial case in modern American history, an event that is still dissected and contested some four decades later.

Just as everyone remembers the fall of the twin towers, the space shuttle tragedies and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, those who were old enough to recall the assassination of President John F. Kennedy say they will never forget the moment they heard the tragic news on Nov. 22, 1963.

The president was shot in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 p.m. CST that Friday and pronounced dead at 1 p.m. that day. The charismatic, popular first-term president, father of two young children, husband to the most glamorous First Lady the White House had ever known, was gone.

The announcement of Kennedy’s death, which was heard or seen by almost 100% of the US population within four hours of his assassination, sent shock waves throughout the nation.

We were scared

Local residents recall the horror and uncertainty felt in the tragedy’s aftermath.

&uot;I was parked right outside this store [The Pine Apple] which was Ryan’s Drugstore in those days, when I heard it on the car radio,&uot; said Mary Norman of Greenville.

Her reaction?

&uot;Total shock,&uot; Norman said. &uot;I remember driving straight over to Norman Motor Company and telling them what had happened.&uot;

Janice McLendon was in middle school in Albertville when she and fellow students heard the news.

&uot;As I recall, they told us over the loudspeakers in the classrooms…and everybody was crying,&uot; she said. &uot;How sad it was for all of us. For the younger people, it was such a strange time; there was so much uncertainty.&uot;

The Cold War era still reigned and the Cuban Missile Crisis was fresh in many minds, making the situation all the more frightening, she said.

&uot;There were still bomb shelters in those days in a lot of homes, McLendon said. &uot;Seeing all the adults so upset made it that much worse for the children. We were very scared.&uot;

Lanell Hilburn was just seven years old, a first grader.

The WestPoint Stevens store employee described that time as &uot;traumatic.&uot;

&uot;I was sick that day and staying home with my grandmother,&uot; she said.

&uot;I remember how very upset she was when it came over the television. It’s scary when you are a child and you hear your grandmother say, ‘I just don’t know what’s going to happen next.’&uot;

Hilburn’s co-worker, Pam Ayers, was also a little girl staying at home that day.

&uot;I really didn’t understand what happened, what it was all about,&uot; Ayers said. &uot;Of course, it was sad to me that this man had gotten killed – I knew when someone died, that meant you never got to see them again.&uot;

City Librarian Burke McFerrin was sitting in study hall in Mobile, gearing up for a geometry test the next period when she heard the news.

&uot;I remember thinking, ‘Surely the teacher will put off the test now,’ but she didn’t,&uot; McFerrin said. &uot;Everyone was so upset and shook up, it didn’t seem to be the time for a test, but they wanted us to go on as usual. We were really nervous in Mobile because the air raid sirens had been sounding in the city. This was in the middle of all the trouble with the Communists and the missiles in Cuba.&uot;

McFerrin recalls the funeral being the first large-scale uninterrupted news broadcast she had ever seen. &uot;Everybody watched it,&uot; she said.

‘Everything seemed to stop’

Senior citizen Mary Riley was driving down Greenville’s Cedar Street when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on her car radio.

&uot;I remember how everything seemed to stop; people stayed glued to their televisions and radios after his death,&uot; she said. &uot;When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, everybody was wrapped up it in that and it was an all-day event. Kennedy’s funeral was the same way – you didn’t want to miss out on it.&uot;

She, like so many others, believes the real truth behind the assassination will likely never be known.

&uot;There was so much propaganda spread as soon as the announcement was made,&uot; Riley said. &uot;From then on until Bobby’s death a few years later, you always felt something was going on behind the scenes in this nation – but exactly what, you couldn’t say.&uot;