50 Years Later: Remembering the JFK Assasination


On October 19, JFK came to the University of Maine where he was greeted by thousands. Here was a President that all of us could relate to. Politics seemed to be the last thing on our minds. He was young, handsome, with a beautiful family in the White House. Shortly after lunch I was preparing for a Spanish exam in my fraternity house when the news came in. I clearly recall that we were stunned into total silence thinking it couldn’t be true. He was just here less than 3 weeks ago. This doesn’t happen in America. Once the truth began to set in, people all over the campus were glued to television sets, many with tears in total shock. We watched as Jackie in her blood spattered clothing, stood beside LBJ as he was sworn in as president and on Sunday saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas police station. Happy Days were over and for most of us; the age of innocence was left behind. Civil unrest and Vietnam were just around the corner.
Dan Hillard

What I remember is that I was surprised at how awe-struck I was at seeing JFK when he arrived at our football game. I was cynical enough and from Massachusetts so I didn’t think much of politicians in general but it was powerful to see him in person. And I was meeting with Dr. Schoenberger in his office that afternoon. His phone rang and his wife told him and he turned white – told me- I left his office and I will never forget the visual of so many people standing on the mall, with the radio over speakers in windows of the buildings – the library? – telling us that the president was dead. It felt as if the earth stood still and I felt the same as you Dan, that this couldn’t happen here. I was in the living room of the Delta Tau Delta House after Sunday dinner when we watched Oswald get shot and I remember turning away and not wanting to watch TV again. I feel sad about the experience even now; never reconciled that JFK was killed by one person acting alone. My cynicism hasn’t totally disappeared.
Sarah (Sam) Hedge Elliston

I remember both days clearly and have several strong memories. The day he came to campus was glorious. I was a Sophomore Eagle that year and was dressed accordingly. I remember his helicopter landing and then there he was–handsome, vigorous and our generation’s President. The football stands were packed and I know he gave a speech, but, honestly the words that thrilled me most came from UMaine president Lloyd Elliott who was bestowing an honorary degree on JFK and informing him that from this day forward, like UMaine alums everywhere, no matter where he was in the world…he was to stand any time he heard “The Maine Stein Song!!” Three weeks later, I was in Androscoggin Hall having just had lunch with some friends when I heard the news. Later I went into the student union and there was the photographic display of JFK’s visit to campus. I was feeling stunned–he was just here…and now he is dead?! As I walked down the stairs to The Den, I passed one of our few students from Texas, I don’t remember her name but she was a pretty blond and we all called her Tex…and she was from, of all places, Dallas! We did lose our innocence that day and, of course, since then JFK’s reputation has been tarnished, but that doesn’t erase all our memories of those two pivotal events in the fall of 1963–one thrilling and one tragic.
Patti Tofuri Bicknell

I remember that day as well; I believe it was a Friday. Then I saw it live when Jack Ruby took out Oswald in the PD garage. Could not believe that one. You are right about the age of innocence with the school shootings, Boston marathon bombing and the TSA murder last week. Not to forget Chicago murders which is worse than Afghanistan.
Charlie Hanson

I remember the visit to Orono, mostly the 3 helicopters coming in, then 2 turning away, probably to reduce certainty until late about which one carried Kennedy. I was asleep in anthropology and awoke when it became very quiet. Dr. Emerick had left the room, and then returned to tell us Kennedy was shot. The class was dismissed.
Colon Durrell

I remember that I was in French class when the professor announced that President Kennedy had been shot. He cancelled class and I remember that we were all in shock. I think that that event has had more profound effects on us than we perhaps realize. We felt we knew him in some personal way. He had come to our campus and that made him special to us.
Barbara Paiton

I was in ROTC and remember that we were assigned the job of security. ROTC personnel ringed the entire football field facing outward to be aware of anything “unusual.” Emil Swift I remember the day like it was yesterday, but unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the joy of seeing JFK when he came and gave his speech on campus on Saturday, 19 October, 1963. For you see, on the morning of the 14th, I received a phone call at my dorm, Gannett Hall, from an uncle in NYC, saying that my dad was dying and to get home as quickly as possible. My first heartbreak that school year was that I arrived at LaGuardia on the 15th some 2 hours too late. I got back on campus the following week to start the process of getting my head back together and trying to buckle down into the rhythm of school once again. And somehow trying to be polite when unknowing classmates asked where I’d been for the past 10 days. I finished my weekly chemistry lab in Aubert around 2ish on that awful day. On the way back to Gannett, I decided that since I was close to the bookstore, I’d pop in for a quick haircut… the classic flattop. This would be the haircut I’ve never forgotten or ever will. There may have been a half-dozen chairs and all available waiting chairs were filled. I’m remembering that I got into a chair around 2:15 and within 5 minutes or so the news bulletins started breaking into whatever programming was playing on the small TV high on the wall. We all just sat there in complete silence staring at the screen and not believing what we were hearing coming out of Walter Cronkite’s mouth. At first it was reports of gunfire, then the news that he was “hit.” No one moved or said anything for what seemed to be an eternity. Then within 10 minutes (it seems) the announcement that Kennedy was dead. My second heartbreak & shock that sophomore year. Somehow the barber managed to complete the cut amid the tears and disbelief, some 20-30 minutes after he started. Went back to Gannett and straight to the basement TV room with dozens of others… glued to the tube that afternoon as well as the remainder of the weekend. Even for a “kid” who grew up in the city and street wise / hardened to a certain extent, seeing Jack Ruby shot and killed on live TV was over the top. A third shock to the system! All I wanted at that point was for the fall semester to end, get out of the living nightmare of the last 5 weeks and try to make sense of the losses. Bob Kittredge

I vividly remember the helicopters flying overhead, the agents all over campus, and the sharpshooters on the roofs of the buildings (including Hart Hall, where I lived) on that day he visited campus. It was, as Patti said, a glorious day and it was quite incredible that the President of the United States had actually come to our university up in the middle of Maine. I don’t remember much about the ceremony-just all the grandeur, the people in the stands, and the excitement everyone felt. After seeing that kind of preparation and protection, it just didn’t seem possible that a mere 3 weeks later someone could have managed to get through all that security (which seems pretty mild now in comparison to the precautions taken for all events in the wake of September 11 and the marathon bombing) and manage to kill the President. That awful Friday, I was in Hart Hall, ironing (yes, we did iron our clothes back then!) whatever it was I had planned to wear that night, when people started talking about a shooting in Dallas and saying Kennedy was dead. It was surreal: assassinations just didn’t happen in the United States in the 20th century. My mind couldn’t seem to process the fact it did, indeed, happen. The early reports were so confusing, with so many conflicting reports: Kennedy had survived; he hadn’t, etc. That hope died when the announcement came that the President had died. I remember Walter Cronkite trying to hold it together as he made the announcement as we all spent hours glued to the television, seeing the footage over and over, trying, like the rest of the country, to make sense out of a senseless act.
Janet Rogers ‘71G

Oh my! Fifty years! I remember it as yesterday. I had just gotten finished with a makeup exam in Spanish (due to a conflict) and stepped into the hallway of North Stevens to find my Spanish instructor in tears. I asked what was wrong and, when she told me the news I had for a few minutes difficulty believing her. That exam was the end of that day, anyway, and as I walked back toward fraternity row, our campus FM station was carrying the news over speakers in many parts of campus. I too was glued to the television for the rest of the weekend. As we got to Sunday, the news of the Oswald murder had us all glued once again to the television. At that moment, Joe Frustaci burst into the room at the house and asked if anybody wanted to go to Washington. In about five minutes, four of us were on the road south. It was Frustaci, myself, Chip Cyr and I believe Normand Chabot. We made it there in time and actually found a place to park the car courtesy of our Sigma Chi chapter at GW. We were all witnesses to the incredible love and respect for JFK that were in evidence that day, with world leaders such as Haile Selassie, Charles Degaulle and many others right in front of us for a brief moment. Our parents’ generation had Pearl Harbor and their memories of that are just as clear as ours of Nov. 22 all these years later. J. Ford Murray I can’t help but wonder if Joe and I were in the same Spanish class. Because I remember coming out of class in Stevens and being told about the President. When I passed that info on, no one believed me. Our campus radio station had set up speakers in the middle windows of Stevens and was broadcasting the national news as it happened. I feel like I recall that subsequently the administration had to decide whether to play the football game, or maybe hold a dance, that Saturday. As for the weekend, I remember being one of the waiters for Sunday lunch at TKE. While I was setting the table in the dining room, the guys watching TV in the living room just erupted as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. That moment has remained with me all these years. Can’t seem to remember where I just put the car keys, though!
Sarge Means