There is probably no event in recent history that has riveted people as much as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. The president was killed while on a motorcade in downtown Dallas.
Virtually everyone past the mid-40s has a quick and clear recollection of the assassination. All those contacted remembered exactly where they were and what they were doing on that day.
As for me, I spent several emotional days trying to stay focussed on my job with a western New Mexico daily newspaper. Our paper, the Gallup Independent, became a virtual information station, our being beset by hundreds of calls, most wanting verification: “Is it really true . . . ?”
One Las Vegas resident said he remembers the events of that November day quite clearly. Whereas he may have no recollection of this morning’s breakfast, it’s easy for him to crystallize events that took place 42 years and two days ago.
Here are some excerpts:
• Alice Sandoval, social worker — “l was in fourth grade in Taos. We were on lunch recess and a teacher I couldn’t stand came running from her car and screaming that the president had been shot. We got all the TV sets in the school and watched the news the rest of the afternoon.”
• Orman ‘Corky’ Cozens — “I was working at a print shop in LaCross, Kans. We had the radio on all the time. We were working on our newspaper (it came out Wednesday evenings). I didn’t pay much attention till a bit later. It really didn’t thrill me. Our paper ran a story about it. We didn’t have a TV set at the shop, but when I went home I watched a great deal. The town was pretty much a Republican.”
• Pancho Salazar, barber — “I was working at Archuleta Hall at Highlands as a food service employee. At first I felt shock. I kept thinking, ‘He couldn’t have been killed.’ Eventually I accepted the fact.”
• Leonore Newman, nurse — “I was in class at West Las Vegas, eighth or ninth grade. Our teacher told us. It was like shock. It was quiet. We all looked at each other. I think we just finished class. We were all very sad.”
• Humberto Gurule, retired teacher and principal — “I was working at South Public School and another teacher, Nash Ramirez, and I were going to lunch. I stopped at a bank to cash a check and heard that the president had died. I thought they meant the president of the bank’s board of directors. So when I got back to the car, I told Nash about it, but just then they announced it on the radio. That’s when I realized ‘the president’ referred to Kennedy.”
• Betty Swanson, businesswoman — “I was working in the activity therapy department of the New Mexico State Hospital. We heard it on the radio. Everybody was very upset, very sad about it. We passed the word on to others, alerted most of hospital for it. We all felt very bad.”
• Nea Escudero, former clothing store manager — “I was working at Taichert’s clothing store at the time. One of the owners, Mrs. Milton Taichert, was doing something at home and she called the store with the news. All we did the rest of the day was listen on radio. It was so sad. My brother, Brother Anthony Gabriel, was teaching in San Antonio at the time, and Kennedy had been there the day before for the dedication of a building. My brother had also been teaching night classes in Los Alamos at the time when everybody needed a security pass. He used that same pass to get close to the president’s motorcade, and he got a picture of Kennedy just 24 hours before the president was killed.”
• Marcella Herrera, retired Highlands switchboard operator — “I was cleaning house, living on Hot Springs in basement apartment. I was expecting a baby, Arthur. I had the TV on and then Walter Cronkite came on. I just left what I was doing and sat there. I was shocked. I thought maybe it wasn’t true. My aunt lived upstairs. I finally was able to snap and told her and she kept repeating. ‘No pueden matar al presidente.’ (‘They couldn’t have killed the president’).”
Julia Martinez, retired — “I was working for PNM at the time, in customer service. Somebody came in to the office and told us the president had been shot. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was true.”
• Patrick Rucker, chairman of theater department and dean of arts and sciences at ENMU — “I was a theater student at the University of Texas at Austin, watching ‘As the world turns,’ when Walter Cronkite announced Kennedy had been shot. For the next 48 hours I was glued to the set. He was MY president, he was young, I was young. He’d planned to come to Austin after Dallas, and I was planning to go to the hotel where he was scheduled to show up. I may not remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but to this day I remember every detail about the assassination.”
For the millions of people, like you and me, who only slowly went from a stage of disbelief to acceptance, we can only wonder what the world would be like now if Kennedy hadn’t been felled by a hail of high-powered bullets. We can all contrive our various theses, but regardless — especially for those of us old enough to remember having lost our 35th president at age 46 — the memories remain indelible.