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Chillicothe News - Chillicothe, MO
  • JFK: 50 years later

  • Fifty years have passed since the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Yet, many people who were alive at that time remember with impeccable detail exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned the president had been shot. The images of that day are forever engrained into their memories.
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  • Fifty years have passed since the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Yet, many people who were alive at that time remember with impeccable detail exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned the president had been shot. The images of that day are forever engrained into their memories.
    November 22, 1963, began like most any other day. People were going about their daily activities. Some were at school, some at work, some at home, some at the hospital and some in the service. Here's a look at this moment in time as told by some of those who remember.
    At the Hospital
    At Hedrick Medical Center, in Chillicothe, Faye Leppin had given birth to a baby girl just the day before.
    At that time, there were no television sets in patient rooms, so she was listening to a very small transistor radio — the kind with an attached pull-up antenna. She was listening to a station that was playing country music when the program was interrupted with the announcement that the president had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and was being rushed to Parkland Hospital.
    "I notified a nurse, and remember the statement she made," Leppin recalled. "It was, 'Oh, but they won't let him die, he's the President of the United States.'"
    That nurse passed the word on to other nurses working the maternity floor and they gathered around Leppin's bed and her little radio.
    "A few would drift back on the floor, but were soon back at my bedside listening to the latest update," she said.
    Approximately one-half hour later, the announcement was made that it had been confirmed that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the president of the United States, was dead from a gunshot wound to the head.
    "The nurses left my room, and like me, all were in tears," she said.
    Later, Leppin watched the president's funeral, with her older daughter, Tammy Faye, who was 3 years old.
    "This was a sad, history-making event, but still did not diminish the joy of our new baby girl," Leppin said.
    At School
    At Chillicothe High School, Miss Virginia Wall was teaching class on the second floor when a voice came across the intercom announcing that the president had been shot.
    "Immediately after that, the flag out my window was lowered," she recalled with vivid detail. "I got goosebumps all over. That was a very traumatic moment. Everything came to a screeching halt. It was deathly quiet in the whole building."
    Jerry Beebe was 16 years old and a sophomore at Chillicothe High School. He was outdoors in PE class on Nov. 22, 1963, when he and his classmates were summoned to the auditorium and told about the president's assassination. The students' reaction was one of disbelief.
    Page 2 of 5 - "It was an event that you never would have believed," Beebe said.
    Beebe collected newspapers and other publications from that historic day. Amid his collection is a full-color "The Illustrated Story of John F. Kennedy" with a portrait for framing on the back cover.
    He purchased the publication for 25 cents. The booklet included some memorable quotes from Kennedy as well as illustration panels chronicling his events of Nov. 22, 1963, beginning with the president's arrival at Dallas Airport, and ending with an image of Kennedy's son, little John, giving a salute.
    Claude Bevelle was six years old and living near Fort Worth, Texas, just off the Air Force Base in Carswell in 1963.
    "My dad, Stanley E. Bevelle, took us down to the base and we saw the president get off the plane," he said.
    Bevelle was in first grade at Castleberry Elementary School that year, and President Kennedy drove by the school the day he got shot.
    "All the schools let out that day in River Oaks, Texas, just outside of Fort Worth," Bevelle recalled. "We all lined up on the main street where he came down as his car drove by. We made a sign out of freezer paper that read "Grade 1 & 2 Castleberry Elementary."
    Later that day, we came back in from recess and our teacher was crying a little bit. She told us about what had happened. We all went out to the flag and lowered it.
    As a side note, Bevelle said he was watching a special on National Geographic called "The Last Hours of JFK."
    "The cameras scanned people in the crowd as the president's car drove past," Bevelle said. "They showed my elementary class."
    Gary Don Thomas was attending school at the University of Missouri — Columbia in November 1963. It was his senior year.
    "It was surreal," he said, looking back at the day the president was shot. "I seem to recall classes were suspended until the day after the burial. We were one of the few who played football, beat KU, in fact, but not much celebration went on."
    At work
    Don Ratliff was selling school supplies and equipment for a company in Kirksville the day Kennedy was shot.
    "I was working my territory in northeast Missouri and at about 1 p.m. that day I pulled into a very small school in Wyaconda," he recalled.
    In those days, many small schools were the type of school that had kindergarten through 12th grade all in one building with a central gymnasium and the classrooms surrounding the gym. When a person entered through the front door, he would walk directly into the gymnasium.
    "As I entered the building, the gym was full of students and teachers," Ratliff recalled. "One end of the gym had a small stage and on that stage was a large console type television. I approached the Principal and asked him what the occasion was and he told me that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.
    Page 3 of 5 - Ratliff stayed at the school watching everything unfold on TV before heading for home in Kirksville.
    "Continuing to make sales calls that day wasn't in me," he said. "Later, when I got home, I continued to watch the events unfold on TV. You could not take your eyes off of it. What a day."
    William "Bill" Riggs was a young engineer employed by the Soil Conservation Service at Maryville, Mo. He had worked in the office the morning of No. 22, 1963. He did not recall hearing much about the president's visit to Dallas.
    During the noon hour, he heard that Kennedy had been shot.
    "My first reaction was one of shock and disbelief," he recalled. "I thought this was not supposed to happen in the United States."
    In the next few days, television, radio and newspaper accounts made the events seem very real.
    "It seemed that the whole nation was in mourning," he said. "Let us hope that we never see again a similar event as that of Nov. 22, 1963, which caused a true black Friday.
    In the Service
    Eldon Christy was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Hood at the time Kennedy was shot. He had been working on his pickup truck and went into the tool room to get some tools, when he heard the radio report telling how Kennedy was shot.
    In February 1963, Ron Baker was in the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the aircraft carrier U.S. Lexington (CVA 16). The Lexington docked in New Orleans on a goodwill visit to Mardi Gras.
    Baker had duty on board when he was called to the quarter deck.
    "Some V.I.P. visiting came aboard and I was assigned to be tour guide around the ship. When they were ready to leave, I was asked if I would like to be an admiral in the Texas Navy. I said, "Why not?" They took my address and left."
    "One day I received the document and it was signed by Gov. John Connally, of the state of Texas. Later, when he was wounded with Kennedy, I recognized Governor Connally from my tour around the Lexington in February 1963."
    Glen W. Allen, who attended Wheeling school but came to Chillicothe High School his senior year and graduated in 1963, was in the Navy going to radioman school in Bainbridge, Md., when Kennedy was shot.
    "Everyone was very, very sad," he recalled. "The mood was kind of like 'this is not true. This could not happened to our President. Just unreal.'"
    Classes were dismissed for the funeral. Glen arrived at 5 a.m. to find a spot to witness the cortege. He climbed a tree and went out on a limb to film the procession with his 8 mm camera.
    Page 4 of 5 - "It was so quiet," he distinctly recalled. "The only thing you could hear were the hooves of the horses coming up the street. It was an honor to see his funeral procession."
    At Home
    Mickey Cox and her family were living in Bogard in November 1963.
    "It was just an ordinary day of working around the house," she said.
    One daughter was at school and one daughter was at home.
    "I was watching "As the World Turns" when Walter Cronkite broke in with the news that the president was shot," she recalled. "When he came on with news that he was dead my daughter said that was the first time she had ever seen me cry. I put my apron over my face and cried broken-heartedly."
    Cox has a large box at her home filled with newspapers, magazines and the "Torch is Passed" book — all with some connection to John F. Kennedy.
    "I've always been interested in history."
    Cox voted Kennedy for president.
    "He did some things that I didn't approve of, but he gave people hope because he was young," she said. "It's hard to believe it's been 50 years."
    Jenetta Cranmer was in the second grade and living in Gallatin on Nov. 22, 1963. On this particular day, she was home from school with the measles.
    "My mother had me shut in my room with the curtains drawn so I wouldn't go blind," she recalled. "I was sitting on the floor playing and thought I heard my mother crying. Since this was an unusual occurrence I went to the living room to see what was wrong and my mom was sitting in front of the TV crying."
    "I remember her telling me our President had been shot and they had stopped the regular programs and were talking about the assassination," she said.
    As a 7-year-old, Cranmer had trouble understanding why her mother was so upset, as she did not know the president personally. "I remember wanting to watch the coverage, but I had the measles and couldn't look at the TV and needed to get back in my room before I lost my eye sight."
    In Kansas City
    Retha Emerich was in Kansas City, Mo., for her husband, Charles, to be seen by his orthopedic surgeon, following bone grafting surgery the previous July.
    "Charles was waiting in a coffee shop, in the Professional building at 11th and Grand while my sister and I went shopping," she recalled. "We were in Kresgie's when we heard the clerks talking about President Kennedy being shot. I remember saying to my sister, 'Who would want Johnson to be President?'"
    "When we went back to the doctor's office for Charles' appointment, the radio was on and everyone was very quiet, as the news reported President Kennedy had died at Parkland Hospital, in Dallas," she said. "When we left the Professional building, a newsboy was selling papers with information on President Kennedy's assassination."
    Page 5 of 5 - Constitution-Tribune reporter Austin Buckner contributed information for this story.

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