Cover Story

Where were you when JFK was shot? Three more remembrances of 1963

Issue: "The Kennedy Assassination," Nov. 22, 2003

Charles Colson

Founder, Prison Fellowship

Former aide to President Nixon

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While serving as administrative assistant to a senior senator from Massachusetts, Charles Colson got to know well the state's junior senator, John Kennedy. "I found him charming, engaging, bright, and a very effective politician," Mr. Colson said. "While I didn't vote for him, I considered him something of a friend."

On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Colson was in a clothing store in Boston being fitted for a new suit when someone rushed in saying the governor had been shot. "The first word was [Texas governor] John Connelly," Mr. Colson remembers. "Everyone was shocked enough to hear that. But moments later, the store was absolutely paralyzed when someone came in and said John Kennedy had been shot."

Mr. Colson spent that weekend riveted to the television "like every adult American. There was nothing else to think about or do. Whether you agreed with the man politically or not-and I didn't-this was still a massive tragedy. Everyone felt vulnerable and depressed.... The assassination was not only a huge tragedy for the country, a shock to the world, [and] a moment of disillusionment; it also profoundly changed the course of American politics."

Joseph Scheidler

National Director, Pro-Life Action League

In 1963, Joseph Scheidler was teaching theology and journalism at Chicago's Mundelein College, then a Catholic school for women. Although he hadn't voted for Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Scheidler was impressed by the charismatic young president and followed his career with interest.

"I had clipped out a little article about the fact that he was going to be visiting Dallas ... and had it on my desk that day. I happened to have one of the only radios on the second floor [at Mundelein.] When the word came in that Kennedy had been shot, all the kids and teachers rushed to my office and listened to the news come in. When we found out he was dead, people were crying. They loved Kennedy. My wife had met him, shook his hand, so in a way [his death] was sort of personal."

Two days later, as Mr. Scheidler was preparing to attend mass, he watched live television coverage of police transferring accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from one jail to another. "I saw Oswald get shot. It was a like a drama. I heard a bang and saw him collapse."

Mr. Scheidler remembers that time as "a macabre weekend. There was a gloom and depression you can hardly even talk about."

Cal Thomas

Syndicated columnist

Fox News broadcaster

At age 20, Cal Thomas worked as a copyboy at NBC in Washington, D.C. He was driving to work on Nov. 22, 1963, when the news came over the car radio about the tragedy in Dallas. "I rolled down my windows and started shouting to people on either side of me at the traffic light that the president had been shot, and saw their stunned faces," Mr. Thomas remembers.

He raced into the office where he found "semi-controlled chaos." Those were the days before microwave technology. Large cameras and heavy wires had to be wheeled and carried by hand, keeping pace with live feeds from Dallas. Reporters worked the phones, calling sources and gathering details to deliver to the American public. "For the next three days, hardly any of us got any sleep," Mr. Thomas said. As copyboy, he was in charge of monitoring the clacking newswires, tearing off pages of fresh data and delivering them to the correspondents. "I still have the original and first bulletin from Reuters that said 'FLASH: Kennedy dead' on a yellow piece of paper."

There wasn't much time for emotion in the initial rush of news coverage. "Adrenaline takes over, you do what you are trained to do," Mr. Thomas said. "There was shaking of heads and expressions of anger, but you've got to go on auto-pilot." Later, though, he remembers a profound sadness. "With the funeral and the rest, it was very, very sad, regardless of your politics. All of those events, the deaths of Jack, Bobby [Kennedy], and Martin Luther King, caused a sadness and upheaval in our country that continues today."


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