48th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination Brings Forth Memories
November 18, 2011
By Meghan Sikkel
At 12:30 p.m. CST on Nov. 22, 1963, 23-year-old James Foley was sound asleep at a U.S. Air Force base in Bremerhaven, Germany. Minutes later, he was standing under order, awaiting commands, weapon in hand.
The president of the United States had just been shot, twice, while riding in a presidential motorcade in Dallas.
“They had us all ready for what might come next,” Foley said.
But there was nothing he, the military, or anyone else could do to prepare for what followed.
At 1 p.m., President John F. Kennedy was declared dead.
Foley was touring the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza one day recently with his ex-wife, who was visiting from Germany. She specifically requested to see the museum, a permanent exhibit on the sixth floor of the warehouse, infamously known for where sniper Lee Harvey
Oswald allegedly fired those fatal shots that ended President Kennedy’s life.
Standing no more than 10 feet from the corner window that once served as Oswald’s “sniper’s perch,” Foley’s eyes fill with tears as he recalls the moment he learned the fate of the nation’s beloved leader.
“Everybody was just waiting for answers, and nobody had them,” he said.
Foley is just one of many who vividly remember that day almost a half century ago. Similar to today’s generation and its memories of Sept. 11, many who were alive in November 1963 can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the assassination.
Forty-eight years later, those memories are just as clear as ever.
“People have got very powerful feelings still,” Executive Director of the Sixth Floor Museum Nicola Longford said.
Longford says she hears new stories from visitors every day, many of which are highly emotional.
“I think Dallas particularly is still scarred from that time period,” she said.
According to Longford, the Sixth Floor Museum aims to serve as an outlet for people, local and foreign, to share the powerful feelings evoked by the incident.
“Our job is to reach out to as many people [as we can], and let them know we want to hear if they have something to share, even if they don’t think it’s important,” she said.
Described as “an educational examination of the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy within the context of American history,” the museum uses historic films, photographs, artifacts and informative displays to chronicle the assassination and legacy of JFK.
“The exhibit is special because it’s actually on the sixth floor; it’s still connected to the historic space,” Longford said.
Since opening in 1989, the landmark has attracted visitors from all over the world, including Australian Jeffrey Mitchell, who was recently visiting the museum while traveling through Dallas.
Mitchell was on the other side of the world in Ballarat, Australia at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. Despite his distance from the incident, Mitchell said he knew about JFK’s death almost immediately.
“Somehow I must have heard it on the radio or something like that,” he said.
Then 18 years old, Mitchell remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news.
“I was at home, standing near the cupboard,” he said.
In addition to meeting visitors from all over the world, like Mitchell, Langford often hears stories from people who were in school in the U.S. at the time of the assassination.
She says they remember watching their teachers cry or coming home to find their mothers in tears. Many recall being too young to comprehend the event at the time.
“They didn’t really understand what had happened,” Langford said.
James Casey, who was 14 in ‘63, is one of those people. The day of JFK’s assassination, Casey’s ninth grade English teacher was floating on air after spending the morning with the president, who spoke at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
“I remember she came into school and was talking about it and was all excited,” Casey said. “Then, when they announced over the loud speaker he was dead, she just cracked up.”
Touring the Sixth Floor Museum for the second time, the Fort Worth native said he didn’t quite understand what had happened or why everyone was so upset that day. He was just excited to go home for the weekend.
“I was 14. It was Friday afternoon. I didn’t care,” he said.
Matt Quinn, who was 12 years old at the time of the assassination, shared a similar experience. He recalled hearing the announcement of the shooting over his junior high school’s PA system, followed by the students being released from school.
“I remember being with a bunch of friends, kind of walking home, and most of the kids not realizing what had really happened,” Quinn said. “I don’t think most 12-year-old kids, including myself, realized at the time what an event it was.”
Then living in Westchester County, N.Y., Quinn said the television coverage of the event was constant during the week following the assassination.
“It was the first event like that, so everywhere you went, it was on television,” Quinn said. “Everybody was watching.”
“I think people were just shocked,” Longford said. “They just wondered what on earth was happening to the world.”
Although she was an infant living in England at the time of Kennedy’s death, Longford says she feels a certain connection with the story.
“It wasn’t part of my memory or part of anything I grew up with, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find it interesting and compelling,” she said.
As the anniversary of the assassination approaches, bringing larger crowds to the Sixth Floor Museum as it does every year, Longford says she hopes museum visitors leave feeling inspired.
“We have a very compelling story to tell,” Longford said. “It’s a very powerful visit.”
Walking through the exhibit, former Air Force member Foley pauses at a window facing Elm Street. He gazes down at the road where the presidential limousine was traveling when John F. Kennedy was fatally shot.
“It’s just like it happened yesterday,” he said, his voice wavering.