I was sitting in Mr. McDonald’s English class. I can’t recall precisely what we were doing, but I think we were each giving short presentations, or perhaps we were each reciting a poem that we had memorized. Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” was especially popular that year; some might say it was a premonition, but I think it was just short and easy to learn.
Somewhere around 2 PM the PA system came to life. Someone from the front office (Hattie Troutman? I think Hattie did most of the announcements over the PA system, but again, I can’t be sure) started to speak.
“President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas, Texas.” Or words to that effect.
Whatever class activity we were doing came to a halt. Next thing we knew, the PA system was carrying one of the local radio stations. Details were sketchy. Actually details were practically nonexistent at that point, but the class was listening to every word.
Then one of the newscasters said that they had received reports that the President was still alive and other reports that he was dead. Laughter erupted in the class. I think that’s what’s known as nervous laughter.
The radio remained on the intercom for the rest of the school day, and at some point they did decide that the President was, in fact, dead. After English class there was only one period remaining, which was either spent in your homeroom or you could attend any clubs or activities you had signed up for. I had Chess Club.
Chess Club was presided over by Mr. Good, one of Elco’s math teachers (I would have him the following year for Geometry). All I remember about Chess Club that day was Mr. Good gamely trying to soldier on through a game of chess while most of the rest of us couldn’t stop talking about the assassination. Mr. Good periodically tried to shush us, and he even tried turning off the PA system, but to no avail.
Thankfully, final period did come to an end, and then it was time for the buses to take us home to our respective communities.
Naturally, the only topic on the bus ride home was the President. Oh, did I mention that Lebanon County was (still is) a staunchly Republican area, and President Kennedy was not especially popular? That included me.
I found myself saying, over and over, and I wasn’t the only one, variations on “I didn’t like the president, but I never wanted anything like this to happen to him.” That was the main refrain.
And then there was Dennis Heberling. Dennis was a senior that year, and he lived just up the street and around the corner from me. (Actually Richland being the small town that it was (still is) I could say that about almost anyone in town, although for most folks it would be “down the street” and around the corner, since we lived halfway up a hill in those days.) Dennis was also a cousin of David Heberling, one of my classmates.
Anyway, I distinctly remember Dennis saying, “I feel for Jackie”, which instantly put a human face on the dead John F. Kennedy.
And that’s what I remember from that day, November 22, 1963.
It really doesn’t seem like 50 years.
That year the yearbook concluded with the following page: