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Doug Robinson: Where were you when JFK was shot?

Published: Monday, Nov. 18 2013 10:20 p.m. MST

In this Dec. 19, 1961 file photo, President John F. Kennedy leaves the White House in Washington to Andrews Air Force Base for flight to Palm Beach, Fla. en route to the bedsite of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who is hospitalized after suffering as stroke. Kennedy's civil rights legacy has undergone substantial reassessment since his 1963 assassination. Half a century later, "We're still trying to figure it out," says one longtime civil rights activist. (AP Photo/WJS)

WJS, AP

It is difficult for those of my generation to imagine that the assassination of President Kennedy — which occurred 50 years ago Friday — is ancient history to many Americans.

If you are one of those Americans and you want to know the impact of that day, just ask anyone who was alive then, "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?" They’ll tell you details from that day they can’t recall for any other day in their lives. The only other events that have such a deep hold in our memories are the first moon landing and 9/11.

I asked a few Utahns that question. Here is what they recall:

Olene Walker, former governor — Isn’t it funny how much we can remember from that day? I can tell you what I was wearing and what I was doing. I was wearing a plaid top and I was putting some dishes away in the kitchen and was very pregnant. The TV was on in the background, and I heard the president had been shot. I was shocked. I called family and friends. I guess I was a little naïve. I thought our country was so great. I had never realized that other countries and people didn’t have the same admiration.

Michael Ballam, opera singer — I can remember it as if it were 10 seconds ago. I was 12 years old. I was at Providence Junior High School, and I was coming out of Mrs. Olsen’s music class. The bell had just rung. We were excited because we were being excused early from school because of the deer hunt. I remember Susan McGregor screaming at the top of her lungs as we came down the central stairs, “They’ve killed the president!” She was sobbing and screaming. Instantly, the jubilation of 300 kids stopped as if they just sprayed us with a fire hose. It was completely silent on the bus. We ran to our black-and-white TV sets and didn’t leave them for three days. Everything changed. Life as we knew it was over.

LaVell Edwards, retired BYU football coach — I was an assistant at BYU — my second year there — and I was coming out of the cafeteria and someone came up and told us the president had been shot. I was stunned. It was like I didn’t understand what he said. It was almost incomprehensible. You never heard of anything like that at that time. It took time to sink in what really had happened. It was a sad day. You couldn’t believe it could happen here.

Gary Herbert, governor — I was a junior at Orem High, and I remember getting out of class and hearing some rumblings in the hall — have you heard the president was shot? Then I bumped into a couple of girls who were crying. I realized something tragic had happened, and then I heard the president was dead. As I recall it was a Friday around midday. It was calm and quiet instead of the usual boisterousness. A pall hung over the kids. We were stunned. We had heard about the Lincoln assassination, but this was happening in our time. Being governor, I’ve seen some of those threats … we have guys in jail who threatened (me). It’s part of being a celebrity or politician now. Things have changed.

Lily Eskelsen, National Education Association vice president — I was in second grade at Sacred Heart Elementary in Warner Robins, Ga. It was a Catholic school. Here we are sitting in class and the mother superior walks in and whispers something to Sister Claire, and they started to cry. That’s a frightening thing for a little kid. Remember, Kennedy was Catholic; he was our hometown boy. Mother Superior left and Sister Claire turned around and said, “The president has been shot.” We got out of our little desks and knelt on the floor and said the Rosary. Then Mother Superior returned in tears and announced the president had died. It’s burned in my memory this feeling, what does it mean and what happens now and feeling like I wanted my mom. We’re watching this nun who is normally very happy and cheerful and she’s weeping. It was frightening. My mom met us at the bus stop, and she was crying and all of us walked to the house not knowing what to say. My mother took us in the living room and said the Rosary. There was this stunned silence that day.

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