November 22, 2023




I was in the cafeteria line with my third-grade class at Edgewood Elementary in Eugene.


Mrs. Ellis, our teacher, approached us.


"Children," she said, "I have some very sad news."  


It was 60 years ago today. 


I don't remember how much Mrs. Ellis knew at that point, or how much else she told us. Whether it was that President John Kennedy had been shot, or also that he had died, I'm not sure.


But I won't ever forget her somber tone as she leaned over to be closer to us and spoke.


Teachers wheeled in a cart with a black-and-white television on it as we went through the line. And we sat down, ate and watched.


JFK was dead.


I'd later know that the shots came in Dallas' Dealey Plaza at 10:30 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. Our Time. 


About 10 minutes later, presumably when we were still in our classroom, CBS broke into the half-hour soap opera, "As the World Turns." With a "BREAKING NEWS" card on screen, the unseen Walter Cronkite read a rushed bulletin about three shots fired at the motorcade and reported the president was believed to be seriously wounded. Incredibly, the network briefly -- only briefly -- returned to the soap opera. At that point, everyone was scrambling.   


At Parkland Hospital, President Kennedy officially was pronounced dead at 11 a.m., Pacific. 


The announcement came from White House Assistant Press Secretary Malcom Kilduff at 11:33.


At 11:38, from the network newsroom, Cronkite put on his glasses and said as he looked at a piece of copy: "From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died ..."


As he continued, he slipped off his glasses and twice checked the clock on the studio wall. 


" 1 p.m., Central Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago."


He paused, clearly affected. At one point, he licked his lips. For a moment, the next words seemed caught in his throat. 


"Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas," he said, "but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States."  


Here's that footage from the "CBS Sunday Morninglook back over the weekend.            


My best guess is that my third-grade class arrived in the cafeteria about when -- give or take -- Cronkite announced the confirmation of JFK's death. Looking back at the day's reporting from the newsrooms and Dallas, the most amazing point to me is that while we were only six years away from landing on the moon, the television coverage of the time seemed so primitive.       


That was a Friday. In our world, the Oregon State-Oregon "Civil War," scheduled for the next day, was postponed a week. 


We watched the mourning over the next week or so. We probably didn't realize that for us, this would be one of the time markers. 


I've wandered on the grassy knoll, taken the Texas Book Depository tour and stood at the window where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots.


I've read some of the many books on the assassination -- and there are so many of those, they could fill a wing of a library.


I've allowed my theorizing to evolve, abandoning the belief that Oswald had to be part of a larger conspiracy and deciding that if that were the case, it would have come out by now. So, yes, Oswald acted alone. 


Maybe 60 years from now, someone will have proven me wrong.

Terry Frei's web site





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