JFK Revisited: Memories of Kennedy’s Assassination


November 22nd, 2013

Lincoln, NE — If you were more than a few years old, you probably remember where you were and what you were doing on Nov. 22, 1963. At approximately 12:30 p.m. CT that day, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while traveling by motorcade through Dallas. Fifty years later, we brought together a small group of Nebraskans to share memories and reflect on that time. This group lived in many different places and circumstances in 1963. What they have in common is that all now live in Lincoln, all are taking part in a UNL Osher Lifelong Learning Institute class on Kennedy’s legacy and all have powerful memories of that tragic day in history.

The body of President John F. Kennedy lies in state at the White House. (White House photo)

The body of President John F. Kennedy lies in state at the White House. (White House photo)

“I remember that we were in the lunchroom and there were just little rumors going around, ‘Have you heard the president was shot?’ Nobody could believe that was true,” said Barb Jacobson (1963: Lincoln High School student). “I can remember taking the bus home that night, and again it was just like nobody could think of anything to say. It was just like everything had just stopped, and there was no sound, no crying. You just felt empty.”

“It was a shock,” said Dave Barnes (1963: elementary school student in Kansas). “We had it on the radio. It was kind of like, ‘That actually happened, didn’t it.’”

David Dyke (1963: medical school student in Omaha) had been home studying for an afternoon class. “I had studied until about 1:30 p.m., and came down from the apartment into the street and the first person I ran into said Kennedy had been assassinated. Totally shocked,” Dyke recalled.

Jerry Smithers (1963: working in a Chicago area clothing store) was getting into his car after finishing a shift. “In that particular instance the world stopped,” Smithers remembered. “Everything just stopped, and I knew everything else had stopped too. I think the hard part is, you don’t know what’s coming next. There’s an emptiness.”

Georgianne Mastera (1963: Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln student) was at her student worker job and heard the news on an office radio. “It was just the most devastating feeling possible when the news was that Kennedy had died,” Mastera said. “Then the next image that comes to my mind is Walter Cronkite and his intonation, and his being able to capture sort of the sorry in the nation.”

Tom Phillips’ (1963: Air Force officer in Wyoming) most profound memory of the day was walking into a local hamburger joint, a usually noisy, lively hang-out for troops. “But when you walked in there it was like the oxygen had been taken out of the building,” Phillips recalled. “Just absolutely somber. The gentleman who owned the restaurant was a young man who was active in Democratic politics in Cheyenne. He was in tears, essentially, and walked around and actually unplugged his jukebox.”

Jacobson remembered watching the events that followed unfold. “I spent days just watching television about his funeral and all the things that were happening,” she said. “I remember watching when (Lee Harvey Oswald) was shot live on television. I can still see that in my mind today.”

Kennedy’s funeral left a lasting, still emotional impression on Dyke. “Black and white, and drums. ‘John-John’ (John F. Kennedy, Jr.) saluting,” he remembered. “Jackie walking down the street in her high heels. The boots turned around in the saddle.”

Ron Hull of NET (left) leads our Kennedy discussion. Participants are (clockwise from top): Mastera, Barnes, Smithers, Dyke, Jacobson, Connor, Phillips and Anderson (NET News photo).

Ron Hull of NET (left) leads our Kennedy discussion. Participants are (clockwise from top): Mastera, Barnes, Smithers, Dyke, Jacobson, Connor, Phillips and Anderson (NET News photo).

It was a very different experience for Dorothy Anderson (1963: living in Germany, wife of an Army officer). This was the height of the Cold War, so the unknowns of the assassination created a nerve-wracking environment. “We knew the Germans were panicking,” Anderson said. “They were out burying their silver, etc., under the bushes. They thought the Russians were behind it, and they were coming over to get them for what they had done to the Russians during World War II.”

Carol Connor (1963: college student in Long Island, N.Y.) remembered feeling vulnerable in the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and remembered her family being concerned about who might be responsible for the assassination. “When the assassination occurred, what occurred to me was not the individual who shot the president, but who was behind it,” Connor recalled. “So our focus at my house was, ‘Was it Castro? Was it the communists?’”

For all in this group, whether grade school students or young adults at the time, Kennedy’s assassination had permanence in their lives.

“We have that one moment that we really, it made a difference in who we were,” Jacobson said. “I think that tends to define our generation.”

“The loss of innocence is what I remember being perhaps the over-arching theme,” Mastera added.

“I’m struck as we sit here talking amongst ourselves at how present that event is, after 50 years,” Smithers said. “For all of us. It didn’t happen 50 years ago. It wasn’t nearly that long ago. It couldn’t have been.”

“It happened yesterday,” Barnes said.


Dorothy Anderson

THEN: U.S. Army wife living in Germany

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, former U.S. Senate/House of Representatives staffer

Dave Barnes

THEN: Elementary school student in Kansas

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, cable TV installer


Carol Connor

THEN: College student living in Long Island, N.Y.

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, retired library director


David Dyke

THEN: Student at the Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, retired gastroenterologist


Barb Jacobson

THEN: Student at Lincoln High School

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, college professor and former school administrator


Georgianne Mastera

THEN: Student at Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, retired Nebraska Wesleyan Univ. professor and provost


Tom Phillips

THEN: Air Force officer stationed in Wyoming

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, writer and retired U.S. Air Force officer


Jerry Smithers

THEN: Working in a clothing store in the Chicago area

NOW: Lives in Lincoln, works in marketing/communications

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