On Nov. 22, 1963, 21-year-old Jani Case answered a call she will never forget.
“I was working at the switchboard for the Chamber of Commerce in Dayton, Ohio, and the caller said, ‘Turn on the radio, President Kennedy had been shot,’” Case said. “Almost instantly, all radios came on in the building.”
Case, now 71 and living in Harker Heights, flipped through her extensive scrapbook filled with Kennedy memorabilia Thursday and remembered the bus ride home that day.
“No one spoke. The only sound you could hear was from the engine of the bus,” she said. “We had elected a dynamic leader who was going to lead us in a new direction, and I couldn’t grasp what was going to happen next.”
For millions of people, the world went silent the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. No one went to work or school for one week. America turned into a national ghost town.
Bill Kozlik was home from college in New York when he heard the news.
“It was like losing your brother,” said Kozlik, Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce president.
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin was a junior in a small northwest Illinois high school when the principal walked into the class to make the announcement.
“It was a mix of sobbing and numbness,” Corbin said.
Recalling that day 50 years ago, he compared the current political climate to that in 1963.
“There was no partisanship,” he said. “Republicans grieved as much as Democrats.”
On Thursday, a group of senior citizens gathered at Bob Gilmore Senior Center in Killeen and reminisced about the day Kennedy was shot.
Margo Coster, the center’s program coordinator, remembered it clearly.
“People stayed glued to their TV at home and watched as a family. It was a scary thing, so TV helped us understand it better,” Coster said.
Longtime Killeen resident Sis Coleman called Kennedy a sincere politician who “had the country at heart.”
Jewel Williams, 86, said the impact of his death went beyond the United States. “President Kennedy meant something special to the world,” Williams said.
Military bases around the U.S. and abroad were placed on a high state of alert after the president’s assassination. In 1963, Christel Correll was a 22-year-old military wife and mother living in Ramstein, Germany,
“My husband was stationed at the air base,” she said. “He told me that we couldn’t go anywhere. We had to make sure we had enough rations in case we had to leave.”
World War II veteran Rolland Johnson served as a machine gunner in Africa and Italy. He was working as a carpenter in Lawrence, Kan., when Kennedy was killed. “I thought it was a great shame. It made no sense,” Johnson said.
Yet it was Jacqueline Kennedy’s dignity that stands out in Jo Taylor’s mind. “Mrs. Kennedy was a young mother with two children walking behind his casket. I can’t imagine the strength and grace she had,” Taylor said.
Since Kennedy was the first Catholic president, his assassination was even more shocking to the Catholic community. Marla Bommarito-Crouch attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic school in Houston.
“The mother superior cried as she made the announcement over the PA,” she said.