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by Lloyd Stableford

Note: I was a senior at the College of William and Mary, pursuing a political science major. The words that follow are the actual words I wrote on my Royal typewriter in my dorm room during the fateful hours.

It is now thirty hours since the fatal shooting of the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Here, at the College of William and Mary, all is relatively quiet. The sky is still overcast, after a midafternoon drizzle, and the air is turning cool.

Lloyd Stableford today

Lloyd Stableford today

It was about ten minutes to two in the afternoon when I first heard that the president had been wounded in Texas. It seemed at first completely out of reality; there was no rhyme or reason to these horrible words. Several people in the hall gathered about repeating the news. The air was one of excitement and amazement, and of alarm. As I raced down the steps to call the local paper for some confirmation, I saw a girl hurrying up with mouth agape and fear in her eyes. There was no chance to get to a phone, and since the class bell was ringing, I returned to the classroom. Now the accounts of various persons filled the air. “He has been shot in the head!” “Governor Connally also!” “I don’t believe it!” “It cannot be true!”

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By this time, someone had gotten a radio and students gathered around it. The professor walked in with a stare in his eyes that I cannot forget. It looked as if he could not see the world, only an indefinable space. The radio blared through the static. The announcer in a deep voice, with quick paced words was giving the facts of the shooting. It was here that I came to the realization that I was not in an unreal, strange world. I had up to this time clung to the hope that it was false rumor, and that if it were true, the wound was superficial. But, the radio report brought all it all to a stark realization.

The room was quiet, sullen, and the drawn shades darkened it. It was now around 2:15 p.m. All the sparse news of before was being filled in. An unidentified assailant had shot the president, John F. Kennedy, while in a motorcade. In the same car rode the governor of the state of Texas, John B. Connally, who also was wounded. The two had been rushed to a nearby Dallas hospital. The two were reported in serious condition. Two priests were giving the last rites to the president.

Up to this time, I had sat in my chair virtually incredulous. The students in the room sat still with heads bowed. The professor embraced his head in his arms, from time to time looking, without seeing, around the room. I clenched my fists, bit my fingernails, and bowed my head in prayer. “Please help him Lord; please have him live.” For now, although still not real for me, I became aware of the possibility of death.

Confused reports were coming in over the radio. Then, there was a momentary silence. Suddenly, the announcer broke in and slowly spoke, “Ladies and Gentlemen…” I believe all in that room looked, staring at the radio, transfixed, not really seeing. I think they all knew what was about to be said. “..the president of the United States is dead.”

I said softly, in disbelief, “No!” The classroom slowly emptied, students, stunned and teary-eyed.

I only can vaguely recall my own reflections. I repeated again and again that it was all too implausible. The announcement of the death caused a chill to run completely through me. It was a quick feeling, over before it started. But the memory of it remains.

The walk back to the dorm was long. I listened to the radio. I sat slumped in a chair, not knowing what to do. I was stunned. I could not believe it. What could one say?

The event, obviously, took all by surprise. For myself, I had no knowledge that President Kennedy was even in Texas. The whole thing seemed like a tremendous fairy tale, a fantasy, out of the realm of believability.

At the present time, some thirty hours later, the event, which has been repeated again and again over the mass media, causes those who still don’t believe to involuntarily face the realities of the situation. I know that, although I still cannot comprehend the magnitude or immensity of the fatal happenings, there is no excuse for it. What is hard to believe is that in America, in the United States of America, where one can go about in freedom, in peace, this ugly thing can happen, in our midst. No matter what one thought of President Kennedy, all peoples all over the world must unite in mourning. They will, at least pay tribute to his courage. He was a man that had a friendly, and ready smile, a warmth about him.

>>Visit AARP’s Memories of JFK page for photos, an essay by Bob Schieffer, a timeline of that late November weekend, and ways to give back in JFK’s spirit

Although he is dead, I am sure he will live on. I only hope that his belief in his fellow man, his ardent desire for peace, and his hope for the future will now become the goals of those who follow. His desired world is the world where all men are brothers. His desired world must be the world which all of us must dedicate ourselves.

The words that I will always remember, which President John Fitzgerald Kennedy spoke, not too long ago at his inauguration, are the words I hope all Americans will remember now. “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

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