A Universal Outpouring of Reverence, Honor, and Respect: Alumni remember the day JFK was assassinated

At 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The president was in the Lone Star State campaigning for reelection, and crowds of people greeted him as he rode through downtown Dallas. As the car passed the Texas School Book Depository, bullets rained down and the president was shot. By 1 p.m. he was pronounced dead. 

Reverent moments like this have the ability to permanently hold a place in our minds. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the event, Colgate Magazine asked alumni: Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?

Judy and I were newlyweds living just outside Washington, D.C. At that time, I had a job selling ThermoFax copy machines to the House and Senate offices. Judy was working for a U.S. congressman in his D.C. office. Things were at a standstill following the announcement of the Kennedy assassination in Texas. I recall driving into the downtown D.C. area, parking my car, and walking around, taking in all that was going on. It was a sad time in our nation’s history, and I have always felt that just being there at this time made me feel even more patriotic than ever. It was an emotional time, made even more so by witnessing what went on in our nation’s capital during and after the death of the president.

— Wayne Miskelly ’61

I learned about the shooting of President Kennedy while on board the destroyer Bigalow in port in Karachi, Pakistan. I was awakened in the very early morning hours of Nov. 23, 1963, in my cabin by some sailors in my division who said the president had been shot (the date was Nov. 23 because of the time zone changes). These sailors had been out drinking when they learned of the shooting, and the main reason they woke me was to get permission to man some of our guns. I thought they were overreacting but said go ahead, and I went back to sleep. A couple of days later, I was on one of two submerged diesel submarines (I think I was on the Sirago) en route from Karachi to Djibouti, French Somaliland (I was on the sub for cross-training during the transit). On the day of President Kennedy’s funeral, the two subs surfaced within sight of each other. The sub captain allowed me up on the conning tower to watch a wreath being thrown over the side. After the wreath was thrown, both subs submerged. It was a simple but moving gesture. 

— Edward Ramm ’61

“I will never forget that day as long as I live.”

Ted Streppa ’61

 I will never forget that day as long as I live. It was a Friday afternoon and my wife, Jean, and I were driving to Rochester from Cornell Law School to spend Thanksgiving weekend with our families. We had just left Ithaca and I turned on the radio. We immediately heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and was being taken to the hospital. It was sometime later that he was pronounced dead. When we arrived at my parents’ home, everyone was in a state of shock and in tears. We sat in front of the TV the rest of the day and most of the weekend as the unbelievable events of the assassination and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby were played out on the screen. It was an event I shall never forget, and was exceeded in tragedy only by the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center. 

— Ted Streppa ’61

I can still picture the exact scene. I was in my third-grade classroom at Mt. Pleasant Elementary in Livingston, N.J. The classroom phone rang and our teacher, Miss Fitzsimmons, picked it up, listened, and then began to cry. She didn’t tell us what happened but told us that school was dismissed and we should go home. I ran home and found my mom crying in front of the TV. I remember we were out of school for a number of days and almost never moved from in front of the TV set the entire time. Those images are indelible.

— Liz Buchbinder ’77

I have a distinct recollection of Nov. 22,1963. When I graduated from Colgate, I had been uncertain of exactly what I wanted to do, so I had enlisted in the U.S. Navy to go to Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., to which I reported in the summer of ’63. Nov. 22, 1963, was the day I was commissioned an ensign. By early afternoon, I was ready to leave for my duty assignment, an engineering officer on the USS Charles P. Cecil (DD-835) undergoing overhaul in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When leaving the base, the Marine guard normally just waved you through. That day he motioned me to stop. I rolled down the window and he said “Sir, turn on your radio. The president has been shot.” It was a sober drive to Brooklyn.

— Fred Likel ’63

Americans were united and the world shared in our bereavement for our president who opened new frontiers.”

Larry Arnold ’63

 In the spring of 1963, I was part of Colgate’s Washington Study Group. This group afforded countless opportunities, memories, and insights into the functioning of our federal government. Of course, we were too young to have voted for JFK in 1960 (voting age was still 21). But, we knew of this young man and I believe all members of the group were ardent supporters of a young, vital force forging new frontiers in our nation’s capital. One of the extraordinary experiences was attending a presidential press conference with seats among the press corps. Alone at the podium, our president stood before a press corps and confidently answered all questions. We were impressed by the sharpness of many questions, the ability to use humor to deflect criticism, and in particular, how old our president appeared. No doubt, 2.5 years on the job had aged JFK so that he was no longer a young man. Six months later, I was an MBA student at the University of Chicago wondering what the heck a poli sci major was doing in an MBA program and signed up for an aptitude test to tell me. On the afternoon of Nov. 22, in the midst of the test, the bells in Rockefeller chapel on campus began pealing. Shortly thereafter someone came in to say the president had been shot and asked if I wanted to continue the test. I did continue, then walked into the Rockefeller chapel for a few moments of prayer before returning to my dorm room in Chicago’s International House. That night there was a universal outpouring of reverence, honor, and respect for our slain American president. Americans were united and the world shared in our bereavement for our president who opened new frontiers. 

— Larry Arnold ’63

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. Returning to a friend’s apartment in Casablanca after dinner, I was walking alone down a busy city street when a woman shouted at me from a second story window, “Hey! Amerikaniya! Your President — Boom! Boom!” She pointed her hand like a pistol at her head and smiled weakly as she spoke. I was shocked, although I wasn’t quite sure whether to believe her. I was also unsure how she knew I was an American. I’m still unsettled by the weak smile.

— Barrett Petty ’63