Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, Yahoo is publishing first-person accounts from Americans who remember the tragedy and recall the era: What life was like in November 1963 in their communities? How did the president’s death reflect their hopes and anxieties? Here’s one story.
FIRST PERSON | I was 38 in November 1963 and a faculty member at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, 60 miles north of Denver. Living in the quiet college town, surrounded by the majestic Rockies, I found the tree-lined campus a perfect setting for pursuing my career in academia. My salary was modest, but so were expenses. I lived in a newly built three-bedroom house that cost $15,000. My 1962 Olds Cutlass was purchased for $2,700. Food, fuel and other necessities were manageable.
At that time, Fort Collins was a small college town where most of the activity centered on Colorado State University. A smaller state school, at the time the student body was about 7,000. This was before the Vietnam War and protest era, so it really was a quaint, sleepy mountain town where a loud party was a wild as things got. The total population at that time was about 25,000 people – a lot different from today. The “town” now has a population of more than 150,000.
A life-long Democrat after casting my first vote for Truman in 1948, I was active in the party. I was also still in the US Navy Reserves and concerned about the situation in Vietnam. When youthful John Kennedy was nominated for president in 1960, I was an enthusiastic supporter. We campaigned on campus, in Fort Collins, Denver and other Colorado locations. Our Citizens for Kennedy group was in the audience when candidate Kennedy spoke in Denver in August.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was at the lobby of the university student center, to meet friends for lunch when the news that JFK had been shot blared out from a nearby TV set. Everyone gathered in shocked silence over the next 30 minutes. Then, Walter Cronkite, on CBS, paused, looked at a clock and announced at noon our time that the president was dead.
Before the assassination, the university campus was a quiet, scholarly environment. Soon after JFK’s death, along with the escalating Vietnam War, everybody, particularly students, suddenly were disturbingly different. There were increasingly violent anti-war demonstrations, angry music, radical dress styles and more.
To me, the assassination of JFK was a death in the family, and a painful loss that many older Americans still mourn half a century later.