During the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, half a century ago, Rita Aragon was in Dale, a seventh-grader in her home economics class. It surely was a typical school setting on a Friday with teachers in their classrooms interacting with their students.
At 11:40 a.m., President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, and their party arrived at Love Field in Dallas.
They were on day two of a trip planned five months earlier that included dedicating new research facilities at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, a testimonial dinner in Houston for U.S. Rep. Albert Thomas and the president speaking during a large breakfast Friday morning.
The day’s events were to include a motorcade through downtown Dallas, a luncheon speech at the Trade Mart and a flight to Austin where Kennedy was scheduled to attend a reception and speak at a Democratic fundraising dinner.
It was hoped the Dallas motorcade, the Warren Commission would later report, would evoke a demonstration of the president’s personal popularity in a city he lost in the 1960 election.
By mid-morning, the threat of rain gave way to clearing skies as the president greeted crowds from his open limousine. With him were the first lady, the Texas governor and several Secret Service agents.
As the limousine passed the Texas School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza, gunshots resounded in rapid succession. One bullet entered the base of the back of Kennedy’s neck; a second struck him in the rear portion of his head, causing a massive, fatal wound.
The president was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, located four miles away — At 1 p.m., President Kennedy was pronounced dead. Print and TV reporters began to spread the horrible news.
In Aragon’s school, the superintendent made an announcement over the intercom.
“Everyone broke down and cried,” said Aragon, now Oklahoma’s Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs and an Edmond resident.
There were no televisions in the classroom, but there was one in the library at Dale High School. Aragon recalls the emotionally devastated teachers and how everyone seemed lost.
“We were all waiting to hear what was going to happen,” she said. “It was the first time history ‘hit’ us in the face. National television seemed so instant and we couldn’t believe anyone could kill the president.”
Aragon said her grandmother was a devoted Kennedy aficionado. She had a plate hanging in her dining room with the president and first lady on it.
“I thought they must be very special because grandma was very religious and the only pictures she had up were family and Jesus,” Aragon said. “It was like our whole little community was for my first time united around an horrific event that made the world seem much smaller than I had ever imagined.”
Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks was a sophomore in college on the Baylor University campus in Waco, Texas.
“I was in the hallway when somebody came running up and said, ‘The president’s been shot,’” Ricks said.
He recalled everyone being in a state of shock and how a great deal of campus activity was canceled including football games. Students watched the news as they tried to make sense of what was happening, why it was happening and who was responsible, Ricks said.
Ricks recalled learning about the arrest of the prime suspect — Lee Harvey Oswald — and the startling news. On Sunday morning, Nov. 24, he was watching, wanting to see Oswald as he was being transferred from the city jail to the Dallas County jail about a mile away. During the transfer, a man named Jack Ruby shot Oswald who died that day.
“We wanted to see this guy and then he gets shot by Jack Ruby,” Ricks said as he sat in his office.
Leaman Harris, 75, a resident at Edmond’s Touchmark at Coffee Creek, was going through officer training school at James Connally Air Force Base, located north of Waco. Harris said he had finished lunch at the mess hall and was on his way back to his barracks when he saw people gathering in groups.
“You could tell something had happened,” he said.
In his barracks, fellow service members were watching TV.
“We were all kind of saying, ‘This kind of thing is unbelievable,’” Harris said.
Louis Frazier, 92, a resident at Edmond’s Touchmark at Coffee Creek, was an administrative assistant at a Veterans Administration hospital in Huntington, W. Va. Frazier said he was coming back to the office at about noon when his secretary told him about what had happened.
Frazier recalled some of the same feelings as the others and wondering how the change in the Oval Office might impact his agency.
They also recalled the events of the president’s funeral including when little John John saluted as the flag-draped coffin being carried on a horse-drawn caisson passed by.
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