November 22, 2013

Letters to the editor: JFK changed many in life and death

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Sen. John F. Kennedy addresses a crowd at Portland Stadium during a campaign visit to Maine in 1960.

Press Herald file

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The acting principal came into our classroom and in a solemn, sad voice, he told us that the president, Mr. Kennedy, had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and had been rushed to the hospital. The children would be sent home in an hour.

After Mr. Hamlin left the room, it became a scene of sorrow and weeping as the young students sat at their desks with bowed heads. We all prayed silently for President Kennedy, his family and the nation.

A little girl stood up, sobbing, and said, “Who will help us now?” as the tears slid down her little cheeks.

Abraham Lincoln gave his life for the oppressed, and President Kennedy also gave his life for the oppressed.

Leroy E. Peasley


We had no TV or radio in our small one-bedroom apartment where my husband, a Yale Divinity School student, and I lived with our 3- year-old daughter in November 1963.

I did not want her to see the initial violence or the continual replays, so I could only go to the common room where students gathered and the sole TV played constantly for brief moments while she was safely asleep a level above.

In addition to the horror and bewilderment I felt at the events unfolding, I was struck by the international students from Africa, many of the sitting with their heads bowed into their hands. America, to them, was the Promised Land. Now, not only did they know the violence in their homelands, they also had to incorporate into their thinking and visions for a better future, extreme violence in the land they had chosen as a role model.

I heard one of these students mumble through his tears, “We will never know what he could have accomplished in his second term,” knowing the pending civil rights agenda.

Leigh Sherrill


I was a second-year midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy the day President Kennedy decided to drop in for a visit in July 1963.

He took us all in as we stood at rigid attention, stepped to the microphone and said, remembering his days as a naval officer, “Stand at ease”. Not one body moved – we were all frozen with a mixture of fear and concentration.

The President stepped back, clearly bemused by our inability to relax, even a little. But having that wonderful sense of humor that was so endearing, he said to the superintendent: “Well, Admiral, I guess they haven’t learned that command yet.” This released the tension. We relaxed, though still keeping pretty braced-up, and the President went on to dazzle us with leadership lessons from a fellow naval officer whose PT boat had been shot out from under him in the Pacific in World War II.

No one who was there that day will have forgotten that golden moment when a young President and his wonderfully attractive wife won the hearts of us midshipmen.

A short four months later, I was one of 70 midshipmen who marched in the funeral procession for President Kennedy. It was another memorable day with a very different feel– the slow rattling of the drums the only sound as we marched from the Capitol, past the White House, to Arlington National Cemetery.

To read the full version of this essay, click here.

Ron Bancroft


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