News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 21, 2013

What you remembered…

TERRE HAUTE — EDITOR’S NOTE: On another autumn Friday 50 years ago today, the hopes and dreams of many Americans fell like so many wind-scattered leaves. Our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been fatally shot Nov. 22, 1963, as he rode in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. We asked Tribune-Star readers to share their recollections of where they were when they heard the tragic news …

• • •

I was 9, and we were stationed at Brooks Air Force Base. My dad was involved in the decompression chamber studies — he kept me out of school that day cause he knew the president was gonna be there. … I actually got to see JFK that day —  only because my dad had to take me to the “little girls’ room” and that’s when I saw JFK coming around the corner (with a lot of really big fellas ). I remember looking up at the tallest man I’d ever seen, with the bluest eyes. Next day I was in class when we got the news about what happened. I still have the newspaper from that [day] — he had such a great smile.

— Lisa Ellis


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I was a young, newly married nurse working at Georgetown University Hospital. I was in a patient room when the news came on. An intern was also in the room and commented “probably grazed his forehead and we’ll be hearing about it for the next month.” Shortly thereafter, the news came that Kennedy was dead. My husband was in the Army  and stationed at the Pentagon. He was one of the last to know, as his office in the Pentagon was shut down from all activity due to security. We were glued to the TV with the rest of the nation for the weekend. On Sunday, as they were moving his body from the White House to the Capitol, we attended the procession down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a most tragic, yet memorable time.  

— Pat Cannon

Terre Haute

• • •

I was teaching at Clayton (Ind.) High School. I had a study hall with about 90 students, one of whom was an unruly girl I’ll call “Jane.” Among other things, she was noted for constant tardiness and for telling whoppers. She came rushing (late) into the study hall and said, “They’ve shot him — they’ve shot President Kennedy!” I said, “Right, Jane. Sit down and be quiet.” Then I stepped out into the hallway to retrieve and correct the absence list, and saw the principal and the guidance counselor (both male) just standing in the middle of the hall, crying. Even then, apart from the shock and the sadness I felt, I knew this country would never be the same again, nor would my own world. The hope of the New Generation was gone.

— Judy Duke,

Terre Haute

• • •

I remember vividly where I was when the news came out of President Kennedy’s assassination. I had been appointed to a state post by the late Gov. Mathew Welsh as Director of the Bureau of Women and Children, State Labor Department. There was a reporter for The Indianapolis Star that used to cover various offices of the state administration and frequently came into the Labor Department. He came in and told the entire staff about the tragic news of the President’s assassination shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963.

My staff huddled around in my office, as we broke down with tears and hugged one another.

Everyone was devastated with this news in disbelief, and needless to say no one could get through the working day in the usual manner. My phone rang constantly from friends who knew of my past work in the Kennedy campaign.

I had been elected as the Young Democrat National Committee Woman at a YD Convention In Indianapolis by some 2,500 young Democrats who met at the Claypool Hotel. I was presented with a distinguished service award by the Indiana YD Executive Committee for outstanding and loyal work for the Democratic party in the State of Indiana. Sen. Birch Bayh had nominated me at this largest attendance ever held in the state.

I was one of six members in the state of Indiana appointed to serve as an executive board member of President Kennedy’s Operation Support in Indiana.

I was privileged to have met President Kennedy when he ran for office and was in Terre Haute. At that time I was working for Mayor Ralph Tucker as his executive secretary. Ed Merrigan, who was President Kennedy’s advance man, was sent to Terre Haute to set up all events for the president, and I was chosen to handle this assignment. I worked closely with Merrigan almost on a daily basis for clearance in all the events where he was to appear. In one particular instance, I had the honor of escorting him into the Mayflower Room where it was overflowing with throngs of people. I have a photo of that, which is one of my prized possessions.

For the first time in its history, the young Democrat state officers were invited to the nominating convention in Los Angeles where we witnessed the nomination of President Kennedy. The late Euleta Slover, reporter for the Tribune, and Marcee Cox, editor, asked me to take notes of the activities at the convention which I passed on to Euleta and it was reported in the Tribune. I had my notebook and pen in hand and was able to get in to the caucus where Senator Layman and Carmen DiSappio of New York were discussing casting of their delegates votes, etc. (more to this story) when a TV man behind me asked me what they were saying. I read him my notes and he aired it nationally!

I witnessed Eleanor Roosevelt running around in the rafters, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson (and have photos of other celebrities).

I was invited to all the VIP events at President Kennedy’s inauguration — and watched the parade from a VIP invite to the parade (in a room where Hugh Downs aired the proceedings). It was one of those buildings where an elevator was operated by a gentleman who checked the invitations before he let you on the elevator.

My files are filled with memorabilia of invitations to his inauguration. So much more to this story.

Everything is so vivid in my mind, especially this past weekend when I watched TV relating all the stories of the life of the Kennedys. I felt as though I was living in the past, and the tears started flowing again.

— Helen Corey

Terre Haute

• • •

On campus at ISU. The teaching materials center had all the audio visual machines the education majors needed to learn to operate. We checked them out and learned to run them there. On going to the main desk, the student in charge was wringing his hands and crying. He said to all of us: “I can’t think right now — the president has been killed!” At his words we scattered to all the areas with TV sets; sat on chairs or the floor and took in the live news feed in disbelief. More and more students and teachers came in as events unfolded. We were the one place on campus with unlimited access to news media. Few students had TVs. Later, I remember it was a long, dark walk back to the dorm. I do not remember Thanksgiving.

— Laura Mason

Terre Haute

• • •

I was in school that afternoon (Maple Elementary School). We all had just piled in from lunch, which was an hour back then. I remember the weather was even pretty good. Mrs. Trego, our teacher, told us what had happened. It was one of those defining moments in life. It was the first day of my life (I was 8 ) where I completely understood that bad things, unspeakable things, could happen to us. … I realized all at once that there were people who could suffer, who would suffer, and there were people who could/would cause suffering. Looking back, it was really like we all awoke from the spell of (Kennedy) Camelot, and lost our innocence as a nation.

— Tonya Krajcsi (Kracy)


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