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Doug's Diggings: Hard to believe it’s been 50 years

Becoming bored with NFL football Sunday afternoon, I happened upon a television show on the National Geographic channel about the day or two leading up to the Kennedy assassination and the days immediately after the killing.

Hard to believe, the assassination will be 50 years old on Nov. 22. Of course, I’m still old enough that I clearly recall the events of the day. As they say, it was one of those days in history when you will never forget where you were or what you were doing.

I remember my parents talking about that feeling the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, but I had never experienced that feeling until that day in November 1963.

What intrigued me about the National Geographic show was that they went back and found people who were in the crowds. For instance, Kennedy had been in Fort Worth, Texas, that morning and a crowd of people had gathered near his hotel. In the crowd was a group of four or five teenage girls. Turns out they were from a local high school and the producers of the show found them and interviewed them today. The girls recalled their recollections of that morning -- of course, not knowing that Kennedy was to live only a few more hours.

The president actually walked past the girls and conversed with them briefly.

They interviewed a member of a Fort Worth boys’ choir that had performed at the breakfast that morning. One lad had been fortunate enough to speak with the president briefly -- he told his story. The choir was scheduled to sing one song, but had to come up with another because Mrs. Kennedy was running a bit late. Of course, all the people who saw Kennedy that morning were impacted for the rest of their lives. The show also revealed that the choir must have made an impression on the president. His widow Jackie came back years later and talked about how the president was so impressed with their singing.

Interestingly, Fort Worth is very close to Dallas, but the president wanted to fly to Dallas. Not much different than today, the president reasoned that the flight, only 13 minutes, would create a much more grand entrance than riding in a vehicle. And it did just that.

The show interviewed a co-worker of Lee Harvey Oswald. It so happened Oswald rode to work (Texas Book Depository) with the fellow on Nov. 22. He remembered asking Oswald what was in the long package he was bringing to work. Oswald’s answer – curtain rods! The co-worker, of course, had no reason to believe that Oswald was about to shoot the president.

In November of 1963 I was a sophomore at Hudson High School. Living less than a block from the school, I went home for lunch every day. In those days every student had lunch at the same time and it was close to an hour. Many students went home for lunch.

I remember my mother and sister were watching the old soap opera “As the World Turns.” I left a bit early because I was going to stop at the grocery/candy store on the corner of Fifth and St. Croix streets. From the time I left home until I got to the store -- less than a block away -- I started to hear rumors about the president being shot. I must have just missed the TV bulletin at home by mere seconds!

It so happened that my first period after lunch was a study hall in the library. School officials decided to broadcast the news reports over the loud speaker. It was in the early afternoon study hall that I heard the announcement that the president was dead.

Hudson did have a basketball game scheduled that night and the game was played (some were cancelled). The pre-game included a moment of silence.

The next big event came on Sunday, Nov. 24, when accused assassin Oswald was gunned down in the basement of the Dallas police station. He was scheduled to be moved for the Dallas jail to the county jail. The murderer was a local nightclub owner named Jack Ruby. On the television show, most people on the scene that day thought he looked like a newspaper reporter -- supposedly only reporters were allowed in the transfer area. In those days, reporters wore suits and hats and that’s what Rudy was wearing.

Many people actually saw the shooting on television. Our family had gone to church that morning, but when we came home we discovered that Oswald had been shot. On the television show, there was film of Oswald being loaded into an ambulance and sent to the hospital. What struck me was the fact that the ambulance was nothing more than an early ‘60s station wagon with red lights and a siren. Two or three police men jumped into the back with Oswald and when the ambulance pulled out the police garage, the back end was practically dragging on the pavement! It was a far cry from the ambulances we now have become accustomed to.

Kennedy’s funeral was Monday, Nov. 25. Of course, there was no school that day and I think most of the country was glued to the television set, watching the funeral proceedings. Although, I spent part of my day working on a school assignment -- a project that should have been done by Sunday night -- I hate to admit it, but I knew I had an extra day!

Unfortunately I’m not even sure of the name of the television program I watched on Sunday. Checking around the web, it may have been "JFK: The Final Hours," but that description didn’t seem as comprehensive as the show I watched. The bottom line, however, is that there will be plenty of special shows looking at the assassination, thoughts on conspiracies and much more in the next couple of weeks. For those of us who lived during that time, the month will offer must-see TV. Still hard to believe that it’s been 50 years!

Doug Stohlberg

Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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