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March 1st, 2010
11:00 AM ET

'Letters to Jackie' captures a nation's anguish

Editor's Note: 1.5 million letters were sent to Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK's assassination in 1963. Author Ellen Fitzpatrick's new book, "Letters to Jackie,” highlights 250 of those condolences. It is published by Ecco and goes on sale at bookstores March 2, 2010.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption=""Letters to Jackie" is a first-ever compilation of condolences received by Jacqueline Kennedy after President John F. Kennedy's assassination."]

By Ronni Berke, CNN

(CNN) – The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy was an act of violence that shocked the collective American conscience, sparking an outpouring of grief that transcended racial and economic lines.

That grief has now been cataloged by historian Ellen Fitzpatrick in a new book, "Letters to Jackie," a first-ever compilation of some of the 1.5 million condolence letters the first lady received after Kennedy's death.

Most of the letters were originally destroyed by the National Archives, which felt it would not have enough room to store them. Fitzpatrick combed through more than 15,000 of the remaining letters at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, to choose 250 for the book.

"The letters that were most compelling to me were ones that encapsulated some sense of Kennedy as a president, or it was someone who had something very powerful to say about the day of the assassination … or someone who talked about an experience with grief in their own life," said Fitzpatrick.

Letters express JFK grief Video

There was also great diversity among the letter writers.

"I am but a humble postman," wrote Henry Gonzales. "Please try to find it in your heart that we Texans of Mexican origin love all of you."

Henry Gonzales emigrated from Mexico to Texas with his parents at the age of two. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he joined the U.S. Postal Service. (Photo scan courtesy the JFK Presidential Library and Museum)

Martha Ross, the 74-year-old daughter of a slave, wrote: "I am a colord lady but he seam clost to me as my own and he was apart of all Americains..."

Martha Ross was a sharecropper and daughter of a slave, born in Georgia, who settled in New Haven. Although she had no formal education, she taught her great-grandson to read using the Bible. Ross died in 1981. (Photo scan courtesy the JFK Presidential Library and Museum)

Her great-grandson, Winston Lucky, said he remembers as a boy watching her grieve.

"She took the death of the president really hard," he said. "She was crazy about the president. She thought he was a great man and that he was going to do great things for the African-American community."

The book also contains letters written by children, like eight-year-old Kevin Radell.

"I know you should forgive your enemies, but it is hard to forgive Lee Oswald," he wrote.

Kevin Radell, an eight-year-old when he wrote his letter, comes from a family of artists in rural Michigan. On the day of Kennedy's assassination, his mother was "distraught and crying," he says. "At first it was shock and being scared, especially when you see your own family emoting that way." Kevin is now an investment banker and fine art adviser in New York. (Photo scan courtesy the JFK Presidential Library and Museum)

Today, Radell remembers the period as a "terrifying time." Kennedy, he says, "was such a protector of the nation and such a leader and we all loved him."

Some letters were strikingly prescient. One, signed simply by "A Negro Who beleave in God," blessed the first family, and added: "In the next Forty to Forty-five Year A Negro from Louisiana will be come President of the United States."

For Fitzpatrick, the letters show not only the raw emotion of the time, but the way that Kennedy "had incorporated this message of hope, of vitality, of change, of possibility," with his young family.

"It was a sense of here was a couple, a family who had everything. They were sitting on top of the world. And in an instant it was gone." That is what made the death so devastating, she said.

"It was a loss of innocence, it was a terrible encounter with irrational violence of the kind that I think Americans today are much more used, to, unfortunately."

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. Gezellig

    I was 10 years old and living in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember writing a poem that day. I called up someone at the newspaper (probably the Post) and read it to him. Had him in tears. I wish I still had that poem; it would be interesting to read it now.

    We went to see the funeral procession from the White House to the cathedral. Saw de Gaulle and Haile Selassie and everyone else walk by as we stood on the curb that day. Ran into a young man, I believe from South America, who worked for the VOA. He was recording man-in-the-street interviews for some program. I gave him my two cents worth. We tried to give him a ride back to his office. I remember him telling us his name, and I asked him what his name meant. He laughed, and asked me what my name was. When I told him, he asked me what my name meant. I then had to laugh. I realized that I had the rather incorrect notion that foreign people's names had meanings beyond just being names. I guess I had watched too many cowboy movies on TV. Anyway, traffic was so bad that he eventually decided it would be quicker for him just to get out and walk to his office. So we all said goodbye and I ended up being wiser about the ways of foreign cultures.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  2. RCT

    I was thirteen and a sophomore at a Brooklyn, NY all-girls high school. I was in my World History class when one student, who had been surreptitiously listening to a local music station on her transistor radio , cried out the the President had been shot. We didn't believe her. Then the principal came onto the PA school and made the announcement. All we girls burst into tears; we had all admired the President, Mrs. Kennedy, and their two beautiful children.

    JFK's was the first death that ever affected my life, since my grandparents had both died before I was born. It made me realize that some things in life are final. All weekend, I wished that we could go back to Friday at noon, when the President was well and whole. But we couldn't.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  3. bobby

    I still cry now and then.
    And I also morn for what we have become; the excuses politicians give for the wrongs they continue to do in the betrayal of the American people.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |

    I was in my first year of college, getting off the bus to go to class, when I heard about the assassination. Like many others, I spent that weekend, glued to a tiny black and white TV, forsaking food, just to watch the little box. I wept and wept, like no other time in my life, except again with RFK died. It was the death of our innocence,the taking away of our future, our dreams,and our ideals as a generation. It shaped our nation, in a negative way, and I grieve still, for what might have been. When I see the films of days gone by, it still brings tears to my eyes and a sick feeling to my gut.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  5. Rasaq Seriki

    Is one of those days would so difficult to erase from mind of Americans and entire World so also America history isn't complete without mention the sorrow and pains the whole World went through during the saga. No amount of condolence neither consolation nor words will ever take the pains away from Kennedys' family but his legacy spreads, reflects and speaks for ever for American people and the whole World at large. My prayers goes to his family and entire World. One thing i know for sure is that Kennedy lives on. Adieu! Adieu!! Adieu!!!.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  6. Nick Reyes

    Mrs Kennedy sent me a family photo after she recived my letter. It ran in the Wichit Falls times and record news. She was a first class lady and an outstanding lady with christian values and great drive to carry on the way that she did. Nick Reyes in Texas

    March 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Paul Espinoza

    I was working the grape fields in central California when I heard of the death in Dallas. I stopped working and walked home, 7 miles, crying all the way. I'm 67 and still tears well up in my eyes when I think of that tragic day. I felt like a bright future was replaced by a dark foreboding... and it still does.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  8. sf94127

    I was 9 years old when this tragedy happened and it is one of the strongest memories I have.

    We were robbed of a great man and we would have been a much stronger nation today if it could have been avoided. Certainly, Nixon would not have been elected, VietNam tragedy avoided.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  9. Mike

    I was never alive at the time this I've always been transfixed by this event in history and find it also a fascinating crime to study. I have to say, I think this was the last time a nation was ever transfixed by a leader in the true sense of the word. Could you imagine such outpouring nowadays, what with cynicism ruling people? No matter how hard people try to denigrate the memory of Jack, Jackie, and the Kennedy clan, the sheer fact is that they did an enormous amount for this country.

    And, for the record (per Bugliosi), LHO was the lone nut. There was no conspiracy.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  10. Judi

    I was 8 years-old when JFK was killed, and I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember feeling that the earth stood still on that day and an immense sadness was everywhere. He was my hero. He was the best President we ever had, and the United States has never been the same ever since. He was for the people and just about everyone loved him. When I saw JFK Jr. salute his dad, I was overwhelmed with sadness, and cried.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  11. Jim Ellis

    I was 4 yrs. and 10 mos. old that fateful day and clearly remember it. First, Captain Kangaroo was preempted by coverage of the assassination and my parents were so shook-up that they stood around the televison for what seemed like days on end. Every morning I would get up to turn on Captain Kangaroo and he wasn't on. I kept waiting for it to come on ath the end of the news, but instead watched the horse-drawn coffin and all the coverage ... too young to know what was really going on. But grew up to know that I remembered something most 4-year-olds never noticed.
    It's burned into my memory ... in it's own unique way. JFK and Captain Kangaroo.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  12. Cindi

    I was eight years old and playing on the playground at my elementary school in California when our principal came on the loud speaker and announced (in a very shaky voice) that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. The entire playground (filled with young children of all ages) froze, and most began to cry. Even at that age I knew this was something BIG and that our lives in America would never be the same... As we now know, he was not a saint in his personal life, however, he will always be remembered as a great man that offered such hope to our country, until it was shot down that terrible day.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  13. Paul

    Kennedy's assassination and 9/11 are the two events during my lifetime that permanently altered America. I was a young boy in 1963, but I remember everything about it. My grandparents, parents and teachers wept. Everything came to a halt for days. America was never the same and everything changed. It was very similar to the aftermath of 9/11.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Fran

    I too was in high school when the President was shot. For me, like so many, he inspired us to believe we could make a difference, we could change the wrongs and make them right. No President has ever done that since, and I believe this is part of the problem with the mess we have today. We spend all day listening to the two parties rip each other apart, rip the president apart, how can we believe in anything governmental??? Those days, and months after his death were so hard for this nation. We had lost more than a leader, we had lost hope, and I don't see that we've every gotten that back.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  15. WIL

    I was sitting in a assembly at San Marcos HS in Santa Barbara CA. The speaker told this joke. Kennedy and Linclon were sitting in heven and Kennedy told Linclon " I never was able to get the people behind me like you did. And Linclon said "Did you ever try going to a theater?" When we left the assembly we hear Kennedy had been shot. I will never forget that joke.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  16. Madeline

    On that day in 1963, I stayed home from school with a cold. My mother and I were watching TV when the bulletin interupted the program. I remembered we prayed together that President Kennedy would be saved. We got the news from Walter Chronkite, and although we mostly holiday Catholics, our entire family went to mass to pray for the Kennedy family that evening.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  17. Tom H

    I was a freshman at the Univ. of Oklahoma on that fateful day. Truly frightening after having witnessed the staring down of the Soviets in Cuba. The lesson I took away was that no matter what, you must carry on the best you can. The Kennedys were indeed a courageous family.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  18. Maria

    My father and mother lived in Mexicali when president Kennedy was killed, and the pain was felt both sides of the border, according to my father people stop working, crops came to a halt that day, everyone is un shock an disbelif. He was loved, admired, and respected by people all over the world.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  19. Sal

    There are events in everyone's life that they will always remember where they were when those events took place. For me, they begin with the death, not of a President, but of a King – that of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, on August 16, 1977. Beyond that, the death of John Lennon, the Challenger disaster, and other moments are engraved forever on my memory.

    I was not yet born when President Kennedy was assassinated.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  20. hills-jury

    I was only 2 years old, but I still remember that something wasn't quite right. I have a very vivid memory of my Mom, Grandma, Great-Grandma and sister crying. I remember my Dad coming home and holding on to my Mom and Sister, they couldn't stop crying. Years later, I asked my Mom if she remember the day they all were crying. She did and told me that it was the day President Kennedy was killed. She thought I was too little to remember and had never mentioned it. To this day I remeber the crying.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  21. John

    I was only a newborn, but as I turned seven and could read, I remember leafing through a book of my sister's which dealt with the assassination and just thinking how horrible it was. Though I was too young to remember President Kennedy, in my own way even as a child it really hit home to me how terrible an event it was. Thanks for the story. Tells that most people do really care for others even if they don't know them. It is the one good thing about human nature.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  22. Lee

    I was in third grade when President Kennedy was killed. I walked home that day for lunch and found my mother and father in the kitchen. My mother was crying and my father was trying to comfort her. They both voiced their fears that the murder had been a prelude to war. A great man died that day in Dallas. He brought the winds of change with him and as a young man he would have had many years to influence this country. America lost it"s innocence that day.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  23. Gail

    I was 10 years old, my friend and I penned a a stamp and sent it off....some months later I got a thank you card from Mrs. Kennedy....when I got home from school my mother said what is this about. I told her about the letter. I still have that card from Mrs. Kennedy. I would love to see my letter someday...I wonder what I said as a 10 year old.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  24. E.Banashak

    This is a must-read book for me. I will also give copies as gifts. I am grateful to the author for giving us a way to show the younger generations just what JFK meant to us.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  25. John

    The assassination of JFK was the beginning of the end of this nation. To this day, I am convinced that the Military-Industrial complex, the real "government" in America, conspired to murder the President because of his desire to end American involvement in Vietnam.
    Bobby and Martin's murders, less than 5 years later, sealed the deal.
    The people we elect don't run America.
    If you don't believe me, take a look around.
    Have you ever seen things in America so dire? So hopeless? So broken.....?

    March 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  26. Rose Tyson

    I was in the third grade when President John F. Kennedy, Sr. was assassinated. The principal came to the cafeteria in tears shouting President Kennedy has been shot. They closed school on that day. By the time I got home from school, I remember seeing Walter Cronkite on news in tears when he stated, President John F. Kennedy has passed away. I will never forget those words. It changed America, I am a Black Woman and from that day until now....I got involved in Civil Rights and helping people.

    First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was my hero. I watched how she walked along side of her brothers-in-law with her two children on the day of President Kennedy's funeral. And after funeral had a birthday party for Little John, Jr. It left a profound positive affect on me.

    Today, I am so proud to say we have a Black President Barack Obama Barack and a beautiful first lady, Michelle. This country needs to support him and his programs. Today, if President Kennedy could wake up and speak....I believe he would say Pass the Healthcare Reform. Too many Americans do not have health insurance and that is a shame.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  27. JohnnyO

    President Kennedy's death was a tragedy, because of the way it happened – violently. It is also a tragedy, because if he had lived, his legacy would have been much the same as that of Bill Clinton – an uncomprimising womanizer and do-little president.

    Instead, he is looked upon as a martyr.

    This is a terrible misconception. It was Kennedy who started us down the road to the destruction of the United Sates that we are all now living through.

    His policy of taking money from taxpayers and giving it to people without asking them to do anything to earn it was carried out by Lindon Banes Johnson, in the form of the "War on Prosperity." And it is the worst possible thing that could have ever happend to America.

    If you don't believe it, go take a look in the "Projects" of Detroit or any other large American city, and observe the resutls of "Welfare" in it's worst possible form – – third-generation children who believe with all their hearts that the "Government" (read: Taxpayers) owes them a living. People who will continue to procreate millions of children who will never, ever understand that they are responsible for their own lives.

    Viewed in the light of those and other truths, Kennedy was not a great president at all – – hew was decidedly mediocre – – and his greatest importance to history was that it was he began the slow, steady destruction of the American work ethic – the silly, untendable notion that the government should control every part of our lives, take all our money and redistribute it according to an unworkable Utopian vison which he shared with the likes of Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Charles DeGaul and other such notable failures.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  28. Charlene Torn

    I was only 10 years old at the time. Three days prior JFK was here in Tampa and I remember my teacher saying she would excuse her students absence if they wanted to go see him "because you may never get the chance again." Three days later he was dead. I remember how solemn my father was (miltary) and the grief stricken family of President Kennedy. The innocence of the time was forever lost and country has never been the same since.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  29. sita sookralli

    I was 5 years old on 11/22/63. I was going to the store for my mom and my neighbor was screaming on the streets, my knees got very weak when I heard her said, President Kennedy was shot and killed. A dark veil came over me and since then that veil never moved. Everything looked different in a sad way. I was only 5, but I knew a lot about President Kennedy.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  30. John

    I was at home three years old and to this day I remember the shock to my mom. She was devastated and I was in the backroom watching the TV an old Zenith console with Cronkite reporting.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  31. HELEN

    I was in Catholic grade school, the nuns were very upset, it was a very fateful day........the Obamas are zero resemblance to JFK and Jackie, the comparison makes me comparing Marshall Fields to Walmart.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  32. Dylan

    Why is the top story on what could very well be the most popular news site in the world an advertisement for a book? That doesn't make any sense at all. How is this newsworthy? I'm not saying that it is uninteresting. JFK's assassination is a fascinating topic. However, when I come to check the news, I expect the top story to be, well, news. This article is not news. It's a suggestion of what I should buy. An ad. I'm so tired of ads.

    I've noticed over the past few years the declining quality of 24-hour news channels and their websites, but this is kind of the last straw. I will no longer come to this site. After 6 years, has finally driven me away. I'm not quite sure where I'll get my news now, but I suppose I haven't really been getting any news for some time now.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  33. Kathleen

    In the fourth grade at Sacred Heart School in Pensacola, Florida, I heard a soft knock on the door, and my young, Chicago-born law teacher answered to the Principal's whispered news. My teacher wailed and sank to her knees, and instructed us to get our rosaries. She told us what had happened, and we began to pray as one. Then the whole school community moved to the chapel and began reciting the entire 15 decades of the rosary as parents came to collect their children. I too was afraid–I wondered if he had been killed because he was a Catholic and whether someone wanted to kill us all. As we watched the TV coverage, and I saw 6-year-old Caroline and 3-year-old John watch their father's funeral cortege roll by, I remember still the piercing nature of my empathy.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  34. Mark

    Yes it was sad, yes the letters are touching, but please give it a rest. Let him rest in peace, and please don't try to make him a saint, he was not, nor is any person in politics. I'm not trying to lesson his impact, but he was flawed like the rest of us, and that is very rarely discussed. Written by an Irish Catholic from Newport RI.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  35. Terry

    I, like so many others, was in school; my tenth grade English class. The news came over the intercom that the president had been shot and then that he had died.

    Forty years later, I recieved a phone call. The voice on the other end was familiar. It was my 10th grade English teacher whom I hadn't spoken with since graduation. He told me that every year, on the anniversary of President Kennedy's assasination, he thought of me. He said the pain on my face when we received the news, had been seared into his memory and he would never forget it. We reunited for my class reunion that year and cried again sharing the experience of the presidnet's death.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  36. Francine Shannon, Quebec

    I so remember that November 22, 1963. We heard it on the school intercom..Most of us burst into tears. For the next few days we stayed glued to the television and mourned with the entire world.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  37. Angie

    I was seven years old, in 2nd grade music class, in Dallas, near the theatre where Oswald was apprehended. The principal came to our classroom to tell us – went to each classroom personally. After he left, the teacher said, "I don't think we will sing anymore today". Soon after the parents came to pick us up because they didn't know where the shooter was. A year later my sister and I did chores in our neighborhood to earn money for the Kennedy Library building fund and received a thank you letter from Mrs. Kennedy..

    March 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  38. Swissmiss

    I was waiting for a class to change when they announced the president had been shot. I went on to study hall, where eventually they announced his death.

    We only lived about 8 miles from D.C. and wanted to go into town during this historic event. However, my mother wouldn't allow it.

    There were a lot of fears that this might be some type of take-over of the government. We saw the funeral on TV. It was SO cold outside.

    My Dad was in Germany on a three-month assignment and the manager of the hotel told him, "Kennedy, kaput." There was a TV in the lobby and the manager set aside reserved seats just for the Americans staying at the hotel to watch the funeral.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  39. Katherine Tracy

    I was a sophomore in college – Boston University. I lived through those horrible days and weeks witnessing people openly weeping in the streets and on the subways of Boston. Terrible day.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  40. Pat

    i was nine years old and I'd just lost my father not long before the assassination of JKF. Even though I was young, I understood what had happened and I was devastated. I just kept thinking about Caroline and John Jr. and about how said they must be to have lost their father. I sent a letter to Mrs. Kennedy and I received a very nice note in return. I watched it all on television–lying in state, the funeral procession, everything. I remember how quiet everything seemed, not just on television but at home and outside. It was like the whole world stood still for awhile. It is something I've never forgotten.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  41. kelly

    I was 11 years old and I too wrote a letter of sympathy to Mrs. Kennedy. I received a response from the White House. The envelope bore a stamped signature from Jacqueline Kennedy in the right hand corner. I have it to this day. Indeed a loss of innocence on that fateful day.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  42. John from California

    I was 10 when this happened. I sent a letter and gift to Mrs. Kennedy. I can remember being in school when the annoucement came over the loudspeaker. I still have a framed thank you letter from Evelyn Lincoln.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  43. Awesomeness

    To Marcus, this country never got worse it has always been a country full of evil, it has never been good.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  44. Lorenzo

    The country has indeed changed since 1963, though I was only six months old when JFK was assassinated. There was so much respect back then for authority figures–and ESPECIALLY a sitting US president–regardless of political leanings. We became so jaded in the '60s and '70s. These days, if something were to happen to a US president, there would be an abundance of sick-os who would hardly shed a tear. Had JFK lived in these times, the national outpouring of grief would not have been nearly what it was in 1963.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  45. Patrick J. Mac Bride

    I was in Colaiste Einde in Galway, Ireland. The dean told us that President Kennedy was assinated; I being an Irish speaker then didn't know what that meant for I had never heard the word before so I asked him if he was going to be all right!
    My heart sank and it wells with grief even now as I read your comments and the beautiful American people are a wonderful people. God Bless all in America!

    March 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  46. Paul L Williams

    We were in Mrs Garson's 3rd grade class when the princpal announced the shooting over the PA system. The teacher and girls cried, the boys got angry. Half of the nuns who taught at the school were Boston Irish and my family were old Baltimore Irish who had the President's portrait in each of our homes. It was a devastating event we would relive less than five years later.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  47. jcjnyc

    I was 13 years old and home sick from school the day of the assassination and remember watching all the news as it happened. My mother cried that night when she came home from work...the only time I ever saw her cry. The weekend after his funeral, I took the train from Richmond VA to Washington and walked from Union Station to Arlington Cemetery to stand in line to walk past the grave and eternal flame.

    I wrote a letter to Mrs. Kennedy too, and received a thank you card from her. I still have that card.

    I think everyone who was alive on that day remembers exactly what they were doing and thinking.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  48. Pearl S.

    I remember it all too well, I was a teenager in college in Manila.
    I cried as though a family member had died. He was very popular in our country and symbolized a new beginning for every nation.

    I bought whatever books about him that I could afford with my meager allowance then, and lately when I had the chance to go to Dallas,
    I made it a point to visit the Sixth Floor Museum, spending 4 hours inside, reliving that dreadful moment in history.

    Indeed the tears came back, the heart felt again the sadness and the shock. For me these are memories that will never be forgotten.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  49. Elaine Sabra

    JFK gave me hope – I was a yougn woman at the time, and was so shocked by his assassination that all I could do when I heard about it was to get on a plane and fly to Washington, D.C. and be at the Capitol to say goodbye and to be at the funeral. It was such a shock – not only to have this happen to such a phenomenal human being who brought so much hope to Americans, but just to have someone have the nerve and the arrogance to kill the leader of our great country. I think I had to be close to it all to absorb what had happened, and then it happened again with MLK and Bob Kennedy – what a different world I think we would be living in had these people lived instead of being "wiped away:" too young in life and too early in time for what positive changes they could bring to America! I am still angry and sad about it all – and still hoping that America can get back to what it once was, what our vision and our hopes were, instead of all the politicing that does not serve the American citizen!!!

    March 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  50. steve r

    I was in 1st grade in the little town of Cody, WYO. I'll never forget our teacher Mrs. House breaking down and crying so badly that she couldn't finish the day. For the funeral, they brought B/W TV's into the classrooms so we could see it. It was the first and only time we ever had tv's in the rooms all thru school. I will never forget those times.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  51. Chuck G.

    I was in the 7th grade in Hollywood Florida. We heard the news on the intercom in Julie Adam's English class. JFK was a hero of mine at the time and still is today. My late mother adored him and was so grief stricken–it took her years to get over it. Jack wasn't perfect–but he had the ability to move the country and make all of us feel that there was nothing we couldn't do/accomplish as Americans–as a country. Look at his goal of putting a man on the moon before 1970. Many laughed at the notion but yet we did it just the same. His greatest legacy is the Peace Corps. Jackie became First Lady at age 32–can you imagine that? Jackie after Jack's death was an inspiration to the world–what she did on those 4 horrible days after that Friday was something–having her sons 3rd birthday party on that Monday–planning Jack's funeral–talking to so many leaders–etc. She was also such a great mother to John and Caroline. We need more JFK/Jackie's in today's world!

    March 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  52. Suzanne Wolfe

    I remember being a 9 year old in NZ when this happened. I had just sent a letter to President Kennedy telling him that our family were moving to America, and that I was really excited. But, when he died, all I could think was that he was not going to see my letter. I did receive a reply but it was an aide to Lyndon Johnson who sent the reply, and it came a long time after the assassination. I just thought it was great they thought enough of me to reply, but secretly wished it was JFK who answered the letter.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  53. Rich

    I was in 4th grade class in NJ, a 5th grade boy stuck his head into the classrooom and asked our teacher if she knew President Kennedy was shot. I thought he was refering to Kennedys PT-109 story from WWII. When I got home a short time later, my mom was crying and hugged me, a few hours later my tearful father came in and along with my brothers and sisters, watched the sad events proceed on a 12" B&W TV in the living room. A moment I have never forgotten.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  54. james

    I remember writing and sending a letter to Mrs. Kennedy as a child. I received a thank you letter in response, I wish I knew where my parents stored it would love to look at it again. I think I was in the 2nd or third grade when President Kennedy was shot. Sad times.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  55. Ken

    I wrote Jackie a letter ! I Just Lost My Dad And Was So Heartbroken To See Carolyn and John In the Same Position I was! We Were Poor by many standards but Proud! My Mom thought a letter would help me vent and it did help my sorrow! Just remember sitting watching our black and white having Thanksgiving Dinner.. Could Not Keep away from TV.
    Many years later met her and she truly was a Lady with Dignity and Strength! Very Soft spoken but extremely Sensitive and Kind! I will Never Forget That!

    March 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  56. Linda

    After just postling my comment, I find myself again openly weeping at my desk at work. The grieving process has never ended and never will.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  57. kent

    I was in a catholic elementarey school & the nuns took the whole school to the gym and told us all what had happened. We prayed a rosary while some of us wept students and teachers, and then we were sent home for the day.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  58. Gayle L.

    To our generation President Kennedy represented promise, and an enlightened future, soon to be (we hoped) free from prejudice. His assasination dimmed the light of that future. We are left with the question of "what if he had lived..." we wouldn't have had Watergate and the mistakes made by future less far-sighted presidents.
    One just has to look at the way Congress works (or doesn't work) now compared to the way it was. So much has been lost – maybe it is time for everyone to remember what he represented and what we could all achieve.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  59. MLF

    I attended a Catholic School and when school resumed after lunch (12:40 CST) the principal announced that President Kennedy had died. Everyone got down on their knees and we prayed. School was dismissed for the day and everyone left in shock and walked home.

    The Sunday after the death of President Kennedy, death I was watching TV with my Dad and we happened to be watching live when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. I was only in 4th grade, but I remember it all so clearly.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  60. Linda

    I was in French lab in High School when it was announced. The shock was indescribable. Once home the entire family sat in front of the television weeping thru the next several days. It was the end of Camelot , the American Dream and nothing has been the same since. All hope was lost and has never quite been found. It was the most profound and tragic incident for Baby Boomers. I remember it like it was yesterday. JFK was our only hope and our hero.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  61. Kirby Oblachinski

    I was walking home from elementary school in S.C when a friend ran up to me and my friends and informed us about the shooting of our President. I ran home and the first thing I saw was Walter Cronkite on our living room T.V confirming the death of President Kennedy.The next day was Saturday and it rained all day and it seemed as though the world stood still.My Father worked part-time for K mart and we drove him to work and all day the store was virtually empty.As a Roman Catholic I was taught to say my rosary over and over again praying for the Kennedy family.I hope our nation never has to endure the death of a President especialy by assasination.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  62. Susan

    I was one of those who wrote Mrs. Kennedy. My husband and I were were so excited as we we going to a big steak dinner evet in Austin after their Dallas visit. We were 20 year old 'kids' ;he was in Texas Law School and working as a Disc Jockey at a local radio station; I was working to help him through Law School for the Texas Highway Dept. We were on the phone planning our evening when he saw the teletype going off and the annoucement that the President had been shot in Dallas. His death and the grief of Jacqueline was so personal to me that I wrote her a sympathy card. I remember fearing that I would lose touch with her and her children and saying in my letter that I hoped she would accept an ambassadorhip somewhere, possibly France.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  63. Dawn

    This is a response to the "Marcus". Marcus wrote " Our country changed that day, and really hasnt got any better since then."
    We have an African American President, just 47 years later. Our country has certainly changed, and for the better. We should all be proud.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  64. Vicky Bevis

    Ironic, that my family was one of the millions who didn't vote for him. But the one thing it did to a 16 ( almost 17 ) yr. old girl that day was to make her begin the transition to really growing up. Up until then, Presidential Assassinations were something for musty, old history books & we were SO far beyond that. Even "duck & cover" didn't equate with reality to us "imortals."

    Actually, the shooting was the final act in a play that fall that began to teach me truly about life, its' value & the finality of death. It was really a "kinder & gentler" America at the time. But a friend from our close-knit band (We had repesented the State of Ohio in Kennedy's & later Johnson's Inagural Parade.) had drowned in the Ohio River that Sept. water sking ( no lifejacket ), my favorite Aunt had suddenly in Oct. died of what I still don't know, and then the apex of the tragedies-a President being shot-in REAL time.

    I defy anyone who was old enough to be aware at the time NOT to remember how truly devastating to the country a Presidential Assassination is. Karen knows; I can tell by her paragraph. And I agree with Marcus when he said our country changed that day & and really hasn't gotten any better.

    Today's younger generation remembers 9/11 just like our parents all told us where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbour. I guess these are the definating moments for each generation in history.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  65. paula

    I was in my senior year when that terrible day happened. It devastated the entire world. My self and part of my family and
    3 other friends later went to Washington for the funeral. I will
    never forget as we stood just pass the White House in the freezing cold, as the procession past us and we knelt and made the sign of the Cross as the horse drawn cassion went by. Jackie actually turned and looked at us, as to acknowledge us. We were right by the curb and were able to see her Ted & Robert right in front of us as the three of then walked together holding hands.
    I will never forget the pain that showed in her face even through
    her black veil.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  66. Steve Roman

    Epilogue ...

    The events of November 22, 1963 are forever etched into the psyche of those who were alive at that seminal moment in American history. As a nation, our indominitable spirit and collective innocence was forever taken from us that fateful day ....and replaced by the fear and the anxiety that has pervaded our country ever since.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  67. Karen, Houston

    I was 13 sitting in a 7th grade math class. Another teacher quietly came into the classroom, whispered to our teacher. Our teacher gasped and began to cry. She dug a transistor radio out of her purse, found the station, and turned the volume up as far as it would go. She stood outside the classroom door and wept silently so we could hear (we could see her through our wall of windows).

    We sat listening silently, tears running down our faces. Presently an announcement came on the PA system that parents were being notified and we could leave school once a parent either called to o.k. us to walk home, take the bus, or came pick us up.

    It was a bright, sunny day in Richmond, VA, but everything seemed muted to me: sounds, people's voices all seemed far away; everyone and every things was in slow motion. It seemed to me that no air moved. I know now, of course, it was my young brain's way of dealing with the shock and sorrow.

    I could see the same stunned look on every face. I lost my trust in adults that day and I knew that the potential for evil in humankind had done it. I was (and am) a devout Christian and it was the first clear evil that I knew of.

    A great stillness came over the country.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  68. ronnie ray jenkins

    My twin sister, and me attended a two-room school in the coal patch of Pennsylvania. I remember when the teacher answered the only phone in the back of the "cloak room." She came to the front of the class, and told us Kennedy was assassinated. It was silent, except for a first grader sitting beside my sister. The girl was sobbing. My sister turned to her, and in a loud voice said, "Was that your Dad?"

    March 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  69. Yenta

    Those of us of a certain age (and I am old enough to remember seeing John F. Kennedy once during the 1960 campaign) will never forget where we were when we found out he had been assassinated. I still find it difficult to speak about it without emotion after over 45 years. There was a lot of negative stuff that was learned later, but seeing TV films of the event immediately sends me back into 1963. I cannot watch films of the funeral without bringing back all the emotion.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  70. Julian

    Does anybody know if Jackie was able to read any of these letters??

    March 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  71. john w. hewett

    We were in Khartoum, Sudan when JFK was shot. The Sudanese that we knew were all just devastated...a lot fasted. They took up some money and sent in letters to Jackie. They were so sad they never got any mail from her. We tried to tell them that Jackie probably never received her mail, that her staff handled these things, but they had put their hearts so much into this for her, they just couldn't comprehend that she would not know that they personally felt so bad.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  72. nenecats Houston

    I was in junior high. I was so proud that President Kennedy was coming to Texas and my hometown of San Antonio. I was so
    surprised to learn years later that they were apprehensive about
    coming to Texas. It was devistating to the country. Congressman
    Gonzalez brought my school one the flags that flew in Washington
    while Pres. Kennedy lie in state. How different our country would
    be today if Pres. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy
    would have lived.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  73. wendy

    i wrote a letter to jackie way back when, and i received a response with a photo – which my mother framed for me. i still have it.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  74. walleye

    Two terrible days will always live in my memory. The death of JFK and 9/11. Man has not changed much over the centuries, only the way in which he continues to kill his fellow man. I saw a clip that Tom Brokaw put together about the people of Gander Canada, and how they opened their hearts, wallets and homes to all the planes that HAD to land there on 9/11. It shows that there are kind and caring people still remaining in this world. They should be the ones that inspire us during our darkest days.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  75. wm scot

    While alot has been said about this man and his errors in his personal judgement, he was a great communicator and wanted the best for our country. I was 14 when I saw him in person and 16 when he was murdered. I hurt for a very long time and it seemed like it never went away with Vietnam, RFK and MLK. We never came back from that day in Novemeber and we are still suffering from it .
    We have a man in office that has alot of his attributes. We just have to make sure he can get the job done.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  76. Barbara

    What a shame so many of the letters were destroyed, but I enjoyed this sampling.

    I'll always remember hearing of the assassination from a schoolmate. Assassination wasn't even a part of our vocabulary up until that moment. I couldn't quite grasp for a moment that our President was dead.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  77. steven

    the world lost a great man, but with his death came great changes that were installed in us. even tho he has past he will live on forever in our hearts and minds. he was a true leader. one of the greats like MR regan. my heart goes out to the ones who also suffered along side of him, the nation. i was not born during this time but would have wish to have a man like Mr. Regan and Mr. kennedy run for office while i serve my country in this great nation. we need more people like him to make changes for our nation. thank you cnn for reminding us what we lost. cause we gained a president lost a hero to many. just hope we as a netion dont forget as the years come.....................

    March 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  78. Charlotte, NC

    I was in 10th grade, in English class. First class after lunch, everybody was not interested in education at that hour. A guy known as a joker came to class late, and had been in the office to get the excuse slip. After he presented the slip to the teacher he turned around and said to the class "the President has been shot!". Lots of students called his name and said "that's not funny–don't say that!" He replied in a subdued fashion–very unlike him– "It's true". Then the principal came on the intercom to make the announcement. He then put the news over the intercom and the whole school stopped and listened. About 20 minutes later the official announcement that Kennedy had died was made. It was a Thursday and schools were closed in Charlotte on Friday.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  79. Mary

    I was 16 in 10th gd. My family & I were traveling to Fl for my brother's wedding. The whole week of pre-wedding festivities had a heartsick
    pall over them. To this day it is hard to celebrate their anniversay
    without remembering that awful day!

    March 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  80. gary from chicago

    I was 8 when President Kennedy was assassinated and anyone who was present at that time knows that this tragic event had a profound effect on us. I have never forgotten where I was when the news came and the images on television had a nation riveted in collective grief. These letters are heartwarming and truly reflect the mood of that terrible day in November, 1963.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  81. Cybersport

    I was in the first grade.. We weren't told at school; my mother told me when I arrived home that afternoon.....

    A s a nation, we started to our innocence that day

    March 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  82. Daisy

    I have to admit, it's kind of uplifting to hear about so many sympathetic Americans! Why, hasn't this been on the news? I can hear about a tsunami warning in Hawaii almost interesting but it takes the news decades to publish a great story like this? I guess, thats America! Thanks Carol!

    March 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  83. Jenny

    JFK was a classy, pro-life president with a beautiful family and exciting plans for the country. The day he died is etched in so many of our memories. I sat in front of my television as an 18 year old and saw Cronkite weep as he announced the horrible news. I watched as Lee Harvey Oswald was escorted down the jail hallway and Jack Ruby jumped out and shot before our eyes! I watched little John, Jr. salute his father's casket...then the funeral procession with Jackie, RFK and Teddy walking behind the casket, with the riderless horse and the somber music as the cortege moved through the streets of Washington. Everyone's heart was broken further as we watched the beautiful widow Jackie a few days later come on national tv and with swollen eyes from crying, thank everyone for their prayers and letters of support. Those letters obviously meant a lot to her and this new book sharing some of them with all of us will be most welcome.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  84. Paul

    It was a tragedy, and unfortunately the people behind the assasination have never been brought to justice. When is the government going to release all the information about the assasination so we the people of this country will finally know the truth and how the truth was covered up. Too bad the major players/masterminds(e.g. Jimmy Hoffa, Carlos Marcello, Santos Trafficante Jr., members of the CIA) has already passed away without being held accountable for this act of violence.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  85. Charles E. Johnson

    Our country has definitely changed since then. And not for the better. I was 5 years old and my Mom had passed away and there were 5 of us. We all had to be split up to various homes. And my father had to go away because he was overcome with grief. 1963 was a horrible year all around, and I don't know how my father was able to get himself back together but a year later he did and we were all joined back together again as a family. Those times were hard, and violent. What a shame that in this world that we all share - we can't live for one another - instead of trying to kill one another. Life's innocence today is reflected thru my grandson's eyes and I only hope that his future was brighter than mine was. My Dad is gone now to join my Mom in heaven, but I will forever remember the year 1963 and how my Dad - my hero pulled us all out of the darkness by the Grace of God.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  86. Margie

    J.F. Kennedy will always remain in my heart...
    President J.F. Kennedy was a great mentor.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  87. kevin

    I agree with marcus.I was 7 in gainsville, fla, and everything for the adults stopped that day.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  88. david

    It was a tragic event, and Mrs. Kennedy was the pillar of what a "first lady" should be – something that has yet to be equaled by any first lady since. No one will ever know exactly what kind of president JFK would have been, and while I think he was a good president during his short term, it is well known that he was not the most upstanding/decent man.
    It is refreshing to know that so many people reached out to Mrs. Kennedy...especailly since we now know what kind of marriage she had to the president behind the closed doors.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  89. Charlie

    This was the last president who stood up to the plutocracy for the American People. I wonder to think what would be if he was not killed.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  90. Evelyn

    I saw the President on my 16th birthday, Nov 21, the day before it happened. It was such a special day followed by such sorrow that still echoes.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  91. Jim

    Interesting story. I would rather see a story on the real culprits involved. How convenient is it that many records are sealed for 50-75 years after the event. How is this a real democracy if elections are nullified with a bullet? You are living in a fantasy world if you think this is a true democracy. Seriously, JFK, RFK, MLK, all just victims of crazy lone gunmen? We need new laws to strip all inheritances from descendants of the true perpetrators of these injustices regardless of the time that has passed.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  92. Michael Isaac

    I was in the sixth grade on 11/22/1963 and I will never forget that day as long as I have a memory. I am convinced that the assassination of President Kennedy was the worst thing that ever happened the United States people. Had he have lived I believe he would have ended the Viet Nam war and how many lives could have been saved by that? Such a tragedy.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  93. Michael Juneau Alaska

    I, like Karin am 62 years of age and was devastated over the assasination of JFK. It was also the day of my Dad's birthday and it was the only time I can remember I saw him cry. I too, wrote a condolence letter to Jackie Kennedy tha expressed my heartfelt sorrow. I was a newspaper boy and I remember I had to look at the headlines of President Kennedy's assasination every time I took a paper out of my bag to deliver to my customers. And yes; then we had to live through MLK and RFK. The impressions and the impact of their deaths are still with me to this day. I love the title of Karin's poem and I still have my beautiful response from Jackie framed and hanging on my office wall.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  94. PT Byrd

    In 1963 I was a junior in high school and sitting in English class when a announcement came over the school intercom that the President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. A short time later another announcement came that the President was dead. I remember my English teacher laying her head on her arms at her desk and crying, and school was cancelled for the day.

    The one thing about the funeral cortage I'll never, ever forget was the cadence of the drums, for hours on end as Kennedy's casket made its way down the street in Washington heading toward Arlington Cemetery. And at the tender age of 17 I realized my own mortality for the first time.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  95. Linda C.

    I was a 17 year old junior at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth in 1963. Our band played for the President and Mrs. Kennedy at the Hotel Texas on that terrible day. I waited with a crowd in the lobby of the hotel to catch a glimpse of the President, the First Lady, VP Johnson, Lady Bird, John Connally and Nellie Connally and was rewarded when Mrs. Kennedy shook my hand. I'll never forget that moment given what happened a few hours later in Dallas. The assassination was devasting to me because the Kennedy's were so vibrant and alive with enthusiasm for this country. It was a life-changing event for me and made me more conscious of hate and violence present in the U. S. Being a baby boomer of course I came into contact with much disillusionment, violence and cyncism following the assassination but it spurred me to embrace politics and the possibilities when an individual becomes involved in helping others.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  96. Norma

    karin, do you still have the poem send to Jackie Kennedy and the response received from her. This all happened prior to my birth, but I still read what I can on it. I do believe that had Kennedy been elected to a second term, our country would be different today. He had such an impack on many.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  97. marcus

    Our country changed that day, and really hasnt got any better since then.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  98. The CHief From Cali

    We were in Junior High School. I was called by the Parish Monseignor to serve at a prayer vigil. It was still early before 11:00 a.m.
    in California.
    The entire congregation was in the church praying. The saddest part w was that another priest was in the sacrestry beconing me to come from my spot on the altar. I came over to hear him say in a quivering voice that the President is dead. Me a 13 year old having to communicat that to a grownup,knowing first before the rest of the
    entire congregation. I will never forget that.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  99. karin los angeles

    i am 62 and it was one month before my 16th birthday and I was in high school. Somehow we, all found out. I went right home and sat transfixed in front of the television. It was so painful. For everyone. I wrote a poem to Jackie Kennedy and got a response from her. I also entered it into a school contest and won an award for it. It was called "Epitaph for a Hero". Then we had to live thru, MLK and RFK. Bad time for impressionable people like me.

    March 1, 2010 at 7:09 am |
  100. Dan M.

    Very Nice to hear such a positive story after worrying about a friend in Chile (who is OK) for 6 hours on Saturday. Thank you. Now I have to stop at the library on the way home, or put this book on hold at the library...something.

    March 1, 2010 at 6:49 am |
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