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Xavier Magazine | September 2, 2014

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50 Years Later: The JFK Assassination

50 Years Later: The JFK Assassination
By Michael Shaw

Xavier’s campus was quiet at 1:30 p.m., Nov. 22, 1963. Clouds and rain were rolling in. The temperature hovered at 58 degrees.

Students were registering for spring semester classes and heading into Thanksgiving weekend. The football Muskies were gearing up for their final game at Bowling Green.

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Those listening to 700 WLW heard Fred Bernard interrupt his show “Tunepike” with this message: “There’s a bulletin just handed me from Dallas. An unknown sniper fired three shots at President Kennedy. Kennedy seriously wounded.”

Those watching “As The World Turns” saw their live television broadcast program replaced with the voice of Walter Cronkite: “President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.”

To those who were on campus and recall that day, the impact may have been softened by time, but the impressions remain.

David Hellkamp, longtime professor of psychology, was a graduate student at the time and recalls, “I had just walked into the office of my thesis chairman, John Marr, to discuss possible topics. There was another fellow sitting there, a neurologist at UC. All of a sudden, there was a knock at the door. A woman was standing there, crying. She blurted out, ‘President Kennedy has just been shot.’ We were stunned. The neurologist, however, then asked, ‘Where was he shot? Do you know?’ She said, ‘In the head.’ And I remember him saying, ‘That’s not good.’ ”

For psychology professor Earl Kronenberger, this was the best and worse of days. “On Nov. 22, 1962, I got married. Fast forward, it’s Nov. 22, 1963. In the morning, I said to my wife, ‘This is our first anniversary. We’ll go out to dinner and be happy.’

“I can still see myself sitting there, working at the office. Somebody came running into our office and said Kennedy was shot. We were all shocked. This is what happens when you have a tremendous trauma.”

[Read the Xavier News Special Edition from November 1963 about the assassination.]

Hellkamp saw and felt the same shock. “Students, faculty, staff just spontaneously starting to walk toward the chapel.”

Professor Gerald Quatman felt the same group reaction.

“We were just so shocked. We thought of Kennedy as being the perfect president—young, handsome. The savior of the country because of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

And despite deep political divisions prevalent on campus at the time, Kronenberger remembers how, “Everybody empathized with what was going on. There was no such thing as politics. There was more of a feeling that something was happening to the United States that wasn’t allowed to be. But yet it was.”

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