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Early ‘60s grads remember JFK

By Staff | Nov 21, 2008

They lived on the cusp of optimism. They lived on the cusp of despair. Never did a generation have so much reason for hope, only to have it dashed by war, inflation and civil conflict.

The Estherville High School classes of the early 1960s were filled with energy. Soon they would be in college, working (many at Morrell’s) and some in the military which was fine because there was no war going on … yet.

And then everything changed overnight. The generation that had the world at its feet now viewed a darkness that some say still prevails the national mood.

The students had just finished lunch. Lockers banged as they grabbed books and the guys hurried to make last-minute dates. It was Friday, the best night of the week.

Then shortly 12:30, the announcement came over the intercom.

“The president has been shot.”

Not long after, there was another message.

“The president is dead.”

It was 45 years ago today that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the nation’s 35th president was assassinated. America would never be the same.

Robert Hockett, whose career has included 20 years of driving over the road, was finishing up a few classes a Estherville High School that fall. He recalls the moment the president was killed.

“I was in class, study hall, in 1963 when they announced it over the PA system. They gave some information regarding what happened and who did it. I got most of the information when I got home from both the radio and TV. I don’t remember much else,” Hockett said.

“Everybody was in shock. It got people thinking that a thing like that could happen,” he said.

Hockett has his own theory behind the Kennedy assassination.

“I think that Johnson wanted that war and Kennedy didn’t so he wanted rid of him.”

After that was Vietnam.

“It’s the endless war. And this one (Iraq) is too,” Hockett said.

Estherville City Administrator Steve Woodley recalls that he was in band practice when the announcement came over the PA.

“It was a shock to everybody,” Woodley said. “That’s all I can remember about it. It certainly was a very sad moment for everybody.”

Woodley readily remembers President Kennedy’s charisma.

“He seemed to be a very charismatic and popular president at the time,” Woodley said.

Woodley isn’t sure whether the course of the Vietnam Conflict would have been different had Kennedy remained in office. As popular as Kennedy was once he was elected, chances are excellent he would have served another term.

Karen Butler, now serving on the Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District Board of Education, was in the band room along with Woodley when Principal Walter Hammer announced over the PA that the president had been shot.

“We were all stunned. Everybody was quiet,” Butler said. “None of us felt like playing after that. But we did. The rest of the day was useless.”

Butler believes the entire national mood changed after the Kennedy assassination.

“Oh Lord yes. It definitely did,” she said. “It was such a shock, the last thing we would have expected. It just kind of woke us up and made us realize the world was not as innocent as we thought.”

Butler remembers coming home and turning on the television just at the moment when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s believed assassin. She called her mother and father. “We just stood watching the TV,” Butler said.

Butler remains undecided as to whether she believes the findings of the Warren Commission report. “I just don’t know about that,” she ponders.

The Warren Commission came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he fired the shots that killed the president.

Today, many Americans no longer believe the Warren Commission findings. The Assassination Records Review Board criticized the autopsy on several grounds including destruction the burning of the original draft of the autopsy report and notes taken by Cmdr. James Humes at the time of the autopsy were destroyed. There was also a failure to maintain a proper chain of evidence of autopsy materials.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president and successor, began his presidency with a message of hope. He called for a Great Society in which hunger and disease would vanish from America.

Instead, within two years of Kennedy’s assassination, America was at war in South Vietnam.

Kennedy set the tone not only for the rest of the decade but for the millennium and beyond. His inaugural address in January 1961 called for a strong national defense. For nearly two decades, the U.S. has been the world’s only military superpower. Kennedy set a goal of America putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s which it did on July 20, 1969.

And so his legacy continues…