NHS alumni gather to recall Kennedy death

by Wes Mayer

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From left are Stephen Quesinberry, Chip Barron, Linda Thomas Cooke, Connie Flanigan, Janice Hawk, Martha Lee Child and Rick Melville.

With Friday marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, many memorial services were held around the United States.

In Dal las , 5,000 people joined for a memorial in Dealey Plaza, the location of the infamous assassination in 1963. According to WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas, the memorial lasted the entire day, beginning with a breakfast at the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel, where Kennedy gave one of his last speeches, and ending in Dealey Plaza, where he was shot around 1:30 p.m.

According to CNN, the flags flew at half-staff in Washington, D.C., over the Capitol Building and the White House, and a special video music tribute was played to visitors of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum followed by a moment of silence at 2 p.m., the time when doctors announced the president had passed.

For many, even after 50 years, memories of that tragic day will never fade. On Friday, Newnan High School teacher Stephen Quesinberry invited six alumni - Rick Melville, Linda Thomas Cooke, Janice Hawk, Chip Barron, Martha Lee Child and Connie Flanagan - to recall their memories of the day for students in his Vietnam War cla s s . Current Newnan High School teacher Barbara Landreth also spoke about her memories.

'I remember we were all quiet,' Landreth said. 'We just sat, and we didn't even look at each other.'

Landreth was only in her second year of teaching, she said, and she recalls one of her students returning from an orthodontist appointment in Atlanta reporting the news. She said she didn't believe her student, but shortly after, Principal O.P. Evans came over the school's loudspeaker, and reported the president of the United States had been shot.

The six guests, who were all in high school at the time, each took turns recalling their memories of the day. Melville spoke about how he remembered hearing the announcement at 1:30 p.m., but there was no way to know for sure until the nightly news at 7.

'I think this marked the beginning of the idea of 24-hour news,' Melville said. At that time, there were no cell phones, no fax machines and there might have only been one television in the entire high school.

'I thought it must have been and accident,' Cooke said. 'It's all it could be.'

Cooke recalled how fondly everyone thought of Kennedy, and it was devastating to hear the news.

'The president and his family were the closest family this country ever had to royalty,' Cooke said. 'We put them on a pedestal.'

Hawk remembered how everyone was stunned and shocked, and nobody wanted to go back to school. She said Kennedy was the first president she really cared about, and she was devastated when he was assassinated.

'He was the one who got me interested in politics,' Hawk said.

Barron talked about how everyone admired Kennedy for getting people involved in their country and doing good things around the world, and for handling the Cuban Missile Crisis and making sure the United States was never attacked. He said he, too, was devastated when he heard the news, but remembers going home to play football with friends afterwards.

'I remember a lot of shock,' he said. 'Some people were crying, and some people even cheered because they didn't like him.'

Barron also recalled how on the Sunday after the assassination he came home from church and saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on national television. He said it was the first time and only time he ever saw someone die on television.

'I never had another president that I loved like Kennedy,' Child said. 'For us, he was a god, and he looked like a god, too.'

Child remembered how she was working in the library when she heard the announcement, and ran to the nearest class to hear the news.

'I sat there in shock,' she said. 'And later, I sat in front of my television and cried.'

Child said she was so mad with Oswald being shot because he deserved a more fitting punishment.

Flanagan remembered the day being a turning point for her generation.

'We really grew up then,' she said. 'It's still unbelievable that something like that would happen in America. He was the first president I really cared about. I really hope y'all don't have to go through something like that,' she said to the students.

Students then asked questions to the alumni about other memories they had of the time. Overall, they remembered it being tough and depressing, with Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy being assassinated later, but nothing compared to the assassination of Kennedy.

They remembered being afraid of a nuclear attack, and would go to the cafeteria for shelter. At one point, they remembered hearing an explosion that shattered windows throughout the county, and they thought Russia had bombed America. It turned out the explosion came from the Bonnell Aluminum plant.

After the assassination, the alumni remembered the biggest changes to be the Civil Rights Movement, followed by the Vietnam War. Melville and Barron remembered having to register for the draft and praying they would not be selected to join the army.

The alumni were also asked who they thought was behind the assassination. For the most part, they all believe Oswald was the shooter, but they also shared they thought he had help from someone else.

'After 50 years, we still don't really know what happened,' Cooke said.



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