, Derry, New Hampshire


November 22, 2012

Column: Remembering a day that shocked the nation

My father always remembered exactly where he was when Pearl Harbor was attacked. And I can tell you where I was standing when I heard of the death of President Kennedy in Dallas.

On the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, about 2 o’clock I was taking a smoke break in the shipping dock at the Chase Mill in Derry Village. Someone had a radio on when the announcement came in. Immediately all of us mill workers went silent; several of these tough working men had to wipe their eyes as they welled up; one man just sat on the bench, staring at nothing, saying a one-word obscenity, over and over again. Democrat or Republican, it didn’t matter, our president was dead.

With in minutes of the announcement, Father Giguere at Derry’s St. Thomas Aquinas Church led the school’s students to the church to offer prayers for the soul of the late president, for his family, the government and “for each individual citizen who must bear the burden of the dark deed that was done.” At Pinkerton, at Hood, Floyd and Grinnell schools, the announcement was made to the stunned children there would be no school on Monday because of the president’s funeral.

Soon the town of Derry began to shut down. The majority of our businesses sent its workers home early. Most people that night sat quietly listening to the TV eager for more facts about the assassination. The Derry News said the “people were obviously dumbfounded with shock and grief. Many wept openly.” The Derry Star reflected that the town “was like a community of the living dead.”

All weekend the mourning continued. Newspapers at Nelson’s Paper Store were sold out early. In every living room, our people were tuned into Walter Cronkite or Howard K. Smith to find out about the funeral arrangements. Many of us were watching when Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby. Many of us stayed up late to watch the Kennedy casket being unloaded in Washington. Many of us cried when we thought of Jackie, Caroline and little John-John. We all felt we were personally part of a sad moment in history. The town’s churches had memorial services on Saturday and Sunday.

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