The day Kennedy was shot: Through the eyes of a 10-year-old

News-DemocratNovember 22, 2013 

Editor's note: Joe Ostermeier, the News-Democrat's digital editor and sports columnist, was a 10-year-old in fifth grade at Our Lady Queen of Peace Grade School in Belleville in November 1963.

I don't remember much of anything about Cindy Collins.

Except she was the classmate who burst through the door of my fifth-grade homeroom with a shocking sentence.

"President Kennedy's been shot."

Fifty years later, that weekend remains a stark memory for any of us old enough to have lived through Nov. 22, 1963, and the days that followed.

I remember the rain that Friday in Belleville, rain that forced us inside for lunch recess. That's why we were inside when the word came.

I remember the television Mrs. Johnson rolled into our classroom, and the students from Mrs. Brady's class coming across the hall to watch with us.

I remember all of us kneeling and praying for our first Catholic president, no small thing in a small parochial school in a small town in the early 1960s.

I remember no more school work that day, and a crazy image stuck in my 10-year-old head: The thought of a gunman loose somewhere on the rooftops of Dallas, getting away while everyone searched for him.

I remember the silent ride home in the car with my brother, John, and stepmom. Not a word.

I remember waiting on the porch for the Belleville News-Democrat to arrive, a late edition of the afternoon newspaper that day.

KENNEDY ASSASSINATED, it said, and back then it was startling to see so much detail so quickly in my hands. I still have that crumbling issue of the newspaper, and a copy of it hangs on the wall in our newsroom.

I remember the black and white Zenith television set in our basement, my parents sitting silently and watching nonstop coverage of the funeral preparations, clips of hastily prepared recaps of Kennedy's life, and images of silent mourners moving past a casket in the Capitol rotunda.

I remember my father turning off the set, and turning away. Only to turn it back on 10 minutes later. I remember it was the first time I could remember him looking sad, and not afraid to show that to his children.

I remember Mass that Sunday at Queen of Peace, and an odd thing they'd done: A casket covered in an American flag sitting in the center aisle before the altar. I remember Father Driscoll asking us to pray for the president's soul, and his widow, and his children. I remember the Mass cards with Kennedy's face on them, and how we all grabbed one.

I remember we were off school that Monday, and I remember the sunlit funeral procession showing on our television set, car after car following the horse-drawn casket around the Lincoln Memorial and into Arlington Cemetery.

I remember how quiet it was in the house, even with the TV on constantly, and how quiet it was in our neighborhood.

I don't remember much of anything about Cindy Collins.

Except that I'll never forget her.

Joe Ostermeier can be reached at 618-239-2512 or at jostermeier@bnd.com

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