The Kennedy Assassination: 40 years later

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 22, 2003

A nation’s heart continues to be gripped by the incessant power of a legacy as the 40th anniversary of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death is remembered around the world.

For the past several days, much ink, video footage, and talk has been devoted to JFK and that abrupt, unforgettable day in United States history when its youngest president ever elected was killed in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, at his side. Those who lived out those ever-present scenes in close proximity or via television have been impacted for life with the image and aftermath of a fallen president.

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At the Suffolk News-Herald on Nov. 22, 1963, things were and continue to be no different. This day would come to penetrate the minds and hearts of those responsible for ensuring that local residents received in-depth coverage of the tragedy.

On that day, as an afternoon paper was already on the press, James B. Boone Jr., now owner of the hometown newspaper, on Friday recalled a bell sounding on the Associated Press wire machine alerting the staff of the unthinkable – President Kennedy had been shot.

&uot;Shock and disbelief&uot; were words Boone used to describe that instant, which later evolved into the reality that the president had succumbed to the bullet wounds.

Boone, at that time the News-Herald’s publisher and editor, was scheduled to speak at a regional meeting of funeral directors at the Lee-Jordan Club House on Pitchkettle Road. Instead of the planned topic, he spoke of Kennedy’s untimely death at the function.

&uot;It was a shaken, sober group, one that in other times had quite a good time in a business/social gathering,&uot; he added. &uot;That evening was different.

&uot;I recall wondering why they did not cancel the meeting, came home that evening being glad they held it, glad I went. It was a good demonstration, to me, of a diverse group of people putting politics aside and all being cut deeply by a national tragedy.&uot;

Photographer Harvey White, employed with the News-Herald part-time in composing/page make-up at that time, vividly remembers the moment the news broke.

&uot;Everyone was running around all over the building saying that `Kennedy has been shot.’ Papers were pulled to redesign the front page to include the breaking story of Kennedy’s death.&uot;

Aside from the work that had to be done, it was indeed an emotional day at the News-Herald and throughout the country.

&uot;It was emotional for everybody around here. Nobody even wanted to believe it when we first heard it,&uot; said White.

Lawrence Lewis, a now-retired press operator for the News-Herald, says Nov. 22, 1963, is forever registered in his mind.

&uot;We were running the paper and Harvey (White) said to stop the press, that John F. Kennedy has been shot! We didn’t know his condition and we stopped the press,&uot; recalled Lewis. &uot;We waited a little while and when we heard the news again, he had died.

&uot;We remade the front page and then rolled out a remake. Quite a few tears were shed.&uot;

According to Boone, &uot;News-Herald employees in that period were very close, one to the other. I recall the leadership of Spike Moore in the news area, Willie Aswell, Raleigh Piland in composition, Willie Moore in the pressroom, and Lee Shaver, circulation manager. They all stepped up to provide a product for News-Herald readers that I felt was excellent for that size newspaper.&uot;

Kennedy, in part known for his world peace efforts and equal rights agenda, is also remembered for his directive to Americans to &uot;Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.&uot;

As president, Kennedy had his supporters and non-supporters. But on the day of his death, dividing lines took a back seat as grief took center stage.

&uot;The Suffolk-Nansemond community, in my judgment and recollection, was divided between people who appreciated and supported President Kennedy, and people who did not,&uot; said Boone.

&uot;I happened to be one who felt he was more right than wrong.

&uot;But I recall a community that was in unison shocked, horrified and greatly saddened by what occurred.&uot;

And indeed the Suffolk community was saddened. So much so that a group of local businessmen, led by Steve Carnes, purchased a full-page ad to mourn the loss of President Kennedy, Boone remembered.

&uot;The people behind the ad, to my recollection, covered a full range of political feeling, another expression of unity for our area and county in mourning a national tragedy,&uot; he added.

Today, the public remains fascinated with the late John F. Kennedy, his legacy, continued theories and investigations into his controversial death. Forty years after his death, many still contend Kennedy’s assassination robbed the country of its true potential.

&uot;Kennedy was the only one doing something for the country, minorities and working people. Things have gone downhill like a roller coaster since his death,&uot; said Lewis. &uot;My late mother-in-law said after his death that things were never going to be right any more.

&uot;And she was right.&uot;