“Here is a bulletin from CBS News,” the familiar voice of Walter Cronkite said 55 years ago when the TV network interrupted the daytime soap opera “As the World Turns.”
“In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas,” he said, with viewers seeing only the words “CBS News Bulletin” on their black and white TV screens. “The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”
They’re called “flashpoint moments,” moments in time where a person knows exactly where they were and what they were doing, and Charles Kerr of Hillsboro vividly remembers the events of that Friday afternoon so long ago.
“I was working the second shift at Westinghouse Electric in Columbus,” he told The Times-Gazette. “I rode with a group of guys to work, and we were in between Washington Court House and Mount Sterling when we heard it over the radio that the president had been shot.”
Kerr was 22 years old at the time and lived with his parents in Greenfield, and compared the events of Nov. 22, 1963 with those of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I witnessed 9/11 on television as it happened,” he said, “and both events were shockers, and you just couldn’t believe that something like that could happen.”
Now 77 years old, Kerr makes his home on Hill Road near Rocky Fork Lake, but doesn’t remember if his employer made him work his shift that night.
According to articles that appeared in the Nov. 23, 1963, edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer, most businesses closed and schools dismissed early that Friday afternoon, and remained closed on Monday in honor of Kennedy’s funeral.
Highland County Commissioner Terry Britton remembers being in the seventh grade and living on Bridges Road in the Leesburg schools.
“We were sitting in Mrs. Bryant’s class,” he remembered, “and the superintendent at the time was (Highland County Juvenile and Probate Court) Judge (Kevin) Greer’s father and the principal was John Burton, and they came into the classroom and made the announcement that the president had been shot and taken to the hospital.”
He said the events that unfolded “left everybody shaken, sad, and it was a very gray day for the United States.”
Commissioner Jeff Duncan remembers being 10 years old at the time and sitting in class in Leesburg watching a television set, which was still a novelty in most classrooms of the day.
“They broke into the educational programming we were watching and made the announcement of the shooting in Dallas,” he said. “I don’t think any of us kids who were watching realized how serious this was and what the ramifications would be in years to come.”
The youngest member of the board of commissioners, Gary Abernathy, said he was 7 years old and in the second grade at Lynchburg-Clay when his teacher, Mrs. Mercer, told his class what had happened.
“I remember the bus ride home and the kids saying all sorts of different things,” he said. “The main thing I remember is getting back to the farm where we lived, and my mother was watching the little black and white TV set on the kitchen counter while Dad was out in the field or in the barn working.”
Coverage of the aftermath of Kennedy’s murder dominated the three television networks that weekend.
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley was a senior at Lynchburg-Clay and recalls what happened two days later on Sunday, Nov. 24.
“I remember on that Sunday, when we first got home from church, we went right to the living room and turned the TV on,” he said. “Mom was fixing lunch, and all of sudden I heard my brother yelling because he saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on live TV.”
He said President Kennedy’s assassination changed the way things operated, the way government was done and the perception of how television could be used.
“And it changed the country,” he said. “Look at all that’s happened since then; we’ve never been the same.”
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