Had you have gone to Union 51 years ago during the chilling days of November, you would have been in the middle of a national crisis and somber historical episode.
If you had a television within your grasp on Nov. 22, 1963, and turned to CBS at 2:37 p.m., you would have seen lead anchor Walter Cronkite announce to the nation that the 38th President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was confirmed dead at 1:00 p.m. after being shot three times during his drive through Dallas, Texas.
Newspapers were flying off the press, sharing headlines that read “President Shot Dead” or “President Dead, Shot by Assassin.”
In a poll done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago a week after the death of the beloved president, it was concluded that more than 50 percent of the nation (roughly 90 million people) said to have “shed tears in the four days between Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.”
The nation deeply mourned the loss of their leader and Union was no exception.
An article headlined “Union Reacts in Aftermath of President’s Assassination” was published in the Dec. 6, 1963, issue of the Concordiensis.
The author for majority of the article, Paul Sherwin, interviewed several students and professors on their reactions to the president’s death just two weeks earlier.
The tones of almost all the students and professors were the same: shocked and disheartened.
For Donald Schwartz, a member of the Class of 1967, his “first reaction to the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was one of disbelief and shock.” To him, “such events occur in sterile history books and imaginative novels; certainly never during one’s own lifetime.”
This belief was shared between students and professors.
Chair of the Department of Philosophy in 1963 Professor Sven Peterson “felt, like most people, disbelief … for as the facts became clear the killing became more pointless.”
Along with disbelief, many Union members felt disgusted with the nature of man.
A junior during the time of the assassination, Robert Hoffman believed “the President’s death [was] far more than a personal and national tragedy. It [was] a reminder of man’s continuing refusal to recognize his own destructive drives, and his subsequent failure to eliminate war and bigotry from human dealings.”
Head of the Department of Economics Professor Abbott concluded that the killing of Kennedy and of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, shortly following the shooting was “symptomatic of the same sort of thing, on a milder scale: the general increase in vandalism. [The assassinations are] an impulsive way of expressing dissatisfaction.”
Most of the general public and much of Union would have agreed with history Professor Joseph Finkelstein that “President Kennedy was a great man, and history will judge him as such.”
The funeral of this “great man” was held on Nov. 25, 1963. Of the hundreds of thousands of people who attended, there was a small group of Union students who ventured down to Washington, D.C., to see the president one last time.
One of the students who made the trip, David Berenson, said of his trip to Washington, D.C., “We were on the thruway, not really knowing why we were going.”
Some explanations for the sudden journey soon arose. Berenson claimed they were going due to “deep respect of the late president” but also believed it may have been to be “present when a tragic but highly important historical event took place.” Even though baffled as to why, the small group of student arrived in the Capitol around 11 a.m.
Berenson described the day, saying “The most eerie part of the whole day was the two hours of waiting for the funeral procession to arrive.”
As they waited, “the crowd was unusually quiet.” Berenson saw a man standing in front of him who had arrived at 10:15 a.m. “He was engaged in mainly trying to comfort his son,” Berenson recalled, “who was crying silently, tears just rolling down his cheeks.”
Shortly after 1:00 p.m., Berenson heard the “muffled drums become distinct, and a complete hush fell over the crowd.” He recollected “a few people began to sob as a band struck up ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and a 21-gun salute was fired.” But, Berenson remembered “most, however, just stood completely silent.”
Everyone at the ceremony had remained silent in the Rotunda, and the only thing Berenson could hear was the “sound of the eulogies coming from the radio.”
Following the exit of Jacqueline Kennedy, the president’s widow, the silence erupted into chaos as people fought to see the nation’s beloved son before his burial.
Union students estimated that the wait to see the president’s body was five hours, and the Union students left the Capitol, deciding not to return for the burial.
To this day, the death of President Kennedy is still a very saddening subject for many Americans.
As Paul Sherwin wrote in his opening line of the article from the Concordiensis, “The death of our nation’s leader has cast a dark and menacing cloud over all of us.”