GOSHEN — Fifty years is a long time to remember anything, but one event, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was so startling, that even today many people can recall just when and how they heard the terrible news.
“I remember very plain,” said Norm Swihart Monday as he sat waiting for the noontime meal provided by Real Meals at Greencroft’s Manor IV. “I was a custodian/bus driver at Jefferson School, which at this time was grades one to 12. The principal, Harry Smith, called a meeting in the gymnasium and we got all 12 grades of us in there and he made an announcement that Kennedy had been shot. And of course he later died. It was a real sober day.”
That shocking news has been a collective memory for several generations of Americans who were old enough to understand the day’s events at the time.
Swihart, who is 87, was 37 on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald raised an Italian military-surplus rifle and fired three shots at the Kennedy limousine.
“That was probably one of the biggest shocks in my life,” he said.
The assassination not only took Kennedy’s life, but also erased his presidential agenda, some of which was later taken up by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Asked if his generation missed out on Kennedy’s campaign promises, Swihart was quick to respond.
“Oh sure we did,” he said. “We lost a lot. I think he was doing a good job.”
Just through a doorway from where Swihart sat in a waiting room, a group of women circled their chairs around a large table to sip coffee and chat up the day’s events, something they do often.
“I was at work,” said Jane Nagle of where she was at when she heard the news of the assassination five decades ago. “One of the mechanics or something came by and told us Kennedy was shot.”