11/22/13 — The day the president died

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The day the president died

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 22, 2013 1:46 PM

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Lola Delbridge holds the Nov. 22, 1963, edition of the Goldsboro News-Argus that breaks the news to the readers that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

For many Wayne County residents who lived it, the day they heard the news of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is still etched in their minds -- a jarring, disturbing and sad memory of the day when the country lost its leader to a gunman's bullet.

Dr. and Mrs. Matthew Delbridge

Lola Delbridge, church historian at the First Baptist Church in Goldsboro, was pulling into her driveway as she heard the news.

"I had been to my sister's and brought my mother home. My daughter was 9 years old. She came running out of the house as I pulled into the drive screaming, 'Mama, Mama, the president has been killed,'" Mrs. Delbridge said.

"I just thought it was so unfortunate."

Mrs. Delbridge, wife of Dr. Matthew Delbridge, said she could not imagine someone killing their own president.

"It was a real emotional shock, the uncertainty of what was going to happen," she said.

Dr. Delbridge was working the day the president died in Dallas. He heard the news flash over the radio.

"Well, I was saddened to hear it, of course, but there were the responsibilities the day and I went on about my business," he said. "I knew he'd been shot, but I did not get the significance of it until I got home that night."

Mrs. Delbridge said times were different then. Something so tragic was not news people expected to hear.

"You knew people; you trusted each other. Handshakes were contracts, and doors were left unlocked," she said.

Dr. Delbridge painted the same picture on a more worldly scale.

"Those days everything was in flux. We (America) were competitive with Russia, there was Cuba. It was one saga after another and you were not sure how one thing would affect the other."

Mrs. Delbridge managed to hold onto more than just memories from that fateful day 50 years ago today.

She kept the front pages of the News-Argus and News and Observer reports of the assassination, and a copy of the Time magazine front issued just a few days later.

"It was just so surreal. It can't really be put into words," she said.

Even those who delivered the news to the nation were affected emotionally by the announcement, the Delbridges recalled.

"One thing that really hit home, Walter Cronkite, his voice cracked when he gave the news," Mrs. Delbridge said.

Jane Rustin

When Jane Rustin learned President John F. Kennedy was dead, she wouldn't accept it at first.

"It took a long time to assimilate that this really could have happened," she said. "It wasn't the America I lived in and envisioned it could be."

Ms. Rustin was a senior in high school, and news back then was not instantaneous like it is now. Before learning that the president had died, she held onto the hope that he was not injured that badly.

"Being a kid, I also was thinking that maybe it was all wrong, maybe it didn't really happen," she said. "I was finding it hard to accept that it actually did happen. I was in limbo. I don't remember for how long; I just remember waiting, praying and hoping."

She was home recuperating from surgery, and was glued to her TV.

If not for that, Ms. Rustin would have been on a school trip with her class to Washington, D.C.

"It was a whole lot worse on my classmates in Washington, D.C.," she said. "They abandoned the trip and came home very quickly. They were terrified because no one knew what the extent of the anti-government activity was. They were terrorized while they were there; at least I had the security of family and home."

Ms. Rustin, 67 now, remembers watching the president's funeral -- and still she couldn't accept what had happened.

"Eventually I had to," Ms. Rustin said. "But I kept wishing the car had gone on another route or there had been another outcome.

"Watching Cronkite on TV, I'll never forget it. I can close my eyes and still see Cronkite talking about the president being dead. I'll never forget it."

Ms. Rustin said when it was officially confirmed that the president was dead, it was like the whole world just stopped.

"What it really was was a psychological effect," she said. "It seemed like the world would never be quite as safe, secure and predictable. I was on the edge of the first baby boomers, and it affected how we saw the world. We realized things could happen.

"I think among the people I knew while living on Long Island at that time, the result was an increased sense of patriotism, people wanting to do something for their country, thinking about the Peace Corps and service like that."

Keith Stewart

Keith Stewart remembers exactly where he was when he first heard the words, "The president has been shot."

"I was in fourth grade, in Mrs. Yelverton's class," he said. "Even though I remember exactly where I was, the afternoon is very foggy to me. The rest of the day was a blur."

Stewart was sitting in class when suddenly all of the teachers were called out of their rooms.

"It was a very unusual thing, if not unheard of, to leave all of us alone like that," he said. "They came back and told us he had been shot. We didn't know if he had died then."

The class was later told President John F. Kennedy had in fact been killed.

"It was a pretty somber moment. There was not a lot of talking in the class," Stewart said. "They sent us home from school early that day."

When he got home his mother had the television on and was watching the coverage.

"We all stayed inside that day," Stewart said. "Normally we would have been outside playing, but none of us went out to play in the yard."

Stewart says that his outlook on the world changed that day.

"To a fourth-grader, the president is kind of like a super human," he said. "You don't think about them being like a regular person. There is the cliché about the end of innocence, it certainly was. Even as a fourth-grader, it was."

He said that he didn't understand the historical significance of the shooting at the time.

"It changed the country. It changed the way we do security and separated us from our leaders," Stewart said. "I think it's definitely a bad thing."

Phil Baddour

Attorney Phil Baddour was a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, visiting the Legislature with a group of exchange students from Canada.

He said the students were listening to an aide from Gov. Terry Sanford's office describe the workings of the General Assembly when the man was called away.

"He came back and his face was ashen," Baddour recalled. "He told us the president had been shot. We were all stunned and upset."

The group returned immediately to Chapel Hill, Baddour said.

"It was a very sad, terrible time," he said, "one you can never forget. It brought a realization of how vulnerable we all are."

Will Sullivan

Former Wayne County Manager Will Sullivan was working in the county tax office at the time. He said someone came running into the office to tell them the news.

"It was a sad, sad day," Sullivan said. "It was a different time then, and this was something you didn't expect to happen."

Charles Gaylor

Attorney Charles Gaylor was in the seventh grade at Goldsboro Junior High, sitting in a geography class, when the principal announced the assassination over the intercom.

"Mr. Howard told us that we should pray for him (Kennedy) and his family and our country," Gaylor said. "I remember being totally shocked. It was some time before any of us could say a word."

Gaylor called the assassination "a defining moment in a lot of ways."

"It made me realize that there was a great deal of evil that existed in the world," he said, noting that television up until that time was only slightly concerned with news and that most programming was aimed at providing what would now be considered entertainment fit for young audiences.

"It was an age of innocence," Gaylor said. "It brought home the fact that the world really wasn't that way."

Rose Raper

Rose Raper was in her kitchen when she heard the news on Nov. 22, 1963.

"I was doing the same thing that I am doing right now -- preparing dinner so when the children came home from school I would be ready. I remember, of course, being in total shock just like everyone else was. I had watched the television and had seen the things going on in Dallas before it happened.

"I have children the same age of Caroline and John Jr., so I was just really distressed about knowing that the children's father had suddenly been taken away from them. I think I was more concerned about the family than I was the country. The country is very important, but I was so concerned about the children."

Mrs. Raper, the widow of former Mount Olive College president Dr. Burkette Raper, also remembers that school was dismissed early that day.

"I can't say exactly how I addressed it, but I remember talking to my children when they came home and telling them what a great loss our country had suffered," she said.

Mrs. Raper said she has been watching the 50th anniversary news coverage.

"Of course, it brought those feelings back to life," she said. "But it has always been present in my mind because as I said then, children the same age -- I have watched their progress through life. I am happy to see that they have excelled in what they are doing.

"I really watched with pride the day before yesterday when Caroline (the new U.S. ambassador to Japan) met with the Japanese emperor. I thought that was a great thing to happen, particularly at this time."

The Rev. Lula Newkirk

The Rev. Lula Newkirk of Mount Olive said she often thinks of that day.

Mrs. Newkirk, the founder of Helping Hands United Missions, was in her 20s and working at a New York restaurant when a customer came in with the news that Kennedy had been shot. They turned the TV on and all activity in the restaurant ceased as they listened to the news.

"I thought, 'what,'" she said. "I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. I felt like something dropped in me. I had to stop doing what I was doing and tried to focus -- I just didn't believe that it had happened. We all were stunned.

"We didn't close, but everything stopped. I don't remember how long now, but we stopped serving. We stopped doing anything. I remember sitting down. I just had to go and sit down."

Her next thought was for her nation.

"It made me wonder where are we going from here," she said. "I felt like he was a great leader, a caring leader and it made me wonder where are we going to go from here?"

Wyatt Roberts

Wyatt Roberts was working in his maintenance shop at the Mt. Olive Pickle Co.

"Back at that time Ben Parker was the superintendent, and that is where I was headed, but the radio come on said that the president had been shot," he said. "At that time they didn't know who had shot him.

"I told Ben Parker. It was very hurtful to myself, anybody. It was pitiful. It was absolutely hurtful."

Roberts, the owner of Roberts Machine and Supply Co. in Mount Olive, also recalls watching television when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald. He said he also still has magazines from that time that covered the incidents.

Roberts said that even now, the shooting is still being investigated.

"One of the news media (at that time) said that we would never know the truth, that the public would never know the true killers of President Kennedy," Roberts said. "I remember that very well.

"Sure I have had doubts ever since that man on the news that day said that we would never know the true killers. I still have doubts."