TRAVERSE CITY— Life changed forever on Nov. 22, 1963, when news of President John F. Kennedy’s death sliced into the national conscience.
In the case of former Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken — then a state senator — the grim news came over his office radio, leaving him stunned and sad, said his son, William Milliken Jr.
Palma Richardson, a young mother of two, recalls her 4-year-old son being upset his favorite shows were preempted by the non-stop television coverage. Many baby boomers heard the powerful and bewildering news over their classroom P.A. systems.
The response was a stunned silence. Then tears.
“It was like 9/11, the shock of it, the violence,” said Richardson, 75, who lived in southern California at the time. “Gov. (John) Connelly got hit, too. Bullets were flying everywhere.”
Gloria Morkin recalled watching a talent show in the St. Francis High School gym: A girl belted out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” while a smart-aleck guy with a transistor radio whispered about the president getting shot. Students were “shishing him.” A girl told him to stop joking around. It wasn’t funny.
“We thought he was a prankster,” said Morkin, 66, who wrote an essay years later of the tragic day. “But then the principal, Sister Arlene, came on stage, and a hush went through the auditorium. She said, ‘President Kennedy has been shot. Let’s keep him in our prayers as we continue the show.’”
About 10 minutes later, Sister Arlene was back on the stage, visibly shaken.
“She told us he had died,” she said. “... It was the end of our childhood innocence.”
Morkin said most St. Francis students leaned Republican, but they were drawn to Kennedy’s charisma and liked the fact he was the nation’s first Catholic president. Donna Rebman, 61, a Catholic who attended Sabin Elementary, said her connection to Kennedy seemed very personal.