The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 22, 2013

Clintonians share their memories of Nov. 22, 1963

By Charlene Bielema Herald Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — "Kennedy Envisions An Historic New Era Ahead"

Strung together over the top of the Clinton Herald's page 1A on Nov. 21, 1963, that headline's seven words drew readers into a story detailing President John F. Kennedy's planned two-day, five-city visit to Texas and his administration's New Frontier scientific program.

In a speech prepared for the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks Air Force Base, Kennedy in that day's story said the New Frontier slogan that helped him win the 1960 presidential race was not the exclusive property of either Democrats or Republicans.

"It refers instead," he said, "to this nation's position in history today — to the fact that we stand on the edge of a new era filled with both crises and opportunities, an era to be characterized by both grim challenges and historic achievements."

Just 24 hours later, the Herald's banner headline — Pres. Kennedy Assassinated — announced the death of the 35th president, slain by a bullet to the head while traveling by motorcade in Dallas. The 46-year-old Kennedy lived about an hour after he was shot; he died at Dallas' Parkland Hospital around 1 p.m. that day.

Clinton residents were shocked as they learned of the events unfolding that afternoon — the shooting, the death and the arrest of suspected sniper Lee Harvey Oswald.

Bob Soesbe of Clinton, who is an active member of the Clinton County Historical Society, easily recalls everything from that day — where he was when he heard of the shooting and the news of the death, and even how the weather changed from a sunny morning to an overcast afternoon.

A 37-year-old telephone company employee at the time, Soesbe said his wife, Ethel, had called him at work around 12:30 p.m. to tell him the news. He was on a service call at a Clinton home when the news came over the TV there that Kennedy had died. It left him unable to work, shocked and full of disbelief.

"I was driving down Fifth Avenue South and saw the flag at the post office was at half staff," he said. "It hit me: 'He's really dead.'"

Patty Larkin Wolf, who grew up in Clinton and now lives in Conway, Ark., also clearly remembers the day, the impact it had on her family and how it led her to send her condolences to Kennedy's daughter.

"I am the same age as Caroline Kennedy. I walked home from morning kindergarten at Lincoln School in Clinton," she said. "Our living room drapes were drawn, which was unusual for the middle of the day.

"My mom was on her knees with her legs tucked under her, in front of our black and white TV. I knew something was the matter because she never watched TV. I joined her on the floor as she told me President Kennedy had been shot.

"It was a big deal in our family when he was elected as we were Irish Catholic, too. I remember feeling very sad for Caroline. I wrote her a letter telling her that I was sorry about her dad. I remember everything about that sad day."

Phyllis Mayer of Clinton was 23 when JFK was killed and says she will always remember where she was when she heard the news.

"I worked at the old Curtis Company in South Clinton," she said. "The girls and I were at lunch and our boss, Harry Waters, came back from lunch and informed us. We were very shocked and sad and it was a sad time for all."

Elaine Heisterkamp was at Clinton's Washington Junior High, walking from Modern Math to Spanish class.

"We were told to collect our things and go straight home," she said. "The President of the United States had been killed. I remember leaving school and walking to 625 Fourth Ave. in disbelief."

As she approached the house under grey skies through drizzle, she saw something strange — her mother, Ella Heisterkamp, past-president of the American Legion, was hanging the flag at half staff.

"She always hung the flag out but not in this kind of weather," she said. "Then it hit me that something very bad had happened."

Soesbe also said the events of the days following the shooting are etched in his memory. He remembers walking out of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Clinton on the following Sunday to the news that the suspected killer was dead as well.

"That Sunday morning, Vinnie Frett said after church that Oswald's been shot," he said. "I didn't know whether to cheer or cry."

But what Soebse remembers along with it all is the death of a dream.

"It was kind of like it was at the beginning with Obama," he said of the direction the nation was heading at that time. "We're going to turn this thing around."

"The Kennedy family and the kids — they were the perfect family," he said. "We wanted to be like Kennedy."