Column – Nov. 22, 1963, is a day she’ll never forget
Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Nov. 22, 1963, the weather was a bit chilly, but we knew fall had arrived. It was just cool enough to grab a jacket when we went outdoors to keep us comfortable.
Summer was now gone at last and with it all the hot and humid days we had to contend with. We were now ready for the cool days ahead and the thoughts of Thanksgiving as it would be in just a few days.
Everywhere you looked the leaves were turning a bright orange and gold and was a glorious sight to behold. And all the fields looked like a fresh layer of snow had fallen and with just enough dew still hanging on to make the fields glow with sunshine as the cotton crop was ready for picking.
The season was perfect for that big day when everyone whom you could find would need an old burlap bag and begin the tedious job of picking cotton. Boy, what a job. Picking cotton is the most back-breaking job you could ever have and would ruin your hands if you weren’t careful. Thank goodness cotton-picking machines were invented for the poor farmer who raised cotton for a living. Also, for the poor soul who had to drag that old bag down the rows as he picked those little white balls.
As I drove down Highway 301 on the way to Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I thought I had never seen a more beautiful and perfect day. I had my young son in the car with me, and we were talking and laughing and were wondering what we would do once we left the hospital.
Our main goal was to stop at McDonald’s and have lunch. That was always our treat after we left the hospital. My son looked forward to stopping at McDonalds after his appointment. That was a big deal to him back then. He had been such a good patient, never complaining about his injury, and I felt he deserved to be pampered a little after such an ordeal of physical therapy and all the X-rays that had to be done.
We arrived at the hospital, and he went into therapy as was the usual procedure, and next would be X-rays to make sure his arm was healing correctly. Just a month prior he had fallen and severely injured his arm and Womack Army Hospital had the best orthopedic surgeons in the area. We had been to a clinic and also another military hospital, but his injury was too severe to be treated locally. In fact, no other local hospital would accept him as a patient with the extent of his injury, so he was referred to Womack, which had the best surgeons anywhere around. Following his X-rays, we were in the hospital waiting room waiting for the results so we could begin our trip back home.
At approximately 1:20 p.m. the public address system came on suddenly with a news bulletin. In a second, Walter Cronkite began to talk; his voice began to tremble, and his words were barely audible. The entire hospital was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. No one spoke but sat listening as Mr. Cronkite told of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy,
President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy and the governor of Texas, John and Mrs. Connally, were all together in the motorcade as they rode through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on a campaign tour. Everyone was waving flags and trying to catch a glance at the motorcade. It was supposed to be a glorious day for Texas and for the Kennedys.
Mr. Kennedy had been advised not to travel to Texas as tension had been building up by an extremist group and it was considered to be too dangerous to visit, especially in an open-top vehicle. He thought he should make the trip anyway as he would have Mrs. Kennedy with him and with the governor and his wife.
In the silence we listened as Mr. Cronkite reported that the president was being taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and was still alive. The entire nation was so stunned, and everyone was crying and saying, “How could this happen?” Moments later, he reported that our president had died. Everyone was too shocked to speak but began to cry. Shortly, Mr. Cronkite came back on to report Lyndon Johnson was on his way to Dallas to be sworn as our new president.
A part of our world died that day and has never fully recovered. Even to this day, people still talk about this tragic event.
I will never forget that moment. It is still as clear today as it was in 1963 while I was sitting in that waiting room. It was a black day for our nation and for the world.
People still ask today how it could have happened. And if you ask anyone who is still living about that black day in November 1963, they can tell you where they were and what they were doing. This tragic event will never be forgotten.
Alice Kornegay Quinn, a retired banker, has been a resident of Smithfield for about 37 years after relocating from Hampton. Her husband retired from the Air Force after serving over 22 years. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.