Published November 22, 2023

By Gary Pearce

In September 1960, John F. Kennedy brought his campaign for President to Raleigh.

My parents, strong Democrats, supported him. They read that he and his entourage would stop at Glenwood Village Shopping Center a couple of miles from our house and get into a motorcade to Reynolds Coliseum at N.C. State College for a night-time rally and speech.

My father, Jim, was a printer at The News & Observer and had to work that night. My mother, Becky, packed me and my two little brothers into the car and took us to the shopping center.

Somehow, with the three of us in tow – I was 11, Kevin was seven, and she was carrying Fred, who was two – she pushed us through the crowd to the motorcade.

Suddenly, Kennedy climbed into the convertible in front of us. He was slender, deeply tanned and youthful-looking.

My mother pushed me forward. I reached out my hand, and Kennedy shook it.

November 22, 1963

I was a ninth-grader at LeRoy Martin Junior High School in Raleigh. It was a Friday afternoon, and there was a concert in the school auditorium. I was restless; band concerts bored me. Besides, it was almost the weekend.

When we came out of the auditorium, there was a different feeling in the air. The hallways were hushed. Teachers and staff members stood talking quietly with each other. They looked serious and somber.

As we made our way to class, we started hearing bits and pieces. “Kennedy’s been shot.” “Somebody shot the President.”

When I walked into the classroom, the school PA system was tuned to the news. Yes, he’d been shot. And then he was dead.

That night, my father said, “They killed our President.”

I spent the weekend in front of our little black-and-white television. I watched the funeral. I watched all the clips of Kennedy that would become so familiar in the years to come. I remember the clip-clop of horses in the funeral parade. I remember his stricken family walking behind the carriage that bore his body.

Bands played the Navy Hymn: “Eternal Father, strong to save, whose hand doth still the restless wave.”

Hearing it now takes me back to then.