2013-11-21 / Front Page

A Fateful Day Remembered

By Florence Archambault


Mayor James L. Maher of Newport and his wife Mary Maher greet the Kennedy family upon their arrival in Newport, Sept. 26, 1961. (L-R) President John F. Kennedy, Mayor Maher, Mrs. Maher, Caroline Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. (Photo by Robert LeRoy) Mayor James L. Maher of Newport and his wife Mary Maher greet the Kennedy family upon their arrival in Newport, Sept. 26, 1961. (L-R) President John F. Kennedy, Mayor Maher, Mrs. Maher, Caroline Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. (Photo by Robert LeRoy) Everyone remembers what they were doing and where they were when overwhelming national events, good or bad, have occurred. For me, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago on Nov. 22, 1963 was especially poignant.

Our family had arrived at the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that August and had just about settled into the routine of living on the base. We had become accustomed to having our newspaper delivered a day late and watching TV shows we had seen the year before when we lived in the States.

On that fateful day, I decided to take a little nap before the kids returned from school. I had just stretched out when I heard voices rising in a crescendo throughout the housing area. They sounded agitated, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.


President Kennedy and the First Lady leave St. Mary’s in Newport after attending Mass in October 1961, eight years after they were married in the church. The "Camelot" couple drew crowds wherever they went. (Photos JFK Library) President Kennedy and the First Lady leave St. Mary’s in Newport after attending Mass in October 1961, eight years after they were married in the church. The "Camelot" couple drew crowds wherever they went. (Photos JFK Library) As I opened the front door my neighbor came through saying, “The President’s been shot.” I turned on the radio, which was always tuned to the Armed Forces Network–our one link to instant news. I soon discovered that what she had said was true. That moment began a period of isolation that I have never felt before or since.

While our entire country hung together and fed off the instant news of the television cameras, we who lived in those 43-square miles surrounded by barbed wire fences and Castro’s rifle-carrying guards had to be satisfied with day-old newspapers and taped television news broadcasts.

Even though I had grown up during pre-TV days when radio was our only link to what was happening in the world as it was taking place, I suffered severe withdrawal symptoms and I hungered for the instant visual news that seemed to be everyone’s privilege back in the States. We were unable to participate in the mourning and the pageantry and solemnity of the funeral rites as they occurred. Instead, we huddled around our radios and watched the news broadcasts the following night.

We did have our own memorial services, but somehow it didn’t seem adequate. Many who did not attend church on a regular basis were there joining in the sorrow which united us; it seemed the least we could do.

That feeling of disconnection from the immediacy of emerging news was profound; I will never forget it. Today, I sometimes I wish I could be insulated from the world around me, but the isolation I felt in Cuba is something I never want to experience again.

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