Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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November 22, 2013

50 YEARS LATER

JFK memories still fresh & chilling

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — John F. Kennedy touched Lockport hearts. Residents remember the presidential candidate’s electrifying visit to the city Sept. 28 1960 and his tragic death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, 50 years ago today.

The memories are vivid and still give chills.

•••

Felix Ratajczak was aboard the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (DD-850) when the crew of 230 got the news that the president had been shot. Ratajczak was in the Navy, a storekeeper on the destroyer that was named after JFK’s big brother who was killed in World War II. He met the First Family.

John and Jacqueline Kennedy — and the Kennedy clan — came aboard the ship to watch yacht races off Newport, Rhode Island. Members of the destroyer crew who were not on duty lined up to salute the president and JFK shook everyone’s hand.

“They were very nice and down to earth,” the seaman said. Younger brother Teddy Kennedy would fish off the ship.

When it was announced that Kennedy was shot, Ratajczak said, “I never heard 230 people so quiet. The ship went dead silent. The whole ship was in awe. The supply officer was crying. It was a very, very sad day. “

The officers would have dinner with the president. “Everybody was in shock.” Ratajczak said.

The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was the flag ship of the fleet and had taken part in the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis 13 months earlier.

Ratajczak still has the books reminding him of the president’s visit and a Zippo lighter with picture of the flag ship.

•••

James Budde was in third grade at Washington Hunt School when the class heard of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The teacher was weeping, the 8-9 year old students didn’t understand. Jimmy did not know what “assassination” meant.

“It was chaotic,” Budde said. “I don’t think I grasped it at that age. We understood that somebody was shot. That certainly resonated.  We didn’t comprehend the magnitude, what was happening to the nation,” Budde said. 

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