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JFK 50th: Memories shared of a president slain

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, people paused from Dublin to Dallas to remember the slain president of the United States. Collected here are some of memories of Kennedy and the day he died, shared with AP reporters around the globe.

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EMILY UNTERMEYER, 60, Asuncion, Paraguay

Emily Untermeyer was a 10-year-old in Houston, Texas, when Kennedy was shot.

“I remember my sixth-grade teacher being called out of the classroom and coming back in tears,” she said. Her current position, inspired by Kennedy, is Paraguay country director for the Peace Corps, the worldwide volunteer program inspired by a speech he gave in 1960.

“People like me lived through the Cold War; I remember the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam War. To young people today that is ancient history,” Untermeyer said, speaking about the video of Kennedy that Peace Corps volunteers are shown. “… what really gets me is that the words are so appropriate 50 years later. That to me is very, very powerful.”

— Reported by Mike Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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U.S. SEN. EDWARD MARKEY, 67, Boston

A 17-year-old student at Malden Catholic High School near Boston, Edward Markey was attending an afternoon football rally when one of the religious brothers took the microphone and broke the news that Kennedy had been shot.

“I remember watching the 1956 convention when John F. Kennedy ran for vice president and all of the commentators saying he could not win because he was Irish and Catholic and from Massachusetts and that’s who I was,” said Markey, who grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family. “When he won (in 1960), he immediately became someone who changed perceptions of how the country viewed Irish Catholics.”

Markey said in time, he realized Kennedy’s appeal transcended his Boston roots: “It turned out he wasn’t just our hero, every ethnic group in the country in some way saw themselves in him.”

— Reported by Steve LeBlanc in Boston.

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ALEX “ALI” GONZALEZ, 24, Los Angeles

He was born more than a quarter-century after Kennedy died, but Alex “Ali” Gonzalez says the young president was always one of his mother’s heroes. That’s why she pressured him to attend Los Angeles’ John F. Kennedy High School 10 years ago.

“My mom loved that I was coming here. She really pushed that I come to this school,” the 24-year-old artist recalled earlier this week.

Gonzalez painted a larger-than-life mural in the school last year, a gift from the 2007 graduate whose work is often seen these days on NBC television show “The Voice.”

“I don’t paint a portrait of just anyone,” Gonzalez said. “I like to paint inspirational people. So that when people sit back and look at that painting, they will be inspired.”

— Reported by John Rogers in Los Angeles.

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PRIME MINISTER OF IRELAND ENDA KENNY, 62, Dublin

Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of Ireland, was studying his Latin homework when his older brother walked into the family living room in Castlebar, County Mayo, to tell the 12-year-old the news.

“Immediately the enormity of what had happened was apparent to me,’” Kenny told The Associated Press in a statement.

Kennedy’s great-grandfather left for Boston in 1848 at the height of the potato famine, and many Irish households displayed a portrait of Kennedy beside the pope in their living rooms.

Kenny’s mother, Eithne, had traveled to Dublin to attend a garden party with Kennedy during his 1963 tour of the country. Kenny remembered she returned home gushing.

JFK’s death “had a collective effect on the country as a whole and is seared onto the Irish national consciousness in a way few other events are,” he said.

— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.

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COLLEEN BONNER, 41, Hurst, Texas

Colleen Bonner, 41, wasn’t born when Kennedy was assassinated. But her aunt, 67-year-old Sandra Bonner of Dallas, has “very vivid memories of it.”

Colleen Bonner said her aunt was a high school student and was drawing a diagram on the chalkboard in biology class when someone came on the PA to announce that Kennedy had died.

“President Kennedy has always been kind of revered in our family,” Colleen Bonner said.

— Reported by Nomaan Merchant in Dallas.

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DIANE CARAZAS, 55, Asuncion, Paraguay

When Kennedy was shot, the nuns at Diane Carazas’ Catholic school in Chicago “came in and told us we had to get on our knees and pray.”

“It just felt like the whole world stopped,” she recalled of being a 5-year-old kindergarten student.

But when she was old enough to understand the meaning of his words, Kennedy gave Carazas hope. She joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer and now works for the organization as a trainer in Paraguay.

“I was a kid who grew up in the Sixties on the South Side of Chicago, so I was looking for words of hope anywhere. He inspired me with so much hope. That we all are basically the same, the only difference is opportunity,” Carazas said.

— Reported by Mike Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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DEVAL PATRICK, 57, Boston

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was a 7-year-old on Chicago’s South Side when he learned in school that Kennedy had been shot.

Some of his memories are mixed with his later understanding of the events, he says, but one is clear: Watching the funeral at his grandparents’ house.

“It was the first time I ever saw my grandfather cry,” he said.

Patrick said Kennedy was also an inspiration for all who have faith that government can do good.

“John Kennedy very much believed and spoke about the importance of being involved in our civic lives, not leaving it to others but making it personal and becoming engaged and taking responsibility for it,” Patrick said.

— Reported by Steve LeBlanc in Boston

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JOSEPH ROBLES, 17, Los Angeles

Joseph Robles has heard from parents and teachers about the young president who struggled challenged others to dedicate their lives to serving others. It instilled an obligation in the senior council member at Los Angeles’ John F. Kennedy High School to help organize a week of activities commemorating the 35th president’s life.

“John F. Kennedy is one of my sovereign heroes,” Robles said during an exhibition at the school this week. “Not only because of the way that he was when he spoke, but if he wanted it, he got it done.”

— Reported by John Rogers in Los Angeles.

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HILARY HOPKINS, 75, Cambridge, Mass.

Hilary Hopkins, then 25, was returning from lunch to her job at Harvard University when she learned Kennedy had been shot. She and another woman rushed to sit in a car and listen to the radio and “both burst into tears” when he died.

Hopkins walked home through Harvard Square, weeping. She turned on her tiny black-and-white TV and left it that way for three days.

“He was young, attractive, smart. He was witty. He spoke about things in a way that I could understand them. And so I thought, oh, politics, that’s something I can do, something I can be interested in. This isn’t just for old, bald men,” she said.

She later added: “I think we had this wonderful drawing in of young people into government and then all of a sudden it just slammed shut.”

— Reported by Rodrique Ngowi in Boston.

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FRANKIE GAVIN, Galway, Ireland

Fiddler Frankie Gavin was just 6 years old when he performed with his musician family for Kennedy as his motorcade passed though the western Ireland city on June 29, 1963.

“I never got quite close enough to shake his hand. I really regret that,” Gavin recalled Friday at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

Gavin played only one verse of a lament in front of Friday’s embassy crowd because he could feel himself tearing up.

On Nov. 22, 1963, he, his older brother and two older sisters were playing Gaelic football behind a thatched-roof pub in the village of Corrandulla, County Galway.

“My father ran out the back door of the pub and said President John F. Kennedy’s been shot,” he said. “We were all frozen to the spot. … Then I later remember everyone going into the house and we saw our parents crying. When you see your parents crying, you start crying too. My brother and sisters and parents crying, all of us — that moment remains impaled in my memory.”

— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.

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JOHN ALKSNIS, 68, AND LAUREL ALKSNIS, 67, Guildford, N.Y.

John Alksnis was 18 and helping out at a children’s hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., when he learned Kennedy had died. He still gets teary-eyed thinking about that day.

Laurel, then 17, said she and her classmates in Berkeley, Calif., were told to sit down. “It was an all-girls high school, Catholic, and we all just sobbed,” she said. “We were devastated. Devastated.”

Both were inspired by Kennedy to join the U.S. Marine Corps, where they met in a computer room in Hawaii.

— Reported by Rodrique Ngowi in Boston.

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WALLACE JOHNSON, 74, Dumfries, Va.

Visiting Arlington National Cemetery is not an easy task for Wallace Johnson. So many of the Special Forces veteran’s friends are buried here, as is his wife, who died in 2009.

“It brings back some really bad memories,” he said, fighting back tears.

Wallace said Kennedy holds a special place in the hearts of Special Forces members because he gave his instant approval to the group’s green beret in 1961. On Friday, though, he joined two other members of the Special Forces Association to pay their respects at Kennedy’s grave, leaving a green beret behind.

Wallace was a young lieutenant at the Officers’ Annex at Fort Benning, Ga., when he heard Kennedy had been shot.

“I was in disbelief, even when I saw it on the news,” he said.

— Reported by Matthew Barakat in Arlington, Va.

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JOSE MARIA FRAILE BLAZQUEZ, 70, Madrid

Jose Maria Fraile Blazquez, a retired schoolteacher and psychologist, was 20 years old and had just come home from helping his father harvest almonds in the northern town of Gravalos in Spain’s Rioja wine region when he heard Kennedy had been killed.

“We huddled around a radio and I can clearly remember the shock we felt, it caused a deep impression,” he said from Liverpool, England, during a phone interview Friday. “Although he was a president from a faraway country, his enormous charisma had left an imprint of affection on us.”

— Reported by Harold Heckle in Madrid.

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JOHN BATES, 58, Melrose, Mass.

John Bates was rapt when his 5-year-old self watched Kennedy’s inauguration.

“I didn’t understand the complete job of a president, but I knew that if he said something, you did it,” Bates said. “It’s hard to express — he had this connection with people.”

The events of Nov. 22, 1963, are seared in Bates’ memory.

“I remember two things vividly,” he said. “My grandfather picking me up at school, which never happened, and him telling me the president was dead. … And the first thing I said, and I still say it now, was, ‘Why?’ I was traumatized.”

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