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“I remember where I was when 2…”

As we’re all living through COVID-19, which will no doubt become a historic event in all of our lives, residents at Newton Presbyterian Manor have reflected on other historic events in their lifetimes and share those memories with you here.

VJ Day

“During WWII, I was assigned to an aerial reconnaissance unit and at one point was stationed on the island of New Guinea. Sometime in April 1945, we were shipped north to the Philippine island of Leyte near the town of Tacloban. We had been inactive throughout the following summer months. One evening in August, I decided to see a movie at a neighboring camp to reduce the boredom. About halfway into the show, we became aware of a cacophony of horns and whistles coming from boats and ships in the harbor. Our movie was immediately stopped, and we were given the news that the Japanese had unconditionally surrendered. Our jubilation was instantly joined to those of the sailors … the war was finally over and we would soon be going home!”

— Dana Johnson (shown on the right of this photo with a pilot on a training flight while stationed at Fairmont Army Air Field, Fairmont, Nebraska)

“The first historical event that I remember is August 15, 1945. I was six years old at the time and I can still hear the gaiety in the streets and the horns blaring. It was VJ Day, the Japanese had surrendered, and the war was over. I didn’t know the significance of this day until much later.”

— Larry Thompson

“Do you remember where you were on VJ Day? I was in Chicago with my parents visiting an aunt and uncle of my father’s. We had gone in to eat supper and when we came out, there were hundreds and hundreds of people everywhere in the streets. We were finally able to ask someone what was going on. They told us that Japan had just surrendered.”

— Bernice Hanson (shown with her late husband Jay Hanson on their 50th anniversary)

JFK Assassination

“It was the 22nd day of November 1963. I was in the farm kitchen, listening to the Elmer Childress Family Singers on TV. They stopped short when a clear voice interrupted the singers. J.F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. I ran out to tell Silas. He was sitting in Elmer Dyck’s truck ordering some DeKalb seed.”

— Edna Stucky

“In November 1963, we were in the army assigned to Ft. Walters, Texas, which is less than 20 miles from Ft. Worth. I was in the medical corp. and was the chief of the aviation medicine section. Ft. Walters was then the Army’s primary helicopter training school. It was a bustling place. Lots of helicopters were in the air, the explosions and cracking of the gunnery range and other sights and sounds of intense activity assailed us daily.

“The evening before JFK’s assassination, Sondra and I were in Ft. Worth. We attended a piano concert at Texas Christian University and had a late dinner with friends. The buildings in Ft Worth were already lit for the Christmas season. The atmosphere was festive.

“The next day was clear and beautiful. I made rounds that morning and saw patients at the clinic. I talked briefly with a senior pilot who had attended President Kennedy’s speech in Ft. Worth. After an early lunch, I was in my attic, reviewing some research. My first sergeant entered my attic white as a sheet.

“‘Sir, Kennedy’s been shot,’ he said. I thought that he might be kidding. He was not!

“Orders came down to cancel all activities on base. In the hospital, all clinics closed. The doctor on call became just that. The rest of us quietly went home.

“Everyone was stunned. Our political preferences were immaterial. We respected him and our Commander in Chief had been shot. We were allowed to turn on the TV for news. The entire base had become the sound of silence. Eerie!

“During the two weeks of shutdown, the base chapel held a memorial service for the president. There was also a farewell ceremony. All of us assembled in dress blue uniform for the final farewell.

“We all watched the funeral parade and the services. The sound of the drums was burned into memory. The riderless horse and the strains of Brahms Requiem ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ were imprinted in our memories forever.

“The two weeks passed. Life resumed, but it was not quite the same. The entire nation was in mourning. I’m not sure, but that in subtle ways, it still is.

— Dr. Frank Chesky (shown in a photo from his service in the medical corp of the U.S. Army)

“I was a 16-year-old high school senior, just returning with the rest of my class to the main building of my school in Guymon, Okla. We were on lunch break and came into the building to find most of the sophomores and juniors standing at either end of the main hall, crowded around televisions. Considering the nearly 500 students in the hall, it was strangely silent. It took us several minutes to get someone to tell us what was going on. The two televisions in the building (both black and white) were showing pictures of lots of cars and people running, etc., but there was no sound at that point because the TVs had been mounted high on the wall and no one could reach the volume buttons. The principal came running out of his office with the remote controls. Some of the kids who were closer to the front of the crowd had already seen enough to understand what we were seeing and had in fact seen the actual shooting because the TVs had been turned on so students could watch the president’s motorcade that day at noon. All we really knew was that the president had been shot and was being rushed to a hospital. Finally, about 1:30 or so the entire high school was asked to go to our fifth-hour classes. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes until teachers received notes from the office that the president had died and that Lyndon Johnson would soon be taking the oath of office and would become the 36th president of the United States. School was dismissed for the day.

“The next week was Thanksgiving week but I don’t recall anything about being in class on Monday and Tuesday or the trip 200-plus miles east to my grandparents for the holiday. All I remember of that week is watching hours and hours of news on television: the jailing of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby killing him, etc., and finally the President’s funeral. I can still see Jackie Kennedy with her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, walking behind that flag-draped casket carried on a horse-drawn black artillery caisson.”

— Ruby Kleymann (shown in a photo from high school in Guymon, Oklahoma)

Oklahoma City Bombing

“April 19, 1995, found Arlee and me living in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. That is the date of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. I was working as a teacher assistant in the Chilliwack Public Schools. A co-worker heard about the bombing on her drive to school. I was shocked and in disbelief at this tragic news. Born and raised in Oklahoma, I immediately thought of family and friends there. I wanted to be near them. Fortunately, no family members or friends were injured or killed in the tragic events of that day.”

— JoAnn Johnson

September 11

“On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, between 7 and 8 a.m., I was pedaling my stationary exercise bicycle and watching the Today Show on NBC in the parsonage of the Herold Mennonite Church in Cordell, Oklahoma. Matt Lauer was interviewing someone about the life of Howard Hughes. The interview seemed overly long when Matt Lauer interrupted it with the statement that they were going to a breaking news event. But first they would take a commercial break while they made the necessary connections. One of those was a McDonald's commercial. When they came back, they had a film of the western tower of the World Trade Center in New York City with a large amount of smoke coming out of it.

“For the next two hours I watched the events unfold on live television. Initially, no one was sure just how this had happened. Then it was revealed some people had seen a jet plane crash into the building. As I was watching, suddenly a second airliner flew into the other tower of the Trade Center. Then it became apparent that the first crash had probably not been an accident. It wasn't very long before we learned that another airliner had crashed into the Pentagon building in Washington, D. C. Finally, we learned that a fourth airliner had crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and seemed to be connected to the other three planes.

“Over a period of time that day we learned that it was a terrorist attack that had killed approximately 3,000 people, with about 400 of those being police officers and firefighters. The days after became a blur of how this would affect me. How would it impact my plans for the Sunday morning worship service five days after this event? How would this change the future for all of America? How would our political leaders react to this?

Arlee Johnson

“September 11, 2001, what has since been called ‘911’ happened on a Tuesday morning. I was ready to go across the street to the Chapel to teach the Ladies Bible Study. Clarence was watching the news on TV as I came through the living room with the handouts for the next week, my notebook and Bible in my arms. I couldn't help but notice on TV what looked like an airplane hitting a tall building. I stopped just briefly to look, but it was time to get across the street. I told Clarence to tell me what happened when he'd come a bit later to attend the Men's Bible Study. Quickly I put the handouts on every chair in the Chapel, and my notes and Bible on the podium. About that time Clarence came and told me that there had been a second plane that hit the Twin Towers in New York City, and it looked like it had been done on purpose. I decided not to say anything about it to the class, as I didn't want to cause the ladies to be worried when I didn't know all the details. After the class was over, one of the ladies who had come in late, told me that there had been a terrorist attack on our country. There were several ladies still there and we stopped to pray for God's intervention and protection for all involved. Then we went home and of course there was nothing else on the TV. What a sick feeling to think that this could happen in America!”

— Eleanore Myers

"It was early morning. School had just started that beautiful September 11th morning. Teachers were called, several at a time, to the principal's office, where he informed them that our nation had been attacked, possibly by terrorists. As a paraeducator serving in 2nd grade classroom, we were all instructed to continue our day, do the best we could, while not sharing with the students the horrible news that was coming from Washington, allowing the value of having each parent explain the events of that day to their child. Lots of tears. Times to comfort one another ... to pray ... to go back into the classroom ... with a bright, cheerful smile on our face, helping the students. What a memorable day and week!"

— Carol Schrag

Hesston Tornado

“The tornado sirens had started about 4:30 p.m. but I, like many others in those days, didn’t get too excited about it. After all, we have heard those sirens for years every time a summer storm came over. So, I just continued what I was doing. At about 5:00 I decided to go home. When I stepped out of the office, I saw the big black cloud in the west. It was sure menacing looking alright, so I dropped by the house and grabbed my camera and drove out to a country road to see what I could see. Boy did I get an eyeful. There was the biggest tornado I had ever seen, and it was coming straight for me. I grabbed a few shots with the camera and took off for home. When I got there, two more cars were parked in the driveway. My daughters Sarah and Emily had come to give Nettie and I a nice surprise. Emily said, ‘Dad, did you look out of the dining room window?’ I looked and saw the beast clearly continuing towards Hesston. Emily and I went out in the backyard and shot some photos of the thing until Nettie (my wife, Emily’s mom) told us to get back into the house. Which of course we did.

— Duane Graham

Duane Graham’s daughter Emily took this photo of the Hesston tornado, some Kroph Lumber buildings and Dr. Mark Hall’s offices (now the Hesston Police Station). If you look closely you can see a man wearing a white coat, looking at the storm along with several other people. That man is Dr. Hall.

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