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The JFK Assassination as Told by Passengers on the 1963 Inaugural Voyage

1963 inaugural voyage photographer Gordon Menzie was given this JFK mourning shawl by locals in Beirut shortly after the president's assassination. The shawl is now on display in new shipboard exhibit History Lane.

Soon after 1963 inaugural voyage photographer Gordon Menzie debarked in Beirut, he was consoled and bowed to by locals for what he would soon learn was the assassination of his nation's president, John F. Kennedy. Menzie did not know that the tragic event had occurred until he was given a mourning shawl featuring the initials, JFK.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was an event that shook the United States and was mourned around the world. The tragedy happened on November 22, 1963 at the same time students were disembarking in Beirut during the first voyage of Semester at Sea. Students, faculty, and staff learned of the event in many different ways but were greeted with support from the people they encountered in port.

As part of its 50th anniversary, Semester at Sea assembled displays throughout the ship entitled “History Lane.” One of the display cases features this historic event as told by a student during the 1963 voyage. The student's letter to her parents with her reaction to JFK's assassination was published on December 19, 1963 in The Enterprise newspaper in southern California.


Aboard MS Seven Seas: JoAnn tells her reactions

A scan of this original article published in 1963 in Enterprise

December 19, 1963
By Phyllis Hughes
Enterprise Staff Writer

PERRIS- JoAnn Davis, daughter of Del and Lenna Davis of Perris, received word of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination while aboard the floating university the MS Seven Seas. She wrote the following letter to her parents giving student reaction to the stunning news:

Dearest Daddy and Mother:

Last night, Nov. 22, at 10:30 Beirut, Lebanon time, we aboard the MS Seven Seas, heard that the President of our United States has been assassinated.

At first we thought it was a very nasty joke brought aboard by some kids who had had too much to drink ashore, and we refused to believe it.

I had just rolled my hair and was in pajamas and bathrobe when an announcement was issued for everyone to stop whatever he was doing and come immediately to the main lounge.

When we all were assembled we were given Cokes and then told that the American embassy in Beirut had just confirmed the fact that President Kennedy had been shot through the right temple at 12:30 CST and had died at 1:30 CST.

We were also told that Lyndon B. Johnson had been sworn in as President of the United States.

As we sat in that room and listened to Dean Whitten tell us that the leader of our country was dead, I just felt numb. A few tears came to my eyes, but I just couldn’t grasp the full significance of what he was saying.

I felt that it couldn’t possibly be true because here I am in Lebanon, and something like that just couldn’t happen a million miles away! Many of the others took it the same way I did – they just sat there staring into nothingness – incredulous. However, many others became very emotional. Barbara cried so hard and so long I was afraid she would be sick.

In a way I felt a little guilty because I just could not cry. I think the thing that touched me most was when I walked outside for some fresh air and saw Po-Chung, a student from Hong Kong who is traveling with us, leaning against the railing crying as if his heart would break.

To me this was a symbol of everything America stands for – if a boy from Hong Kong who has been to the U.S. just once can feel such pain and remorse over the death of the leader of a foreign country, then surely we are a strong, respected and loved nation.

I realized that yes, we have lost a leader, and this is tragic, but behind this figurehead exists a country which will stand and resist through much more terrible crises.

Last night kids were wringing their hands and sobbing because they were sure either (1) the stock market would crash; (2) the South would run red with blood if this were a racial-inspired sniping, or (3) we would all be greeted by a Communist-controlled country when we returned in February.

They couldn’t realize that the thing we have lost was more a symbol than anything else. A symbol of a strong, competent system of checks and balances which may now be somewhat disrupted, but which will continue to govern our country with a strong, sure hand.

I am deeply sorry over the death of this man because he was a human being with a family and was our No. 1 American, and I think it very ironic that yesterday was Lebanon’s 20th anniversary of independence, but I DO BELIEVE that those of us aboard can do so much for our country by being strong and showing that United States citizens will remain united no matter what happens.

This morning when I woke up I still felt the same way and I think many of the other kids are starting to agree with me. The university sent a telegram to Mrs. Kennedy and all of us sent one of our calling cards to the American embassy which in turn will send them to Washington.

We are all so far removed from “home” and everything connected with it that I’m sure our grief is somewhat minute compared to what all of you must be feeling, but please remember what I said above and see if you don’t agree just a little.

All my love,

  • Life on Land

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