Remembering the death of a president

LIHUE — Fifty years ago today, Jerry Kapuy was living in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. He was at work, building parts for planes at a machine shop, when word came in: President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed.

“All of us stopped working,” the Kapaa resident said. “Some of us were crying, we bowed our heads, all of us.”

Many Kauai residents, like Kapuy, remember well what they were doing and how they felt on Nov. 22, 1963, after learning Kennedy had been assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

Wailua resident Sue Nami said the moment was a turning point that represents a “loss of innocence” among Americans.

“Those were the days of a little bit of innocence and more hope than I think our young have now,” she said.

Nami was attending a Catholic college in Belmont, Calif. She remembers the sister superior telling students the president had been shot.

“We didn’t know he was dead,” she said. The students started praying for Kennedy’s life, and only later found out he was gone. “The loss was overwhelming to the country.”

Nami said most Americans idolized Kennedy.

“He was Camelot,” said Nami. “Everybody thought he was a saint.”

 To many in the United States, it was a wake up call to domestic terrorism.

“That kind of violence wasn’t a common thing in those days like it is today,” said Jo Manea, who was working as a sales clerk at Liberty House in Waikiki when she heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination.

“I was shocked, it was just overwhelming,” said Manea, who was 20 years old at that time. She added everyone around her had the same reaction.

Retired hotel manager Sandi Kato-Klutke said when she first heard the news that Kennedy was shot, she questioned why would someone want to shoot the president.

“Then I heard he died, and I thought, ‘What a loss,” she said. “He was such a great man on the way to do great things.”

Sai Pastanes was 22 years old when Kennedy was shot. Originally from the Philippines, he had moved to Kauai to work for the McBryde sugar plantation in Koloa.

When he heard the news on the radio, he was in a hospital bed recovering from an illness.

“It was sad,” said Pastanes, who today has his own farm in Koloa.

Genny Moura was taking her 7-year-old son, who had an ear infection, to the doctor, when she heard on the radio the news of Kennedy’s assassination.

“I was astonished,” she said.

At that time, Moura was a 28-year-old nurse on maternity leave — she had given birth seven months earlier to her daughter.

“I like President Kennedy, he had a lot of thoughts … It was President Kennedy who told (Cuban Prime Minister Fidel) Castro to disassemble Soviet missiles,” she said of the famous nuclear standoff in October 1962, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Moura said she believes it was Castro who planned to have Kennedy assassinated.

“I did like Kennedy,” Moura said. “He had all these women in his life and all his faults, but he was not scared — he was a very courageous man.”

Farmer Eric Young, of Kapahi, was an elementary school student in Hong Kong at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. Though young and living far away from the U.S., he remembers well what happened.

“We were very shocked,” he said. “Everybody really missed him.”

Young’s cousins lived in the U.S., and brought half-dollar coins with Kennedy’s image when they visited Hong Kong, and Young said he never forgot it. To him, Kennedy’s death was a wake-up call.

“We woke up from naiveness, it’s different now,” he said of the many wars the U.S. was involved following Kennedy’s death.

On the same day Kennedy was shot, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and accused of shooting the president. Two days later, as he was being transferred from the police headquarters in Texas to a county jail, Oswald was shot to death by night club owner Jack Ruby — on live TV.

“We watched Oswald get murdered live,” Nami said. “We stayed in front of the TV and watched everything unfold.”

She said a “wise man” once told her it would take 50 years for the truth about Kennedy’s death to come out.

“I believe Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy,” said Nami, adding she thinks Oswald was part of it, but he couldn’t have been the only shooter, because forensic examinations show the bullets that hit the president came from different directions.

“By killing Oswald, they shut him up,” she said. “We may never know.”

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or

Five decades have passed since President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in broad daylight in a parade in Dallas, Texas. And some still question what really happened on Nov. 22, 1963.

Dr. Bruce Getzan will host a free workshop on Kennedy’s assassination today at Kauai Community College.

Getzan, the director of the Office of Continuing Education and Training at KCC, holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan.

He will be airing film clips, as well as sharing a wealth of information on the subject.

The workshop starts at noon at KCC’s OCET Building, Room 106 C and D. Those interested should call Getzan at 245-8318.


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